Imagine being in love with someone for over 65 years and not being able to share it with your loved ones? That’s the situation Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel found themselves in when they met and fell in love in the late 1940s – a period of time not renowned for its acceptance of same sex relationships.
This documentary meets them as elderly ladies in failing health. Now fully out to their friends and family – and married to each other – the couple are at a point in their lives where they have to start making decisions about where to live in case something happens to one of them.
A Secret Love (2020)
Falling in love in 1947, two women — Pat Henschel and pro baseball player Terry Donahue — begin a 65-year journey of love and overcoming prejudice.
Fuck me this is an emotional one. It’s genuinely heartwarming to hear the story of how Terry and Pat came to meet and fall in love. After 65 years of spending almost every waking moment together, the pair are finally able to tell their family the truth about the relationship and plan their nuptials. But they’re beset with a dilemma – they have to downgrade their long term home for something more manageable. Where should they live?
Terry’s family reside in Edmonton, Canada and it makes sense for the women to move closer to them since Pat doesn’t have her own – but she doesn’t want to move to such a cold climate. Could there be more to her reluctance that simple temperature concerns? Could Pat be unwilling to let go of her controlling ways?
Diana, Terry’s niece is worried that it might be the latter and hatches a plan to intervene and get them closer – but will they relent? The documentary is so lovely but it doesn’t shrink away from the stubbornness of Pat, who’s spent her whole life all but on her own with the love of her life. It’s hardly surprising she might find it hard to relinquish some control. Terry meanwhile suffers from Parkinson’s which is part of the reason Diana is so keen to get them to Canada.
Their story is wonderful. Terry, a pro baseball player (who in part inspired the 1992 movie A League of Their Own) describes her time on the team and how she first met Pat, to whom she was attracted though she’d previously avoided the girls she suspected of being gay. Courting a man quickly gave way to a fully-fledged relationship as she accepted who she was amidst the backdrop of a close-minded America. Photos of the women, both young and glamorous pepper the doc – painting a vivid picture of a more complicated time.
In present (ish) day, the women contemplate whether they should get married now their families know everything, and we hear from some of its members, one of whom admits she’s cool with the truth now it’s out but doesn’t want them living in sin. LOL.
The women, now in their eighties, finally relent and wed in an intimate ceremony while the officiator reads a poem by E.E. Cummings.
There are rows and tears as Diana and Pat come to blows about what is best but you never lose sympathy for either woman. Both have Terry’s very best interests at heart and there’s never any doubt of that. This is one to enjoy if you’re feeling sentimental and in the mood for a light cry. Ultimately the story is gorgeous, a tribute to a pure love that spans almost seven decades. SEVEN DECADES! We can all aspire to commit ourselves to anything for that long.
Alas the epilogue gives us an insight into what has happened to the couple since and it’s very, very sad. So grab some tissues for god’s sake.