SENIOR POWER Five matzohs for Nora!

By Helen Rippier Wheeler,
Thursday April 04, 2013 - 08:14:00 PM

I recommend Nora’s Will, a 2011 DVD about death, family, love, mental health, Passover, and suicide. 

It’s from Mexico, in Spanish, closed captioned in English or French. Cinco Dias Sin Nora [Five Days Without Nora] came first, in 2009, as a motion picture by writer-director Mariana Chenillo. 

I’m usually skeptical about claims of “serious comedy” —not this time, though. And the humor is quite acceptable, even relevant. Most reviews of Nora’s Will go something like this one: “Set among Mexico City's Jewish community, this comedy focuses on the complications involved with organizing a memorial while others are preoccupied with Passover. Also complicating matters are José's status as a nonbeliever and the unexpected contents of Nora's will.” 

Here’s my take. Nora Boren Kurtz (“Mrs. Boren”) and José Kurtz are neighbors, each armed with binoculars, in their own nearby apartments. Hers is particularly nice. Cut flowers, books, resident cat, Passover dinner china and crystal table-setting for ten, snacks here and there. His is ok. Dozing, online card games, and constant nibbling evidently occupy his time. He has a key to her apartment and her on speed dial. 

Twenty years ago, after thirty years of marriage and a son, he divorced her. During the times when she had most needed his understanding and support, he responded with jealousy that continues to affect their lives. She suffered while he failed her, and she has attempted suicide several times. His disagreeable negativism is conveyed in remarks like “She’s 63 but looks 70” and frequent references to “my ex-wife.” When the rabbi asks him to complete a questionnaire about Nora for his (the rabbi’s!) use at the burial service, José is smug about his inability to think of five charitable or good deeds performed by her. But he’s great with kids. 

How could things have gotten so screwed-up. We must come to our own conclusions, and there may be more than one direction in which one might go. José is well-acted by 75-year old Mexican TV and film actor and father of ten Fernando Luján. Nora, alive and dead, is played by Silvia Mariscal (1946- ), seen mostly in telenovelas. 

Nora schedules her death right before Passover, forcing José to stay with her body until she can be buried properly. He soon realizes that he is part of Nora's calculated plan to bring her family back together for one last Passover feast. He views it as her wish to control him. The rabbi informs José that if she is not buried immediately, they will have to wait five days -- cinco dias already. When the actual cause of Nora’s death dawns on the rabbi, he invokes a rule that prohibits burial of deceased suicides: a “special area of the cemetery is set aside for criminals and suicides.” And he spreads his good word around the community. 

Nora’s (and José’s) son chimes in by long-distance: he objects to cremation and embalming of his mother. José consults the yellow pages for a cemetery. Nora’s preparations included listing cemeteries in her address book. The Cemetery of Jesus, offers a Wake-To-Go service. Ultimately, the only nonjudgmental response that José is able to get from Christian and Jewish buriers is “What goes on in each person’s head is a mystery we must not judge.” 

From her bedroom, where she has been laid out on ice, Nora’s final days are dominated by three problem guys: José, rabbi Jacowitz, and Dr. Alberto Murko, friend-of-the-family-type psychiatrist whom José calls to confirm Nora’s death and who counseled José, “She can never fall in love again.” Also involved in Nora’s strategy are two great cooks -- “Nanny” Fabiana and far-sighted Aunt Leah from Guadalajara -- who convert shomer Moisés to cookery. 

José is finally seated at the Passover table, opposite the empty chair that is Nora’s. The second time I saw Nora’s Will I discovered nuances I’d have otherwise missed. The title refers, not to the documents she has addressed to each person, but to Nora’s determination. 

Five out of five for Nora’s Will


Murder-suicide is a disturbing trend among the elderly. Assisted suicide is on the agenda in several states. Asian Americans struggle with suicide. Among Chinese elderly, it is on the rise, and as families change, South Korea’s elderly are turning to suicide. 

Bioethicists are concerned with ethical questions in relationships among biotechnology, life sciences, law, philosophy, and politics. They also study the more commonplace questions of values -- the ethics of the ordinary, as it has been called -- which arise in primary care and other branches of medicine. 

Here’s a book that could serve as raw material for instructors of “selection and collection- building” courses that are often part of library and media education curricula, and especially for users of case study methodology. In Forced Exit, bioethicist Wesley J. Smith (1949- ) confounds assisted suicide and the right-to-die with euthanasia. Of Smith’s Forced Exit: Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and the New Duty to Die (2003,) the Library Journal (not a scholarly journal) declared “Above all, Smith fears that euthanasia will eventually become a legally enforceable right to kill. Not one to mince words, he calls proponents of the right-to die movement ‘death fundamentalists’ and warns against the degeneration of essential human values.” 

In his Culture of Death; the Assault on Medical Ethics in America (1997,) Smith opposed deliberate self-chosen and medically-assisted death. In Forced Exit…he describes euthanasia as a “caste of disposable people” and the betrayal of medicine is “an enemy of the disabled.” Hospice or hemlock—the choice is allegedly ours. Encounter Books, an American conservative publisher, advertises “this expanded edition of a classic book…a compelling case against legalized euthanasia… a closer look at the truly humane and compassionate alternatives.” 

According to Smith (Forced Exit page 9, ): “… those most vocal in pushing the death agenda seem to be those least likely to be victimized by it… They downplay the harm that will follow for the poor, the uneducated, those without access to medical care, or the disabled… Not to worry, these death culture leaders breezily assert, ‘protective guidelines’ will fix everything.”  

He refers to Compassion & Choices as “a new euthanasia advocacy organization formed when the Compassion in Dying Federation merged with the Hemlock Society.” We are, he says, “people of the ‘overclass’: well-off whites with a strong and supportive family or social structure who never believe they could be victimized or pressured into an early death.” I am a Caucasian, feminist, Compassion & Choices life-time member, with no family, an educated former LJ reviewer. 


On Thursday, May 2 - 1:30 to 2:45 P.M. , the Alameda County Library Albany branch at 1247 Marin Avenue (510-526-3720) will sponsor a Veterans’ benefits program of particular interest to seniors and their families. 

A Yale University study has found Facebook bias against elderly people among Facebook users. Researchers found that a startling percentage of public Facebook groups in a targeted search engine sample contained negative stereotypes of people over the age of 60. The descriptions included everything from severe sarcasm to assertion that older people should be put before a firing squad. This is ‘must’ reading: [Jim Shelton (New Haven [Connecticut] Register via San Jose [California] Mercury News, March 31, 2013).] 

On March 7, 2013, Susanna Kim reported on 150 nations’ “retirement security.” The United States ranked 19 among the top 20. The Global Retirement Index measured how well retired people live based on health measures, income levels, their country's financial state, and quality of life. The analysis used data World Bank and United Nations data. The U.S. finished with a final score of 74%. Norway top-ranked, with an 87% score. The U.S. ranks 23rd by health measurements, with the world's highest per-capita health spending, but lags behind other nations in its access to care and life expectancy. [ABC News]