Logan, Xavier, Mom, Old, Indignity
Went to see the movie Logan the other day, and while it is a good movie, for this article I want to focus on a relatively small plot point that resonated with me. It has to do with this aged and frail version of Xavier, and it resonated due to the death of my mother back in October.
She was a strong woman. She traveled to Europe from the United States –– alone! –– while in her twenties. This was a brave thing in the fifties. Later, following a failed marriage, she became a single mom of three young boys in an era when, to many Americans, a failed marriage meant a failed woman.
But she kept her head up high. She taught herself to put up drywall and put in insulation and, with her children's help, we remodeled half the house. She taught French to thousands of high school kids.
In her last months, she was every bit that strong woman, no less than when she was in her twenties, but she was old, too: body failing, half-blind, she felt scared, confused, and vulnerable.
She accepted it by half and resented it by half; she was not so naive to deny its inevitability, but also wanted to be useful. She wanted to be capable.
For caregivers, this duality presented a challenge; help was needed and received gladly, but was resented, too, because it was a reminder that she could no longer do it herself. That made her, at times, irritable and stubborn; and that, at times, rendered caregivers irritable and insistent: “Take your pills,” “move over there,” “stop playing with your blankets,” “you have to at least eat something.” While offered earnestly and arising naturally from the dynamic of caring for an old person, it compounds the old person’s feeling of helplessness, of the creeping loss of agency in their own lives.
I appreciated all that in Xavier’s character in Logan in ways that I wouldn’t have a year ago: Xavier, for decades mentor and leader to hundreds or even thousands of mutants, now abandoned and alone, scarcely able to do anything for himself, depending on the gentle care of... Wolverine.
“You’re just waiting for me to die,” Xavier said mournfully. “No,” Wolverine truthfully responded –– because it was not Wolverine who wished him to die, but Xavier himself. For the strong, being a burden on others is worse than death.
When we care for the aged, we have to remember that though they are aged and frail, they are strong people still, who have done great things. We have to remind them that needing our help does not mean they are helpless. That they are not useless; that we need them: ask them for their help; ask their opinion, their advice, their thoughts. They’ll be happy to tell you. They’ve lived longer than you.