It’s amazing how a theatre degree becomes useful out of nowhere. Who knew that production meetings would be akin to arrangements with a funeral home or that an obituary is just another resume bio to be put into a program for review? Bless my BA and every stage manager I’ve ever met for teaching me how just to get THROUGH this week.
A history with a million shoestring production teams has taught me how to snap into action, even if that action wasn’t expected for another 3-6 months at worst… and years at best.
My father was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer in July of 2020. He went through two aggressive chemo treatments and only weeks ago had been told he got into a clinical trial while resuming chemo. Two weeks after that we learned the trial needed “additional information” and that his cancer’s markers were not compatible with the data they were trying to collect. We were told to contact hospice.
He died 10 days later.
In the busy moments, I stage manage. “Sympathies can be sent here,” “in lieu of flowers please see the details there.” In the quiet times, I process. Each hour is a week, each day a month… It feels like a full season has passed between his passing and today.
The grief consoler asked me if I was angry at the unfairness of it all. That COVID had stolen our ability to go on doctors’ visits with my father. That everything occurred during one of the worst medical emergencies in history, so sharing this burden with family and friends was impossible. That my grandmother who passed only 5 months prior wasn’t able to see us at all because of nursing home protocols. Did I feel cheated? Did I feel angry?
“No”, I said.
The thing that has come out of this part of my life’s journey is how incredibly fortunate I have been in a very unforgiving time. Each challenge had its own gift. And I’m in awe that I could be given so many lessons in gratitude, in such a short amount of time.
When COVID hit, my husband was laid off from his bartending job and began unemployment. I was a freelancer and work was drying up. The world was in shambles and the fear of what our future would look like kept us up at night more than once. We were scared.
But it also freed up both of us to relocate to Michigan. There was nothing keeping us in an 800 square foot Chicago apartment, and frankly, it’s prettier up here anyway. So, we left. And because of that, I was gifted time. Time to spend months with my dad. To let me pack a snack bag when he would go to chemo, and write notes telling him how much I loved him. To watch all the SAG-nominated films together and discuss them. We watched golf and British crime dramas and SO MUCH BASEBALL. I listened to my Dad and husband banter about switching between the Cubs and Tigers, talking about who’s pitcher sucked more while my mother and I sat, wine glasses in hand, rolling our eyes.
We spent my husband’s birthday, Halloween, the Election, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years’, my birthday, St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, and our wedding anniversary with my parents. We got 9 full months of kisses goodnight and hugs good morning and more political evaluation than one should have in a lifetime. We got encouragement for my husband to pursue a new career, allowing him to work from home with some of the most incredibly gracious people on Earth. That helped us ease into a transition back to Chicago after everything. There was never a question when he needed a day off to assist the family.
We had stories and laughs and quiet times and frustrating times and family dinners and tears and celebrations and….. Holy shit, friends–is that not the most incredible gift?! There is no other time in my life where I would be able to step away from my day-to-day life in this way. I simply couldn’t have. And yet – this past year, despite all the things that went terribly wrong, everything also just fell into place.
So, no. I’m not angry. I’m grateful. Grateful for every moment that I otherwise would have missed, and for the incredible outpouring of love and support my family and I have received.
The photo above is of my Dad and me at my Musical Theatre Conservatory Graduation. He was so proud I was perusing my dreams and I couldn’t have done it without my parents’ encouragement and love. The best part is I have so many photos just like this and almost a year of memories of that smile and love to back them up.
As my father, Jon Scott would often say to his colleges, and as I have adopted into my theatre career vernacular… “We are making it work.” And for all those lessons, Thank you, Daddy. I’m grateful.
-Brenda Scott Wlazlo
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