Column: An Apology to Dana Reeve, By: Susan Parker

Tuesday March 14, 2006

My friend Taffy called me Tuesday night to tell me Dana Reeve had died. “Get a pedicure,” she said. “You need to do something for yourself. Don’t let life pass you by.” 

That I needed to do something for myself was probably true. Going to bed and getting a good night’s sleep was a possible option. Getting a pedicure wasn’t. 

Don’t get me wrong, I understand Taffy’s intentions. She’s always been concerned about my health and well-being. Since my husband’s bicycling accident 12 years ago, she’s kept in touch from far away, urging me to visit her in New York, suggesting I do things I don’t necessarily know I want to do, such as jumping off a 35-foot cliff in Jamaica and taking a mid-winter kayak trip in the ice-clogged, frigid Long Island Sound. But getting my toes painted as an act of celebrating life? Sorry, it ain’t gonna happen. 

Maybe the reason for my reluctance to indulge myself had to do with timing. It was 8 p.m., and I was already in my pajamas, ready for bed. Ralph had been in the hospital for seven days and his condition was not improving. My niece had just been released from a five-day stay in Oakland’s Children’s Hospital. She’d gone in with an unusually high fever, but she was now, thankfully, recovered. That very same evening Ralph’s daughter had escaped with only a few belongings after a fire ravaged her Oakland apartment building. 

I had heard that Dana Reeve was sick, but I hadn’t followed the progression of her illness. I knew she had given some upbeat interviews recently, similar to the ones she and her husband Christopher had made after his horseback riding accident. She was always positive, buoyant, and downright cheery in front of the camera. I wondered how she did it. 

I’d developed a mild obsession with Dana Reeve. I studied her photographs in numerous women’s magazines, watched her banter with talk show hosts during daytime TV. I went to hear her speak when her book Care Packages : Letters to Christopher Reeve from Strangers and Other Friends, was published. I marveled at how she stayed so optimistic. Her smile was dazzling, her lipstick faultless, her fingernails and hair perfect, her eyes bright and sparkling. 

A year after Christopher Reeve’s accident, he wrote a book, then Dana wrote her book, then he wrote another book. They attended the Oscars, they spoke before Congress, they started a foundation. Christopher directed a movie, and starred in another, a remake of Rear Window, in which Darryl Hannah, reprising the role of Grace Kelly, tells the Jimmy Stewart character (played by Reeve), that she loves him even if he can’t put his arms around her and give her a hug. The movie’s ending implies they will live happily ever after together, but I had to wonder who was going to brush and floss the hero’s teeth, pick his nose, and empty his leg bag. Darryl Hannah? I don’t think so. 

After viewing the film, I gave up my fixation with the Reeves. I didn’t think they were painting an accurate picture for the public of what their life together was really like. But maybe they were candid and I was the one dishonest about my true feelings. I realized I was insanely jealous of their lifestyle, envious of a man who couldn’t breath without the aid of a machine, resentful of his adoring wife who looked directly into the photographer’s lens and smiled. 

But now they are both dead, and I’m returning to the hospital to watch over my husband as he struggles to keep a grasp on reality. He isn’t aware of Dana Reeve’s death. I may not bother to tell him. ª