Lately, the kids have been watching old episodes of the Muppet Show that I bought on DVD. They’ve watched episodes with Gene Kelly, Carol Burnett, Elton John, and Steve Martin. Every episode, Abigail, who will be nine in April, asks several questions about the guest star. Who is that? What did he do? Was she an actress? How old would he be now? And then, inevitably, “Is she still alive or is she dead?”
Today, Abigail finally watched the episode with Gilda Radner. I say, “finally,” because for days, Abigail has been looking at the DVD box and saying that Gilda and I sort of look alike. Anyone who knows me knows what a huge compliment that is. It would be an even bigger compliment if she knew who Gilda was, and thought I was as funny and as talented, but I’ll take what I can get, even if it’s just being short with dark, frizzy hair.
Anyway, this afternoon, Abigail was super excited when the Carol Burnett episode ended and Gilda’s episode began. I had told her how funny Gilda was; how talented. And then the questions started, and my stomach sank.
Let me backtrack. Telling Abigail about my cancer diagnosis was quite possibly the hardest day of all the days since my diagnosis. Benjamin was only 4, and, even now, sometimes points to his shoulder when talking about his elbow, so I knew he wouldn’t fully understand cancer. Abigail, though, knew about cancer. She had seen pictures of my friend, Jodi, diagnosed 6 months before me and going through chemo, wearing a pink wig for a charity event, and had asked me all about it. Although I was diagnosed in November, I didn’t tell Abigail until some time late in December. I wanted to wait until I knew which surgery I was having, and when. I guess some little part of me hoped (irrationally, I know) that the doctor would call and tell me it was all a big mistake, and I would never have to tell her.
The day I told her, she had passed her belt test in karate. I considered not telling her that day, so that I wouldn’t burst her happy little bubble, but for a variety of reasons, that afternoon was the best time to tell her and Benjamin. So I did. At the time, both kids handled it well, all things considered. We all decided to go see Arthur Christmas after lunch (yes, Jews watch Christmas movies, too!). Benjamin lasted about 10 minutes (he can sit through a 2+ hour Star Wars movie but Arthur Christmas is too much). So it was just Abigail and me. Normally, in a movie, she’d snuggle up next to me, but not this time. After the movie, we walked through the mall, and I went to take her hand, but she wouldn’t hold it. This was way back when she was 7, and wasn’t yet embarrassed to hold my hand in public, so I knew something was wrong. That night, at Abigail’s bedtime, my husband was out running an errand. Abigail wouldn’t sit with me, and when I asked her what was wrong, she cried and said that she wanted daddy to come home and put her to bed; that she didn’t want me to do it and that she didn’t feel comfortable sitting by me. I called Jon and asked him to come home, which he did, and he put her to bed. I, of course, curled up and cried like a baby.
I thought maybe she would be clingy once she knew of my diagnosis. I wasn’t prepared for this.
The next day, I was driving her to a birthday party. From the back of the car, she said, “Mom, do you remember yesterday, when I didn’t want to be near you?” Did I remember? Um, yes. She then went on to explain that she was mad that I had told her on the same day that she passed her belt test, because she was so happy, and then had to be so sad. And she explained that the reason that she didn’t want to be near me was because being near me reminded her that I was sick, and that made her sad, so she didn’t want to be near me so she wouldn’t have to think about it so much. She then said that she was feeling better about it and that she was ready to be with me again. Just like that. From that moment on, she was largely back to herself. Kids.
So what does all this have to do with Gilda Radner? Well, lately, Abigail has been asking questions. She asked how I got cancer, how Jodi got cancer…questions I couldn’t really answer, other than to admit that we don’t know. The minute she started watching the Muppet Show, the questions about Gilda started. How old was Gilda Radner when this was filmed? How old was she now? Is she dead? When did she die? I answered them all, telling her that Gilda Radner had died. “When?” I told her about 20 years ago. “How old was she?” I said that I thought that she was in her 40s. “That’s your age. She was young.” Yup. “How did she die? Was she sick?” Yes. “Was it cancer?” Ugh.
I explained that it was, though she had a different kind of cancer than I did. But does that matter to an 8-year old? I don’t know. She didn’t say anything else, and she happily watched the show and laughed and seemed perfectly like herself. The conversation was definitely harder for me than it was for her and will easily stay with me longer, but what does she remember about it?
Gilda Radner would hate how not funny this post is. In her honor, I’ll try to write something funnier next time. I think we all could use it.