Last night, a dear friend and I went to see Jonatha Brooke’s My Mother Has 4 Noses at The Jungle Theater. This one-woman musical play is a masterpiece, an exploration of devotion and loss, loyalty and heartbreak, and the remarkable things we do for love. Words cannot describe how wrapped up in it I became as it went along, story after poignantly humorous story of Brooke’s journey with her mother into the decline of her mother’s life, and eventually her death.

After the show, the audience had the opportunity to chat with Brooke, asking questions and delving a bit deeper into her process. She described this project as first and foremost an act of love, and then also as the telling of our collective human story through the sharing of her own experience. This was exactly how it resonated with me.

Throughout the telling, alongside Brooke’s captivating storytelling of this mother and daughter pair through prose and music, I connected with the two times my own mother had been in the hospital in the past five years with life as she knew it hanging in the balance, and what it was like to walk that with her. Through Brooke’s words, her singing and her deep authentic emotion, I tapped back into the gamut of devastation, fear, anger, wonder, and even joy that are the hallmarks of that time in our lives, and was reminded of how each time something unthinkable happened, I would find myself wondering how on earth we would get through it with absolutely no roadmap to lead the way.

(me and my mama on my first birthday)

This mother-daughter story is everyone’s story, to one degree or another.

At the end of the play, my friend and I sat in stunned silence. Tears continuing to stream down my face, I heard in my heart a simple, awe-inspiring truth…

all of the stories that make a life

My tears came from a place of remembering how fragile and tenuous life is, of feeling so indescribably grateful that I am doing the work I am with individuals and families as they continue to weave their stories of life into death, and of the absolute wonder of bearing witness to it all. This play, my own life, the lives of those I’m fortunate to serve — unique and yet inextricably the same. It created a tension in me that I was struggling to hold…

I can’t believe I’m doing this work; I can’t believe I get to do this work

The first thought reflecting the awe and fear of holding the role of witness and companion of the dying as sacred, searching my soul for vulnerable confirmation that I am indeed up to the task. The second, reflecting the indescribable thrill of knowing just as deeply that not only am I absolutely up to the task, but that I thrive there. It is my home.

There is a strange delight in these moments when I pinch myself and think, who knew?

Being human — and everything it entails — is an astonishing adventure, made richer in the weaving together of the stories that tell our collective tale of flourishing and suffering, peace and angst, joy and despair. Like it or not, we need it all, everything belongs, and the key to our humanity rests in the heart of our ability to walk together through it all.

Perhaps our story is simply about love and its remarkable ability to grow us and hold us, to heal us and to let us go. Ah, the stories we can tell.

All of the stories that make a life.

Thank you, Jonatha, for telling our story so exquisitely.//