On this, the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death, at 1:38pm EST at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital – down the street from where I was performing at City Center, on the opening night of Can Can, with Patti Lupone, who looked a hell of a lot like my mother, and was playing a French brothel owner, (much like my mother, who’s name was Monique, and ran an art gallery, which is basically an “aesthetic brothel” of artists), and who’s son was also in the production, and reminded me of my relationship with my mother who was in a coma at the time – I figured I’d put a few words down to explore what this time and distance from the event has meant for me.
While tragedy plus time hasn’t entirely equalled comedy yet, there are moments that are tragi-comic, like when we took her off of life-support and expected her to go very soon, and we said goodbye, holding on to her, crying, watching her tears that the nurses said were merely an autonomic reflex, but we knew they were more, and we held on tight, saying we love you, wishing her well as she went, and we kept repeating our love, and holding on, and she kept breathing… on her own, and we kept holding on, saying goodbye… and… the hours passed… and we kept saying goodbye, crying… then more hours, and.. and we kept holding on… and, wait, I thought she was going to go soon, she’s basically sticking around… and more hours, and goodbye, we love you so much, thank you for everything, and holy shit she’s still here! But I have to get to rehearsal… ( I was encouraged to stay in the production by her neurosurgeon who said to stay in it, as there was nothing I could do)… and upon returning she’s still breathing, and her nurses saying, we’ve never seen anything like this, she’s one tough woman. And she was.
She finally died on February 12th, the opening night of Can Can, within those only five minutes of the entire twelve days of her coma that there was no one in the room. She wanted solitude.
As I performed that night, playing a French poet, Etienne, in a daze that probably suited the character, I naturally imagined her watching. A big face hovering about thirty feet in front of the City Center Mezzanine section. The size of her face matched pretty accurately the size of the mother’s face that hovers outside Woody Allen’s apartment in New York Stories… Perhaps there’s some truth to that. She came to pretty much every performance of mine, and would watch. And not just watch, but WATCH as an active, transitive verb. Not just present, but her face was in your face present. Even when I played a hostage in a Beirut cell, my mother’s face was IN that cell. She was essentially on stage. That final night was clearly no exception, and it made sense.
She wrote a letter to me in 1994, when I was in a summer acting program, and she had just discovered she had breast cancer. (She did not die from this, she had a brain aneurysm among some other complications). This was, I feel, the first time she encountered her own mortality. The letter is a very personal one, revealing her fear, some regrets and gratefulness, and even misspellings because English was not her first language. It’s a very true letter. Not a hallmark card, very human, simple and beautiful. I have it framed. She helped me attend the summer theater program I went to and towards the end of the letter she wrote: “I am so happy that I can give you this small pleasures [sic] become the man you chose to be. Please just live well, love well and be healthy — with much love from my soul to yours – you have such a beautiful soul — Mom.”
So, today, on the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death, please celebrate being here by *living well*, *loving well*, and *taking care of your health and well-being* not just for yourself, but for the people around you who care for you. We’re here for a short time, my mother died unexpectedly at 56, so why not make your time here vigorously, even violently positive? Have the courage to overcome any personal obstacles to being vulnerable, giving, joyous, dare I even say it, loving, because as time passes, if you cultivate that courage, those obstacles will seem small, they will recede into nothingness, and you will laugh at them.