I was at home all day yesterday so I was able to follow the slow, sad accumulation of news about Natasha Richardson. From the first report that her pupils were fixed and nonreactive to the announcement that she had been taken off life support, I read and watched and wondered why this news mattered to me.
Maybe it mattered because Ms. Richardson did not destroy herself. There was no high-speed car wreck, no toxic level of booze or drugs in her blood, no previous threats of suicide. She was on a skiing vacation and she fell down.
That was all.
Maybe it mattered because Ms. Richardson was an "actresses' actress," not just a starlett. Trained at the London's Central School of Speech and Drama, she approached her work with technique and self-discipline, drawn more to rigorous stage roles like Sally Bowles and Blanche DuBois than the glitter of Hollywood.
Even her good looks were cool, classical and tastefully understated, the polar opposite of the surgically-enhanced, overpainted actresses we so often seen on talk shows, simpering about their 'craft.'
I don't follow Hollywood gossip. I did not know until yesterday that Ms. Richardson was also Mrs. Liam Neeson and the mother of two teenage boys. I read accounts of Mr. Neeson sitting in the ambulance with her, holding her hand.
That was when it began to matter. His fate could be my own one day, I thought.
(If you don't understand that sentence, go here.)
I don't know how to do what Mr. Neeson has done. How do you hold a hand that is still warm and look down into a blank gaze, knowing that the person who used to live inside that body is forever gone? You will never watch that hand stir of cup of tea again, twirling the spoon in a way you never realized that you noticed, and would now give anything to see just one more time. You will never hold still while it straightens your tie.
Sooner or later- hours or days from now- you will have to let go of that hand, and go home alone. You will have to let go of her, because there is no telling how much suffering is going on behind that impassive face.
How do you do that?
If anyone out there knows, please tell us both.
Until then, think kindly of Mr. Neeson. And his sons. And the many unknown people who also stand in front of blinking monitors, holding a warm hand and waiting to let go.