It’s been a while…to review or to see where this started, here’s a look back at where this journey started with the girls: A Tribute for Betty White
Part 5 In our Golden Girls Series: Life – the End, the Beginning
“Picture it, Sicily, 1910…” – Sophia Petrillo
Words of wisdom or words of abject ridiculousness were bound to follow whenever Estelle Getty’s character Sophia Petrillo, breathed the words, “Picture it; Siciliy, 1910…” Some of Sophia’s stories rivaled Rose’s with their nonsense and hilarity, but many of Sophia’s tales did possess of a ring of wisdom, especially the ones we the viewers see her live.
Sophia’s character, if you are not familiar, is that of a Sicilian immigrant who moved to Brooklyn with her mother, married another Sicilian immigrant and had two children, Dorothy and Phil. There could not have been greater physical differences between Dorothy and Sophia. For starters, Estelle maybe stood five-foot-1, whereas Bea Arthur was near to six feet, so their height differences alone set the stage for amazing comedy. Side note, one of my favorite moments in the Girls is when Sophia goes to make one of her classic hard-punch one liners, Dorothy slaps her hand right over Sophia’s mouth and to dismiss the moment says to the others, “I just love my mommy so much!” Pretty sure I cried laughing the first few times I saw that.
Anyway, there’s a remarkable amount of depth to Sophia’s character. Indeed, there are times when Sophia’s gruff exterior make us cringe, but at the end of the day, her heart is one of gold. Sophia volunteers and does not tell her girls about the sweet, selfless acts she does in a day. She stands up for the little guys and she is motherly, in her own way, to her girls. But most importantly, Sophia’s character gave voice to a generation that was disappearing in silence. A generation that was suffering with few in their corner. Society’s forgotten were and are our own grandparents and great-grandparents fading in the dark, but Sophia Petrillo brought them back to our attention.
There are quite a few episodes of the Girls that humbled their audiences to tears. There have been countless movies and shows that demonstrate grandparents and great grandparents deteriorating from the perspective of their loved ones, but few from the perspective of the elder themselves. Perhaps it is because people are afraid of the unknown “end” and would rather write about it from a disconnected perspective rather than throw themselves in those shoes. But the Golden Girls went there, and they went there in quite a few episodes.
In the episode, “Not Another Monday”, Sophia’s good friend Martha and her go to the funeral of another good friend, Lydia. Martha is deeply rattled by the funeral. Her family is gone. Her best friend just died. She has arthritis, angina, pills beyond imagining, and so she decides that she doesn’t want to go out in pain the way her friend had.
Martha invites Sophia out to a lavish dinner and appears to have a new attitude on life until the following conversation, which begins with Martha saying to Sophia, “I want you to come over to my place tomorrow night.”
Sophia asks, “What is it your birthday?”
“Sophia,” Martha says solemnly, “There aren’t going to be any more birthdays.”
Eventually the conversation goes on for Martha to tell Sophia, “I want you to be there when I kill myself.”
The scene breaks with Sophia and the audience in shock. Martha tells Sophia that she wanted to decide when it was her turn to go, to which Sophia replies, “I always thought somebody named God did that.” Martha continues to tell her that she doesn’t want to die in pain or alone, so she wants her friend to be there to hold her hand.
Sophia is deeply troubled by this. She understands that her friend is terrified to have seen her friend go out slowly and in pain. To be fair, we all fear that sort of demise.
Sophia keeps having nightmares of being there when her friend ends it. She consults with her girls and of course Dorothy fears for what the situation will do to her mother, but Sophia decides that she is going to be there for her friend and so she goes. Her friend gives her an amazing diamond and they begin to reflect on the good times. Martha has her pills at the ready on the table in front of her and once she realizes that she has everything prepared, she says to Sophia, “I’m so glad I don’t have to go alone.”
Sophia stands from the couch where they are sitting in Martha’s home and says, “Do you remember how we met?”
Perking up significantly, Martha says, “Yes, about 8 years ago we shared a room in a hospital. You had the heart scare, I had the gull-bladder.”
“They gave you my sponge bath by mistake.”
“You ate my jello. It was a horrible little room. We couldn’t wait to get out of it.”
“Because we wanted to live,” Sophia quickly reminds.
“Yes, I remember.”
“Remember better! Remember life!” Sophia desperately pleas.
Shaking her head, Martha replies, “I don’t have much of one. I’m not like you. You live with friends and family. Holidays and warmth. I hear the silence.”
Sitting back on the couch with Martha, Sophia says, “We’ll talk. We’ll talk all the time. You can come over Thanksgiving, Christmas. Every Friday night, I may not always be there, but you can always talk to Rose.”
“No, I want to go. Lydia looked so peaceful.” Martha grabs her hand full of pills, but Sophia grabs them from her.
“We’re not in this life for peace.”
“No I’m not, I don’t cry!” Sophia protests.
“I can see your tears!”
“And I can see yours and you know what that tells me?”
“You’re not as ready to die as you think you are. You still want to live, kid.”
“Some kid. I don’t know what to do.”
“That’s the point. If you’re not sure, you can’t change your mind tomorrow. You wanted me to be here for your death, how about letting me be here for your life?
“Like a friend?”
“Like a best friend.”
This may be one of the most powerful dialogues in the entire seven years of the show. Yes, death is imminent and often times it can be premised with great pain, but it is the love of our friends and family that must keep us strong. Life is not easy and sometimes we are presented with great challenges that make us question everything, but every morning, the sun rises. Hope is reborn. We just have to hold on to those bursts of light, even on cloud stricken days. This lesson of appreciating every moment, every smile, every friend is something that Sophia teaches us in this and many other episodes. Her wisdom of strength through love is beautiful and one that we would all do well to abide. Fear of the unknown weakens us and makes us so susceptible to terrible decisions and isolation, creating an ever-downward spiral. Sophia’s remedy is simple and so easy to abide; love. Open your heart to the world around you and you will find beauty, you will find reprieve and peace of mind, even if you are suffering. It is friendship and laughter that frees us from our chains. My own grandmother, Nelva Faye, was very sick towards the end of her life, but she was surrounded by her loved ones and I remember her laughing, singing, even when in what she and we all knew to be her last few days in this plain with us. She did not die alone and she lives on through us, her family and her friends.
If you have a loved one who is getting on in years, please don’t let them be forgotten. Do everything in your power to prevent that fate. They have contributed more to this world than we yet have, so let them know that they are loved and appreciated. Invite them out to tea, for wine tasting, for beach combing, whatever they or you deem worth, just don’t let them fade. If you are in your later years, fill your life with laughter. Don’t let yourself become isolated – go sailing, go walking, join clubs, go on cruises. There is so much life out there – live it to the last, dear readers. You only get one shot at this, so make it good.
Many people have said that it’s the things that we overcome, the mountains that we climb, that we remember most, but I want to add it’s the loved ones who were with us as we met those challenges that we should hold most dearly in our hearts. This is the lesson that Sophia Petrillo teaches us. The “end” only comes if we allow ourselves to loose sight of the truly important and dear things in life: love, laughter, friendship. Surround yourself with these blessings, my dear Readers. Endure, smile, explore. Even if you are in your golden years and especially if you are in a rut. You are not alone. Trust me, I know at times the road is rough, but keep Sophia’s words in your heart; “We’re not in it for the peace” and “keep your seat belts on, there’s a lot of twists and turns.” You never know what the road will bring.
That concludes our mini-series with Sophia, Dorothy, Blanche and Rose. Let me know if you’ve enjoyed this journey in the comment section below and feel free to share it too!
I’ll see you next time, dear readers!
Your humble author,