My mom loved National Public Radio. Lived for it. Died with it. She was always calling me to tell me about some fabulous story she’d heard on This American Life, or some new Peruvian musical group she thought I’d love, or some unbelievable new writer Terry Gross interviewed. That was my mom all over. She loved getting all excited about things, and sharing her joie de vivre with those near and dear to her. It wasn’t enough that she got jazzed, she wanted you to be jazzed, too. It is a terrible thing that the world has been deprived of the excitement she generated on a daily basis.
So when I got an e-mail from a producer at NPR asking if I’d like to read a piece I wrote about my mom’s sudden, gut thumping death and the resulting grief, I was overjoyed. Then plunged into yet more grief, as I imagined how excited she would have been, how she would have told all her friends, how proud she would have been, how she would have spread all the love around thickly. That night I had a dream in which we were all sitting around playing cards, which was one of her favorite things to do. And she was her usual self, concentrating so hard on the cards that her lower lip curled up over her upper, giggling like a kid, smiling and laughing and telling everyone about me and NPR. What a happy dream. Up to that point I had been unable to shake the image of her on her death bed, head on fire from radiation, unable to speak, scared and wracked, gasping for air when her spirit was barely even there anymore but that sturdy Geordie body just not giving up the ghost. I was horrified to think that this would be the image I would have of my mother for the rest of my life. It was a depressed prospect, and seemed the opposite of honoring the laughing, joyful, fierce, thoughtful, fearless person she was. But that dream seemed to break the ice, and after I awoke with a smile, my images of my mom changed to happy ones.
When I went into the studio, the lovely and talented producer, Mark Trautwig, was so nice and generous. He too has suffered. Sharing our stories made me feel so much better. So not alone in me in my pain, a solo freak drowning in my agony. The recording itself was so easy. I did what I thought was a warm-up take, then saw the technician wrapping things up. I wanted another take. Before I could ask, they discovered I was 6 seconds long. So I got my second take, and as I did it I could really feel my mom with me, filling up the room, flowing through me, into the mic, and into the giant recording device. I was all lit up from the inside, the words flowed with no effort, and by the time I was done, I was floating in ecstasy. The second take was exactly the right amount of time. I’m including it here if you wanna take a listen. It’s only 2 minutes. Exacty 2 minutes.
One of my mother’s goals when she got sick was to go to New York and see “Spamalot” on Broadway. She was a great theater and Monty Python lover, both of which she passed on to me and my sibles. She just loved the Python’s wacky brand of saucy, sassy, silly highbrow lowbrow comedy. In fact, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” became her theme song. Sadly, she died before she could see it. But we all decided, what the hell, we’ll trek to New York and see it in her honor. So me and Arielle, brother Craig, his wife Steph, their kids Ruth and Sam, and her life partner Judy went to watch King Arthur battle rude Frenchmen and a killer bunny. My mom loved to laugh, and this show was hysterical, in the best sense of the word. As the audience tittered, snickered, chuckled, guffawed, bellowed, and roared in laughter, I could hear my mom laughing with them, with me, with us.
And during the grand finale, when the whole cast comes out and sings “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, while the rest of the audience applauded, I burst into tears of sorrow and joy. And when I looked down our row, my whole family was crying, while the rest of the packed theater was clapping and laughing. I think my mom, would have liked that.