Independent Lens: Mimi and Dona

About This Episode

What happens when love runs out of time? For 92-year-old Mimi, who has spent much of her life caring for 64-year-old Dona, it means facing the inevitable — the likelihood that she will not outlive her daughter and the need to find her a new home.

Since Mimi Thornton’s husband died in 1968, she has lived with her daughter Dona in their suburban Dallas home. The cognitively challenged Dona has possibly undiagnosed autism, but over the years, they have carved out a happy life for themselves. But Mimi and Dona's symbiotic existence is about to come to a crashing halt. In part for her safety, as well as the reality of aging, Mimi’s family has made the agonizing decision that she can no longer care for Dona, and Dona must leave home to live in a nearby state-run facility. After 64 years, Mimi will have an empty nest and Dona will suddenly be away from home.

In this powerfully personal documentary, filmmaker Sophie Sartain, Mimi and Dona’s granddaughter and niece, respectively, chronicles the painful process of separating her aunt and grandmother. She also interviews her own mother (Dona’s sister) and other family members, reaching back to explore the complicated legacy of Dona's disability on three generations of her Texas family as well as its history of family members with mental and developmental disabilities. Ultimately, family bonds run deep and true, even when faced with the greatest challenge yet.