All About Joan, Pt 1

Mothers Day is coming. I have so many lovely friends in my life right now who are new mothers, so it is on my radar.

I always feel funky this time of year, despite the gorgeousness of the Spring weather and flowers and budding trees.

At this time exactly 9 years ago, I was doing a musical in Illinois — my first out of town theatre booking, a very exciting time for me. (I came back to acting later in life after almost two decades of drifting. Started singing again in 1995, and then performing in cabaret, which eventually led me to acting again in 2004. I started to pursue it professionally in 2006. In 2007, I booked a fun role in a musical and was thrilled to drive across country to live in Illinois for three months to do it.

And I was decimated. I had auditioned for the show in early January, just after returning home from the Christmas holiday in Texas, where I am from. The holiday where my parents told my two brothers and I that my mother’s oncologist had told them weeks before that there was no longer anything they could do for her in the way of treatment.

I returned to NYC in a kind of shock and almost didn’t even go to that audition. But being a consummate people-pleaser and a professional, I went, despite feeling way off. So I was surprised when I was offered the role. Surprise turned into elation, which then turned into a kind of dread.

How could I possibly take the job under the circumstances? We had been told that no one could know how long my mother had to live. We, of course, were filled with a kind of hope that only those who have been in such situations can know. A kind of hope that your loved one was going to be the one to beat the odds. It could happen. No one can tell you it can’t. So you believe. You believe because that is what the human heart does. It hopes and believes.

But I wanted to be able to see as much of her as possible. My father was her primary caretaker. She was living at home, with hospice care available as needed to help manage her pain and as things progressed. Still, a part of me wanted to leave my Life, move down to Texas and move in with my parents.

My therapist advised me that I couldn’t just go down and “watch her die.” That I had to keep “doing my life.” I knew in my gut that she was right, but I was not going to just wait from afar, either.

I felt incredibly torn: to be living in this co-actualizing of my heart’s greatest dream and my heart’s greatest fear both at once.

With the help of my aforesaid therapist, Bev, I worked out a plan of action, and presented it to the production team to see if they would agree to make it a part of my contract’s terms. I explained the situation, and said that I’d need an understudy in case of an emergency. I also said that I would need to be sure that the days off of each week of the contract were to remain days off — that I would not be required to do additional shows or PR on those days — as I would be flying down to Texas each week and would not be available. Miraculously, they agreed to all of my terms.

I remember vividly the day I took off in my then-boyfriend’s Pathfinder to make the drive that would take me across many states. I was equal parts scared, lonely, excited and wondering. Was I doing the right thing? Was I making a horrible mistake?

By the time I got just outside of the city where I would be living and acting for the next three and a half months, I was filled with that same dread in my gut. As I was calling Bev to get help, a call came in from my Dad that my Mom had taken a turn for the worse. I think I even called the hospice nurse to try to get a handle on what was going on. It was a horrible evening. She gave me the impression that it would be days. I was ready to give my notice and get on the next flight, but Bev suggested I check in, get some sleep and revisit the decision in the morning.

The next day, I had a call from Mom saying that she was much better. The crisis had passed. She assured me that she was fine and that I should stay on. I would be seeing her in 5 days…So I uncertainly decided to stay…and take it a day at a time.

So began what was to be a life-changing experience…some incredible gifts and some deep sorrows came out of that time…as often happens with the losses of life…

Part 2 to follow.

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