This week marks 5 years since my friend Liz Laats died. After 88 rounds of chemotherapy and more surgeries than you could count on both hands, she said No more and she died in her bed with her family on hand as she had intended.
I am sharing two huge conversations about loss this week on my podcast Kelly Corrigan Wonders: one with BJ Miller, a rather famous (and rightly so) palliative care doc who has had his own share of loss (including three limbs) and the other with Andy Laats, Liz’s husband, who is family to me.
In both cases the truth of intimacy was revealed. If you let your broken bits show, you will find yourself in deeper, better, more satisfying conversations, and this can happen even now with the distances between us. For example, BJ and I were talking on zoom about the most beautiful death can possibly be — the last glorious song in the musical of a life— when I asked him if he had ever lost someone he didn’t think he could live without. After a moment or two of silence, he told me about his sister. It’s a story to hear for yourself. My point in mentioning it here is to remind us all that people are carrying things you cannot see and whether they are conscious of this or not, they are desperate to take them off their back, set them down before you and unpack them.
In my conversation with Andy, that will be available on Saturday (5 years to the day that Liz died), I asked him new questions about what it felt like then and what it feels like now. He shared regrets and moments of pride and things he’s still untangling in his mind. He has so many thoughts, so much insight, and he’s a natural storyteller — so much so that I felt like she came alive a little bit while we talked. That kind of connection is why we are here. It’s the point.
Taking in someone’s story is one of those things that seems generous but is actually in your own self interest. It’s the fastest way to get smaller in the frame, a way of resetting your own importance to something more appropriate. It’s also the way you get ready for whatever’s coming next in your own life. And finally, it’s how you learn the delicate and important things that allow you to be more useful to the people you love the most.
I encourage you to listen and to share with people you know who have been there.
Kelly Corrigan is the author of four New York Times bestsellers, a host of shows on PBS, KQED and WHYY, and a podcaster who believes knowing more and feeling more will make us do more and be better.
This series of episodes on How Change Happens is being produced with a grant from The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, supporting inclusive higher education and health care, vibrant spiritual communities, and a clean environment. The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. Investing in our common future.