If you’ve not seen the final episodes of the Netflix original series “Grace & Frankie”, then be forewarned: this post has spoilers.
The series, now going into its third season, has broken several barriers that still aren’t dealt with often enough in mainstream television. In the first season we meet Grace (played by Jane Fonda) who is married to Robert (Martin Sheen) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) who is married to Robert’s law partner, Saul. At a dinner where the two women assume their husbands will announce their retirement, they instead announce that they are in love with one another and wish to end their marriages in order to be together. What’s striking about this isn’t that the men are gay, but that at the age of somewhere between 65-70 they have decided to throw away comfortable and reasonably happy existences in order to live their true lives. What ensues is both hilarious and moving with all four leads carrying out their respective roles with humanity, humor, dignity, frailty, strength and love. Along the way, the show deals with often-ignored subjects like sex and dating after 65, drug use, adopted children, marriage and friendship, family dynamics and more.
In the next-to-last episode of the second season, we are introduced to a dear friend of Grace and Frankie’s named Babe, who has returned home after a long absence. Taking Frankie into her confidence, she confesses that her cancer has returned and that she has chosen to forgo treatment this time and essentially go out with a bang and not a whimper. To the observer, Babe appears to be healthy and in excellent (and spunky) spirits. The truth is that she does still feel good and that is why Babe has chosen to die before she deteriorates, while she is happy and fun and feeling good. Although somewhat conflicted, Frankie eventually agrees to help Babe carry this out and part of the plan is to throw a big party for herself and her friends. Grace, on the other hand, struggles morally with the issue until she, too, finally breaks down and shows up at the party near the very end to pay her respects to Babe in the way that she wanted, not the way Grace thought that things should be.
In another spoiler alert, I will confess that I deal with a very similar situation in the sequel to my first novel, “Red, White & Blues”. I won’t name the character, but someone finds out that their cancer has returned and decides to forgo treatment for the very reasons that Babe does. This character asks for support from their friends and gets it, although there are struggles both moral and practical. A party is held where everyone in attendance is aware of the outcome.
In a world where death and dying are very nearly the most taboo subjects that we face, “Grace & Frankie” dealt with both in a sympathetic, loving and realistic way. In Babe’s mind, death isn’t what scares her, it’s dying that does-illness, sickness, chemo, exhaustion, pain, false hope and loved ones that suffer as you deteriorate before their very eyes. The same fears that face my character and why the case for assisted suicide or euthanasia is important and misunderstood. Bravo to the show and the actors for the fresh and realistic portrayal of a subject that needs more discussion.