My Heart Will Go On

December 22, 2020

“Upon its release on December 19, 1997,” according to the Infallible Wikipedia, this film “achieved significant critical and commercial success. Nominated for 14 Academy Awards, it tied All About Eve (1950) for the most Oscar nominations, and won 11, including the awards for Best Picture and Best Director, tying Ben-Hur (1959) for the most Oscars won by a single film.”

Titanic, as measured by every metric, lived up to its name. The buzz around the film the third week of December that year had movie-goers flocking to the theater.

For those who have never seen the movie, you really should. It’s a study in ‘how to’ craft a compelling story. The backdrop is, of course, the tragic tale of how the luxury liner Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean during its maiden voyage. The ship did not have an adequate number of lifeboats available for the over 2,200 passengers resulting in the death of 1,517 people.

It was the singular vision of screenwriter and producer James Cameron which propelled the entire story. The Infallible Wikipedia summed it up this way:

“Cameron felt the Titanic sinking was ‘like a great novel that really happened’, but that the event had become a mere morality tale; the film would give audiences the experience of living the history. The treasure hunter Brock Lovett represented those who never connected with the human element of the tragedy, while the blossoming romance of Jack and Rose, Cameron believed, would be the most engaging part of the story: when their love is finally destroyed, the audience would mourn the loss. He said: ‘All my films are love stories, but in Titanic I finally got the balance right. It’s not a disaster film. It’s a love story with a fastidious overlay of real history.’”

As a Romance writer, it is Rose’s story which I have always found most compelling. She is 17 years old when she boards the Titanic and over the course of the next three and half days, falls in love, breaks off her engagement, faces disapproval from family, and then survives, arguably, the worst shipwreck in history.

What Cameron does with Rose is brilliant. We meet her at the very beginning of the movie, a still vibrant 101 year old woman, who is brought to the site of the Titanic’s wreckage to advise a treasure hunting crew looking for a valuable necklace believed to have been on board the ship when it sank. The story is then told through her eyes as she chastises one salvage crew member on his forensic account of the event. “The experience of it was somewhat different,” she says.

It is her love interest Jack, ultimately, who admonishes Rose to live life fully. He sacrifices himself for her and she promises him that she will.

Cameron uses black and white photographs of Rose, ostensibly taken throughout her life, to show the many things she experienced. She does exactly as Jack urged and lives her life to the fullest.

The reason I chose to feature Titanic today – since December 19th will not fall on Tuesday for two more years – is due to an amazing coincidence.

In 2005 – after a class I took on novel writing concluded – a number of us formed a writer’s critique group. Sometime during those first few months one of our members suggested the addition of another writer he knew from a different group. They had taken a class together from the same instructor a couple years earlier. Which is how I met the woman who I eventually dubbed ‘the real life Rose.’

To be clear, this ‘Rose’ did NOT survive the sinking of the Titanic. In fact she was not born until 1920, six years after the fact.

Plus, her name is Irene, and not Rose. As I became friends with Irene over the past 15 years I learned much about her life and experiences and, when I would tell people about her, I often referenced Titanic and continued to call her “The real life Rose.”

For the past two December’s our little group celebrated Irene’s 98th and 99th birthday’s during our weekly meeting at the Bellevue library. Last year we vowed to do something bigger to fete her on her 100th.

Our band of authors – sans the cameraman – on Irene’s 98th

And then the COVID pandemic hit and our method of meeting changed. Five of us, including our ‘Rose’, switched to Zoom. Last week – knowing I planned this as my topic for the blog – I casually asked Irene what the date of her birthday was. Her reply: December 19, 1920. I literally shook my head at the coincidence that Titanic had been released on a December 19th also.

Irene’s story is that of a young woman who met and married a dashing RAF pilot; he trained at an American AFB run by Irene’s father. It was the height of WWII and the only way she could be with her new husband, was to find a way to get to England. That ticket turned out to be working for the Red Cross. The newlywed’s grabbed snippets of time together as their assignments took them to opposite locales throughout Great Britain.

Tragedy, however, struck when his plane was lost, leaving her a young widow, pregnant with their child.

Hence the reason I started calling her the real life ‘Rose.’ And like Rose in Titanic, Irene has embraced life and lived it to its fullest. She’s climbed the Great Pyramids in Egypt, hiked Machu Pichu in the Andes, been on cruises to Panama and Hawaii (and others). She was a single mother in an era when doing so caused most people to look at you askance. She pursued a career in hospital administration, providing for herself and her family, never falling into the trap of self pity. She’s written multiple novels, dabbled in painting, and holds a wide variety of interests.

As I’ve told her more than once, she’s my role model of how I want to age.

Irene braving the weather for her driveby party

To this she will reply, “Barbara, growing old is a privilege not everyone gets to have.” And then, in her humble way, will say how appreciative she is – despite some of the infirmities that accompany the aging process – that she has been given that privilege.

This past Saturday (the 19th) her family (son, daughter-in-law, and grandson) arranged for a drive by birthday party. I imagine they were thinking a few friends might come by. It turned into a much bigger parade. I was, unfortunately, late due to some obstacles. But that turned out okay. I got to visit with her for a few minutes and promised that we’d have a proper party next year on her 101st birthday!

While the fictionalized account of her marriage and what occurred in England will likely never garner the same level of interest as Titanic, the story is no less compelling. It’s available on Amazon. (See link below)

Thank you, Irene, for being an inspiration to me and to so many others. You’re amazing.

Update – December 23, 2021 – Irene celebrated her 101st birthday a few days ago. Sadly, with the world still locked down due to the ongoing Covid pandemic, we did not have a party. With luck it will happen in the spring!

Update- December 23, 2022 – We celebrated Irene’s 102nd birthday via Zoom on Tuesday, December 20th, as all of Western Washington has been gripped in snow and ice.

And, of course, the link to the Infallible Wikipedia and two more movie clips:


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