When my mother, Judy Bright, was diagnosed over a year ago with a terminal form of cancer there seemed only two choices for me: either laugh at the absurdity of it all or cry. I've done both, of course, but decided when she first got sick that I would go to bed each night laughing at something.
So I've downloaded comedy shows and albums and each night before going to bed - even now, six months after my mother passed - I listen to them still. Laughter became even more important when in my mother's final months I was diagnosed with cancer. Look, you've got to laugh at that.
There we were - my mom and me, her dying and me recovering from surgery - sitting side by side taking pain medications and making fun of our predicament. We certainly weren't going to sit there and feel sorry for ourselves all day, though we did some of that too.
I asked friends on Facebook and elsewhere for recommendations for good comedians I should try out. Most didn't know how these voices of laughter were and still are sustaining me during a time of grief and transition. My old friend Jim Hinds suggested I listen to a woman named Tig Notaro. Never heard of her before but I gave her a try and enjoyed her low-key approach to comedy. I laughed a lot at her stories.
Tig Notaro is in the news a lot now because of a recent set she did just after learning she had cancer - shortly after her mother tragically died and she went through a breakup.
"God never gives you more than you can handle. Never. Never. When you've had it God goes alright, that's it. I just keep picturing God going: you know what, I think she can take a little more..."
"Why, God, Why?...God is insane...If there at all."
The set is incredibly honest. She asks the questions we all ask. And I cannot help hearing some of my own story in hers. I don't believe in a God that causes cancer, and I don't believe in a God who puts people in impossible situations to test them. But these are common understandings of God and sometimes I wish there was a Superman version of God who could fix all our problems but the God I know walks the journey of life with us rather than pre-ordaining a future that we'll simply follow or who will rescue us (except perhaps in ways that we don't understand fully).
Tig Notaro is a gift from God. She might not know that. So are all the other comedians who have been my companions these many months of grief and, for me, also recovery. They lift me up on eagles wings and help me see the truly funny side of the parts of our lives that are out of our control as part of the human experience. I am grateful to Tig Notaro for sharing her story and for letting me laugh along with it.