My grandfather passed away last month. I had been planning a visit to Brazil around the same time he was hospitalized. I didn’t make it there in time to see him alive one last time. Two weeks after he passed, my five-year-old daughter and I arrived for a visit/vacation. I missed the funeral, I missed everything. The last time I had seen him was over a year before he passed. He was turning 90. We had a big celebration with all his kids, grandkids and great grandkids present (my own daughter included). It was a beautiful celebration of his life. He danced, laughed, ate and drank. And I hope to always remember him that way.
It had been a hard two weeks leading up to the trip as I had to deal with my own grief and somehow explain the concept of death to a five-year-old. I’m thankful for my husband. He had the hard talk with her when I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
My grandfather had never quite approved of my life choices. He didn’t like that I moved to another country to be a filmmaker. He also had a lot of opinions about my weight and my parenting.
One of the last times we saw each other he caught me by surprise by asking me in front of quite a few family members: “Was it worth it?” I wasn’t sure what he was asking me at first. I was distracted by my daughter as we were sitting down to have a meal. My grandfather enjoyed hosting large family gatherings so his house was always full of people, the table always properly set with a main dish and side dishes.
So, he elaborated: “Was it worth it, moving to the US to study film?” That question felt like an act of aggression. My entire career flashed before my eyes. All my life choices, my mistakes, my shortcomings, my many jobs were screaming at me. My imposter syndrome just laughed at me from a very dark corner of my mind. Was it worth it? The sacrifices, the failures, the rejections, the self-loathing, the money problems, the free work, the shady people, the sexual harassment?
In that moment I couldn’t remember a single accomplishment of mine. I could only see failure. I felt judged, I felt exposed. I felt humiliated. I felt that simple question was meant to hurt me.
All I could reply after a few seconds of feeling like I was being put on display for ridicule was a simple: “Yes, it was.” Deep down there was hysterical laughter in my head. The part of me that believes I’m a gigantic failure would not shut up.
I really don’t think his intention was to hurt me, or to expose to the rest of the family members gathered around that table that I had made nothing but bad choices in life. But all of my inner demons woke up and came out to play.
I think he genuinely wanted to connect with me and have some sort of final meaningful conversation with me. Since the day I moved out of the country, every goodbye I said to him felt like a last goodbye.
I felt attacked at the time. And maybe this isn’t the right question to ask a creative person in a highly competitive field who happens to be female in a male dominated society. I don’t know. Maybe he really was curious. Maybe he wanted me to evaluate my life and make changes if I saw something I didn’t like.
I don’t know if it was all worth it. I don’t know if I made any right choices along the way. I said “yes” to virtually every opportunity that came my way. I think maybe I said “yes” to things I should have said “no” to. I honestly don’t know anymore. How does someone know for sure they made the right choices in life? How do I measure my own success? I know if I go by other people’s standards, I might be a success or a failure. It all dependents on who you ask. It depends on what you value. Money? Accomplishments? Overall joy? Health? Family? Friends?
As I sat across one of my childhood friends in Brazil, I mentioned this story. I posed her the same question. She’s also a creative person in a highly competitive field. She’s also a mom with bills and responsibilities. She also had a hard time answering the question. Was it worth it?
As we tried to think of what other career paths we could have taken, we both landed on very similar things to what we do now. We are who we are. We were both in kind of melancholic place, feeling the passing of time, watching loved ones pass away, worrying about our growing children.
On the plane ride back to LA, I hugged my daughter extra tight, I anxiously awaited to see my hubby after three weeks apart, and I felt a deep desire to write about the entire experience. The late-night talks with my mom, the bittersweet visits with relatives, this strange mix of guilt and relief I felt because I missed the funeral. The fun and the laughter as I went to beach and swam in the ocean, visited places from my childhood, ate way too much comfort food and drank delicious cocktails.
I wanted to write about the whole experience. Because that’s what I do. That’s how I see the world, how I process things, how I relate to other people around me. I write stories. I make movies. And yes, it is worth it.