Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Friend Grief and Guilt - “My Name is Alex”

This blog post originally appeared last February, titled “My Name is Alex”. I think it speaks to another one of those uncomfortable emotions that can complicate grief: guilt. Sometimes there’s just no logical reason why one person lives and another dies. But that doesn’t make us feel any better.

It didn’t help Alex, either.

Family Ties was a successful sitcom in that ran on CBS from 1982-1989  A family led by parents who’d been hippies in the ‘60’s included one son, a conservative Republican, played by Michael J. Fox.
Arguably its most famous story is “My Name is Alex” from the fifth season.  Performed live in two back-to-back episodes, the second with no commercial breaks, it opens with the Keaton parents and their two older children returning from the funeral of Alex’ best friend, Greg.  The parents are concerned about their son’s reaction to what has happened.  Indeed, Alex is a model of forced cheerfulness.
When he’s alone, Greg appears to him – a real, physical presence, cracking jokes about how being dead is a great excuse for missing his economics test.  Alex apologizes again and again, because there’s more than grief at work here: there’s guilt.  Greg had asked Alex to help him move furniture, and because Greg had shown up late, Alex had refused.  “I couldn’t be bothered,” he tells his sister.  “Selfishness saved my life.”  Minutes after that refusal, Greg died in a car accident caused by trying to make up for lost time.
“I was supposed to be in that car,” he screams, finally falling apart.  His parents send him to a therapist, and Alex is resistant, to say the least. 
But as he begins to talk about his family and his childhood, he becomes less cynical and condescending, especially when it comes to his memories of Greg.  Greg’s willingness from their first meeting to treat the brilliant Alex P. Keaton as just a regular guy was something Alex cherished. 
Whether, as the therapist insisted, it all came down to whether Alex believed in God, is debatable.  What was clear as the episode drew to a close was that Greg’s death – and life – gave Alex a new perspective on his own future:
“Greg’s dead and I’m alive and I can’t change that.  But I can keep his memory alive.  I can take his sense of humor and his energy and his warmth and I can make it my home. I can be the best Alex Keaton that I can be and I can use the gift that I’ve been given and I can take time to appreciate the beauty in this life.”
Maybe you are one of those people:  someone whose life changed dramatically when a close friend died. 
Maybe you became a “different” person. 
Or maybe you just took the best parts of your friend and made them your own.

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