Nicola Brander

The loss of a child should be no man's playground

IS nothing sacred anymore? Is there not one little speck of life that is not be tainted by greed and personal ambition?

I ask this because of a disturbing story I had the misfortune to publish online last week. For most it probably went under the radar. For me, and likely many others, it was an explosive slap in the face. It hurt.

It was about actor Aaron Eckhart, who admitted to pretending his child had died so he could  attend a support group for grieving parents to prepare for a role in a movie.

I beg your pardon? He did what?

That's right ... he pretended he'd lost a child so he could join a support group for grieving parents. He even shared his  "story".

While the action made celebrity news, there has been barely a squeak of protest. Are we truly that numb as a society?

I know the pain of losing a child - she was just six days old - and the agony that resides at the centre of your soul for the rest of your life.

I remember the early days of grief, when my wife and I sat and sobbed uncontrollably until we could take no more and fell into merciful sleep, only to wake to our jagged reality a few hours later.

It was a very private place that no man or woman had the right to enter in the name of art or anything else.

The hurt of losing a child is not a toy to be played with for egotistical gain. It is not something that you pick up through a get-together at which you cry as though you've truly been through it.

But that's what Mr Eckhart tried to do.

"It's rude. It's very sensitive to go in there, of course it is. I did the research," Mr Eckhart is quoted as saying.

"The gathering is very quiet. There's 10 people, couples. [Their children had passed away] very recently, it's fresh. You're sitting in sort of a circle. Then one person goes, then two, three, then it gets to me. And by that point you're just so flushed that you just start going and giving the details of the story."

Actually it's not just rude, it's shameful in the extreme. It turns a sacred space into the plaything of the self-indulgent.

Sadly, it is reflective of what many believe ... that we can actually taste other people's pain through external sources and truly understand it.

Mr Eckhart apparently  believes he achieved something through his exercise, although the poor fella found it distressing.

"Oh yeah, 100 percent, I lost it," he is quoted as saying. "You really believe that you just lost a child. You are as close to reality in that sense as possible. I don't want to be rude to people who have lost a child, but yeah, you feel right there, you feel like your character."

Believe me Mr Eckhart, you don't feel like you've lost a child. You don't think about a child every day years after they've gone.

You don't tear-up every Christmas when you see children singing Away in a Manger, because it takes you back to the first such experience months after your daughter's death.

Nor do you have any concept of the tiny acts of courage that occur from the time you lose your child that somehow restore you to normal life.

This is not something I often talk about in depth because it's a painful place, but this actor's actions need a response - even if it's one he'll never read.

I don't believe for a minute that I have exclusive rights to  grief. It is something we all experience at various points in our life and  somehow we deal with it.

But I do take exception to well-intentioned actors making hollow  claims that they "truly understand" and "feel" the pain of the people they portray - especially when they gather their knowledge in a sneaky, underhanded way.

The rest of us can take something out of this, too.

We need to be cautious about buying the Hollywood lie and believing we understand any human emotion through what we see on the screen.

Those of us who haven't fought or lived in a war zone don't know war. Seeing images of starving children gives us no concept of hunger.

Life is bigger than art and it is only through genuine experience that we slowly understand each facet of it.

Thankfully we don't have to experience  all of life's dramas.

We shouldn't pretend we have, even in the name of art,  nor should we want to.

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