How Fragile We Are, Really

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How Fragile We Are, Really

I spent St. Patrick's Day wondering whether Natasha Richardson were brain dead and how that differed from swelling of the brain. This was an exercise in cognitive dissonance on several levels.

How does a famous actress fall down, hit her head and render herself a vegetable? I mean, how can someone that solid be that fragile? Someone that loved, respected, protected, admired, and why am I sitting here in my underemployed obscurity contemplating her abrupt check-out from consciousness? Why is it given to my consciousness to be conscious of her unconsciousness? And why is this exquisite existential cliffhanger playing out on the entertainment pages where human dignity doesn't stand a chance?

When I was a teenager I had a photo on my wall of her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, in the film Blow Up out of Look magazine. Vanessa-the-icon got me through high school and bolstered my choice of a theatrical career. She was the most beautiful actress of her generation, the tallest, brainiest and most radical politically: she was anti-bomb, anti-Vietnam War, pro-Palestinian back when it might have done some good.

When Vanessa appeared as Lady Macbeth in L.A. opposite Charlton Heston of all people, I went backstage, age 17, and asked for an interview. She said yes. So I spent a day with her at somebody's house with a pool in Brentwood, where her baby son was having a swimming lesson. This meant, yes, Vanessa Redgrave in a bathing suit, radiant as the sun. I'd just seen her in Isadora, a film about a great artist who'd lived life by her own rules, dancer Isadora Duncan, an American, a Californian. Being in the presence of Vanessa-as-Isadora made my life seem full of marvelous possibilities.

That was then. This is now.

That's a memory, a trace of my personal existence inside my head, along with a whole bunch of other traces known and unknown only to me. Imagine all the traces inside Natasha Richardson's head.

The difference between brain dead and brain swelling is that the first is irreversible but the second can be arrested by draining fluid to relieve pressure on the brain stem. After a certain point, there's no point, the damage cannot be undone.

The weird thing about Natasha's injury was not that it happened on the bunny slope, for beginners, at the chic Mont Tremblant resort in Québec, but that she felt fine immediately after the tumble, declined medical assistance, and walked back to her Quintessence Hotel room. The headache didn't start for an hour. This scenario is consistent with what medical professionals in their finite wisdom call "talk and die" syndrome.

Natasha went via ambulance to a nearby hospital to a Montréal hospital to a New York City hospital, at some point losing consciousness. Finally, on March 18, the family announced she had been removed from life support and allowed to die.

If we spent all our time thinking about how fragile we are, we'd never do anything, but when you do stop and think about it, it makes you aware of the precious seriousness of it all.

Natasha Richardson talks about her passion for acting to Charlie Rose, 1998.



Comments [64]

Erin Blackwell's picture

you are too kind. my votives

you are too kind. my votives are just about burnt out, but i have four more. thank you. so thoughtful.

Erin Blackwell's picture

life is fragility

life is fragility

mysticsmb's picture

Erin, feast

Erin, feast away:

http://www.charlierose.com/guest/view/739

p.s. i only have a little b&w set myself....

cameo's picture

nice post. my brother died

nice post. my brother died of a brain stem injury after languishing in the hospital for 11 months cortically blind, without being able to move or talk (he was conscious to some extent bcs he could laugh and cry appropriately). thank god natasha and her family didn't have the prolonged suffering that sometimes accompanies a massive brain injury. life is fragile.

Erin Blackwell's picture

i wish i'd seen it! alas, no

i wish i'd seen it! alas, no TV me.

Erin Blackwell's picture

i'm so sorry. pain pain pain

i'm so sorry. pain pain pain ouch ouch ouch

Steph H's picture

Thanks Erin - I totally agree

Thanks Erin - I totally agree with you about being better to go out than hang on. We effectively "lost" her twice and the years between the accident and her death were unbelievably horrendous for her and her husband.

Erin Blackwell's picture

what *is* the point of this

what *is* the point of this blog????????

that interview suffered vastly from my total lack of interviewing skills, my being utterly overwhelmed by Vanessa's having said YES to me without hesitation & the difficulty i had, carless, getting myself to the rendezvous & once there, being mesmerized, enthralled, smitten...

i think I got an A- on the paper, nonetheless

Kent's picture

Erin, I know it's not the

Erin,

I know it's not the point of this blog, but I'd love to hear more about your day with Vanessa Redgrave! Do you still have a copy of that interview somewhere?

Erin Blackwell's picture

BriTwit yes *thank you* for

BriTwit

yes *thank you* for that memory. my first thought re natasha was "actress + brain damage = not good"
so much better to go out than to hang on
like a candle blown out by the wind
or non-god's breath

Steph H's picture

Thanks PK - that means a lot

Thanks PK - that means a lot to me.

I have missed being here! As you know I am on daughter-in- law duty at the moment....

xoxxo Steph

peacekitty's picture

I'd just like to say thank

I'd just like to say thank you for sharing that Steph.

I missed seeing you around the past few days. xoxo - PK

"Fight Prime Time. Read a Book"

Steph H's picture

Thanks for this blog

Thanks for this blog Erin.

Many years ago one of my closest friends was in a horrific car crash which she survived but with frontal lobe damage. To cut a long and painful story short she hung herself on her 35th birthday as she could no longer live with the agony of living with a brain that didn't function properly. From the moment she had her accident the fragility of life has never been far from my thoughts.

Tex's picture

"Relax and breathe!"

"Relax and breathe!"

Twitter Time @kdhales

Lake's picture

Inhale exhale inhale exhale

Inhale exhale inhale exhale inhale exhale

Just laying around breathing

Erin Blackwell's picture

yes, this gruesome update

yes, this gruesome update confirms the patient-can't-be-forced situation. plus new details about delay... and lies...
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/celebritynews/5023702/Natasha...
what i want to know is why did she pick *now* to learn to ski???????????????

LongBeachDogLover's picture

Snowboarding is

Snowboarding is awesome..........

Erin Blackwell's picture

lovely.

lovely.

mysticsmb's picture

Erin, I don't know what time

Erin,
I don't know what time it airs on the left coast, but Charlie Rose just did a fabulous tribute to Natasha on his Friday night show--highlights of her six appearances with him.

Tex's picture

http://www.youtube.com/watch?

Tex's picture

Why, thank you, Pepe....

Why, thank you, Pepe....

Twitter Time @kdhales

Erin Blackwell's picture

why is this feeling like a

why is this feeling like a marx brothers movie suddenly? come on in, girls! make yourselves at home! it's like we're suddenly all exes

it's like a good irish wake

tex, music?

yonks's picture

I'm doing well thanks taking

I'm doing well thanks
taking a dinner sleigh ride with a special someone, a sport?
oh Tex, your a very challenging woman

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-

Tex's picture

Yes, sorry, Erin......lord

Yes, sorry, Erin......lord have mercy, do you think that's flannel?

All my exes live in Texas,

T-ex

Twitter Time @kdhales

Not2Taem's picture

Prof, Loving the plaid!

Prof,
Loving the plaid! Laughing out loud

Sorry for the intrusion, Erin, but there is no link to respond to the loveliness of the video.

Tex's picture

Random and nude, huh? HOT!

Random and nude, huh? HOT!

Twitter Time @kdhales

Not2Taem's picture

Thinking about getting on my

Thinking about getting on my bike in shorts after it so patiently waited while I frolicked in the sea. Naked? Ouch!! Shock

Tex's picture

Exactly!! LOL!

Exactly!! LOL!

Twitter Time @kdhales

Erin Blackwell's picture

as oscar wilde that irish fag

as oscar wilde that irish fag said, clothes are humankind's greatest invention. thanks for reminding me, Tex.

Tex's picture

We're agreeing - helmet in

We're agreeing - helmet in the nude! LOLOLOLOL!

Speaking of Texas and nude......

WARNING! NUDITY ON SITE! DO NOT ENTER IF EASILY OFFENDED BY THE HUMAN BODY!

http://www.hippiehollow.com/

Going to the tanning bed,

Tex

Twitter Time @kdhales

Erin Blackwell's picture

there's nothing wrong with

there's nothing wrong with helmets! i have a motorcycle in my past. i get it. the only time i rode without a helmet was once in a nudist camp site. oh, we must've been a vision!

anyway...

blog comments are All About Randomness! i was just answering PK since she queeried in my own random way.

we don't have to agree but i don't think we disagree

Tex's picture

Dwell on the positive rather

Dwell on the positive rather than the negative (simplistic)?

Sorry for the helmet mention - I didn't mean to change the focus of the blog to the helmet - it was just one of my random thoughts. You've got to remember - words, happenings, topics and such trigger randomness in me. I'm back from the snow sports, and that is what is on my mind at the moment. Now PK - she's a motorcycle riding woman who has a propensity to run into fences....woman has to ride with a helmet! Me? I'm known to roll vehicles, so I'm thinking about getting a helmet for my Jeep!

Twitter Time @kdhales

Erin Blackwell's picture

focus on enhancing life

focus on enhancing life rather than cheating death. helmets don't solve the human condition.

no wait a minute, here's what i mean: i went out & bought votive candles & i'm burning them now & drinking some irish stout left over from st patricks day & joining in natasha's irish wake à distance & i vow in remembrance of her to take care of myself, to wear my helmet & to simultaneously not avoid those risks that make me aware of the terror of living, to meet & face those fears because that's what she did in her art. and that's why she touched people.

Erin Blackwell's picture

i think there's an answer to

i think there's an answer to PK's query (above) in your description of Redgraves on the street: less protection, not more, more openness. that's the way Vanessa was with me all those years ago. theater folk are remarkably present: it's their "job".

i worry about theatrical technique in an age of electronic media but you're right, in times of no-dough, theater revives, necessarily, because all you need is "two planks and a passion". there's a historical argument to be made, however, for the wealth of performing talent at the ready during the Depression before hollywood had completely killed vaudeville & while yiddish theater tradition was still fresh in people's memory. we are far poorer now than then in arts awareness + practice.

mysticsmb's picture

Erin, as I wrote on Sarah's

Erin, as I wrote on Sarah's blog, the first Depression gave rise to a vibrant and political American theatre--maybe the current one might do the same? (I know, I'm probably being overly optimistic but a girl can hope can't she?)

The most touching part of this whole tragedy for me was that Neeson and Redgrave took to the streets of Broadway last night in tribute to Natasha--they weren't in seclusion in some gated community with limos coming and going. No, they were on the street surrounded by their friends from the stage, publicly sharing their grief. It was real community--it was FAMILY. This is why we NEED the theatre.

peacekitty's picture

Erin can you explain what you

Erin can you explain what you mean by your comment to tex about people"making their heads more worth cherishing?" what does one need to do in order to make him or herself more "worth it?" also how does that lend itself to giving a voice to those in need? Im befuddled.

"Fight Prime Time. Read a Book"

Erin Blackwell's picture

such a sentimentalist,

such a sentimentalist, Taemster

Not2Taem's picture

Ahh, Tex. Betty Blowup is

Ahh, Tex. Betty Blowup is going to be heartbroken. Sad

Erin Blackwell's picture

the point for me of her death

the point for me of her death is not more people should wear helmets. more people should have heads worth cherishing. and you're right, that means giving voice to the suffering that is universal.

thanks, Tex. you're making me rethink the longhorn state. you must be its yellow rose.

Erin Blackwell's picture

really? thank you, Crandall.

really? thank you, Crandall. i was in such a stupor writing it.

Erin Blackwell's picture

isn't it awful? why is there

isn't it awful? why is there no place for sorrow in political discourse? no place for feeling, unless it's canned patriotic claptrap? i thnk there's a direct correlation between lack of tragic theater & the absence of serious statesmanship. the arts are merely "entertainment", the reason for theater has been lost, people seek only distraction.

Erin Blackwell's picture

mmm... yes here's to the

mmm... yes here's to the fragile and those who use their strength with sensitivity

Erin Blackwell's picture

thank you for mourning with

thank you for mourning with me, PK, makes me feel less alone.

Erin Blackwell's picture

gosh i'm grateful you think

gosh i'm grateful you think so.

CA_Medicine_Woman's picture

Motorcyclist - Helmet = Organ

Motorcyclist - Helmet = Organ Donor

Tex's picture

Hey, Pepe! I like tubing

Hey, Pepe! I like tubing also! How are you doin'? Also, taking a dinner sleigh ride with a special someone - you know, a breathing woman!

Twitter Time @kdhales

yonks's picture

Not only motorcycle, even

Not only motorcycle, even bicycle. In quebec, there was an add who show a water melon fall on the ground and open up. after, an other watermelon with an helmet fall into the ground with no injury.

My fave winter sport is sledge

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-

Tex's picture

Back at 'ya, sweets - you

Back at 'ya, sweets - you understand exactly what I'm sayin'! There's a lot to say for hiking and walking! Make sure you wear that helmet when riding - you never know when you'll pull a Steve McQueen......

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQkUzT1RGmU

Twitter Time @kdhales

peacekitty's picture

Hi Tex, great to see you.

Hi Tex, great to see you. Smile

Regarding sports and helmets, it's very important for motorcyclists to wear helmets too. For some reason many don't and that's really crazy.

I understand it's more fun without them but I'd rather live longer than feel the wind in my hair.

The only snow sport I've tried so far is cross-country skiing. It's wonderful exercise but I got tired of picking myself up so I stick to hiking. Wink

xoxo - PK

"Fight Prime Time. Read a Book"

Tex's picture

we are infinitely

we are infinitely fragile.....frail.....those that can express these human characteristics eloquently are priceless.....makes you worth much....

Snow sport note: Stopped snowboarding and skiing several years ago - once I wasn't at the top of the games. Although extremely fun and excellent sources of exercise, any and all sports on snow/ice should be partaken with extreme caution and care - wear helmets! Simply walking at and around ski resorts is challenging. Snowshoeing works just fine for me....so sorry for this senseless tragedy....thoughts to the family.....

Twitter Time @kdhales