I was intrigued by a recent article regarding Mr. Chris Hemsworth who is taking a break from acting to spend time with his family. I understand that actors take occasional breaks from acting for all sorts of reasons. Spending more time with family seemed like a healthy reason to take a break. I’m a fan of his cinematic work, to say the least. So, I read the article to discover the more personal reason for this sudden move. While filming for National Geographic (on Disney+), a limited 6-part series called “Limitless”, he discovered that he is genetically pre-disposed to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Mr. Hemsworth's higher risk of the disease is down to genetic factors - he has two copies of the gene ApoE4, which he inherited from both of his parents. His results showed that he is part of the 2-3% of the population who are between 8 and 10 times more likely to develop the disease than those without the two copies of the gene.
In the series, he explores the full potential of the human body with episodes devoted to the science of longevity. But when Disney offered to remove the scenes where he discovers his Alzheimer’s predisposition, the actor refused according to the article (www.ign.com). After the experience of filming the series, he felt the need to confront his own mortality in several ways.
The actor quotes in the article, “It really triggered something in me to want to take some time off. And since we finished the show, I’ve been completing the things I was already contracted to do. Now when I finish this tour this week, I’m going home and I’m going to have a good chunk of time off and just simplify. Be with the kids, be with my wife.” Mr. Hemsworth will be returning home to Byron Bay in Australia to be with his wife-of-12-years, actor Elsa Pataky, and their children, 10-year-old daughter India Rose and twin sons, Tristan and Sasha, eight.
Confronting our own mortality is part of death literacy. Why do we all need to improve our death literacy? Because knowledge is power. Knowing about death and dying will allow us to make informed decisions that will empower us at the end of life. We can take a more active role in the care that occurs at the end of life. According to Dr. Kathy Kortes-Miller’s Book “Talking About Death Won’t Kill You”, there are other benefits too. Death is one of the most unknowable aspects of life. When people acknowledge the reality of death and spend time learning about it and preparing for it, they are often less afraid of it.
Another benefit of confronting our own mortality according to Dr. Kathy Kortes-Miller is that of gaining perspective. A healthy respect for death in general, regardless of our current physical state of health, encourages people to embrace life. This acceptance can inspire us to live fully and deeply and to think about the legacy we want to leave.
Perhaps Mr. Hemsworth would also benefit from this aspect of death literacy- more pleasure. Although he has only discovered that he has a higher risk for Alzheimer’s, the same advice holds true. Dr. Kortes-Miller suggests that people who have been diagnosed with a serious illness often become more active in their lives and focus on thing that truly matter to them. She provides examples in her book such as to “spend quality time with those they enjoy, engage in meaningful activities and use their time and energy wisely.” (Page 36).
In conclusion, welcome to the death positive movement Mr. Hemsworth. I wish I was your death doula to assist you in the process.