An ex-partner returns to the fold in the real-life family drama “States of Grace”

How do you think you’d handle sudden helplessness? Could you stomach complete dependence? Many of us don’t have the answer because we don’t like to ask the question. But the documentary States of Grace puts it front and center.

The film follows Dr. Grace Dammann on her road to recovery from a head-on collision on the Golden Gate Bridge. She was in such a state that doctors had to prepare her family for the very likely possibility she wouldn’t pull through. Against all odds, she did. But who was she now?

Prior to the accident, Grace was a working doctor, a pioneering AIDS specialist (the irony of the doctor forced to become a patient certainly isn’t lost). She was a caregiver at home too, many years earlier having adopted a child with cerebral palsy who was drug-addicted and HIV-positive. Her daughter Sabrina was in the car with her that day on the bridge. While both women survived, Grace now needed someone to take care of her.

Her former partner Fu stepped up to the plate, which, we find out, is somewhat typical of their odd relationship. Fu and Grace adopted the now adolescent Sabrina when she was just six weeks old. By then, they had already decided to split. But they fell in love with baby Sabrina and resolved to co-parent her together, remaining friends. The love is there, and seeing a clearly helpless Grace, Fu commits five years to taking care of her.

It’s tough. Grace spends 13 months in rehab before she’s allowed to return to their home in a Buddhist community. Everything’s different now, including Fu and Sabrina’s relationship, which is stronger now that Fu’s the more active parent. And Sabrina, who also uses a wheelchair, is more mobile and independent than her mother.

20131113144203-DSC_0017-e1406760474736-1024x682via Open Studio Productions

It’s a complete reversal of roles, and the dependency, pain and multiple surgeries has Grace questioning if she even wants to continue living. At one point she reveals she feels like she’s lost her best friend–her body.

Through the anger and sadness you can sense she feels useless, going so far as to call herself a “burden.” It’s clear that a great mind like Grace’s can’t be restless for too long, and so when she establishes the goal of going back to work it seems normal.

She’s set the bar quite high, but it’s the motivation she needs to get herself going. A new Grace emerges–one with a purpose. This Grace we can all draw inspiration from.

SoG_v9-e1410218646854via Open Studio Productions

States of Grace captures the realness a documentary should. Grace is not depicted as a hero, instead her bitterness shining through clearly at times and her desperation so obvious. The family dynamic is real too–an angry teenager who hates the isolation of her home, and a partner in life who in many ways was self-centered and now must deal with the frustrations of being her family’s primary caregiver. Not a perfect family, and certainly not your typical one, but somehow they make sense together.

I feel privileged to have watched this family’s journey. I recommend you do the same.

Visit to find out when the movie is playing near you.