Debbie Reynolds, a Pillar of Strength

Debbie Reynolds and DaughterThe recent focus on women’s issues has got me thinking about women I admire. Growing up in the age of lush movie musicals, I had this visual image of Debbie Reynolds as a cheery, romantic ingenue, tenaciously clinging to her perkiness and proper upbringing. Indeed, she fit the mold of “everyone’s sweetheart.” Her passing in December at age 84 reminded me first of the feistiness she brought to the screen, along with the hope she gave to me and my gaggle of girlfriends that we would find Mr. Right and live happily ever after. It didn’t quite work out that way for Debbie Reynolds. Mr. Right, Eddie Fisher, turned out to be “oh so wrong.” However, out of the limelight, and with grace and grit, she discovered her inner strength.

To survive, she became a fighter, which is movingly documented in the HBO special “Bright Lights.” It is a poignant chronicle of Reynolds, her daughter, Carrie Fisher, their often stormy relationship and Fisher’s bipolar disorder, which was frequently discussed in the media. In the documentary, I observed Reynolds’ struggle to understand her daughter, defend her quirkiness, rush to protect her, berate herself with guilt, and feel helpless to know what to do or say in order to make it better or make it go away. In the process, Debbie Reynolds found courage and strength that she probably never knew she had. Many parents with children who are afflicted with mental illness wrestle with the stigma as they rise to the challenge of helping their child. Often, it creates a closeness that is indescribable. Debbie Reynolds died the day after her daughter died. Her job was done.

Photo credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage

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