About the Film



Death and Dying

Family History



Copyright © 2000 Trish Williams

From Forgetting To Remembering Tom: Film as Memory

I did not realize my own submergence of my father’s existence. His existence became very painful to face. A friend once said to me that she didn’t know my father was alive, because she would hear me talk about my mother, but she never heard me talk about my father. It was the truth — he had ceased to function as my father, therefore he had ceased to be part of my present. It is only in the last few years when I really began to intellectually confront these family issues and make some meaning of them. Was I submerging my father’s existence like he did with his father? Certainly not to the same extent, but it did make me see some parallels.

The acknowledgement of my father’s social death helped me to place my experience and feelings into the context that intellectually made sense. It also helped me realize the loss and grieving I had suffered (and continued to grapple with) which was constantly gnawing at me from inside was valid. Essentially he was slowly dying physically, even though emotionally he had already died in my eyes. His status had kept me from experiencing the final stage of loss that occurs with the funeral rites in our culture. The funeral rites are part of the final process of loss, the final closure, and the final separation that occurs with death. I had not experienced any final closure, where I could completely move onto the next stage of grieving his loss. In reality, I still was involved financially in handling his affairs, supplying him clothing etc. There was no way for me to completely forget him. I realized this was part of the void I was experiencing, the lack of final closure. I came to realize that loss and grieving can occur on many levels in our lives, not just with physical death. I had clearly experienced the loss of a father, but not the true death of my father.

The acknowledgement of my father’s social death helped me to place my experience and feelings into the context that intellectually made sense.

The other part of the void I was feeling was the transformation of my father’s image that now remained within society. I needed to validate that he was a good person who accomplished many good things during his life. His unfortunate ending, however, was how society would remember him, or perhaps how they would forget him (tucked away in a nursing home facility for no one to see.)

I can analyze my film as a type of memorial I created of my father to try to reshape his image distorted by society and my own perceptions. The homeless, socially insignificant, alcoholic criminal who my father became in his later years, can be contrasted to the well-respected, white collar worker, volunteer fire chief and contributing member of society he represented in his earlier years. So how do I define my father and how does society define him? He was all of these—a father with weaknesses and strengths, a contributing member of society, an alcoholic, and a social outcast. This is the plight of the human condition. But also, in defining my father with regard to the human condition, I define myself. Although his life led him to a negative transformation (death), my own transformation can be positive (growth).


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