Kate Winslet reads Nina Riggs's essay, about an overwhelming diagnosis -- and a search for the perfect living room couch.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Modern love the pod cast supported by produced by the island at W B. You are faster. oh, the from the New York Times and WB. You are Boston. This is modern. The stories of love loss and redemption. I'm your host, Magna, Chakrabarti, the, when confronted with the unimaginable. Sometimes the only thing you can do is concentrate on the things you can control and buy online. That's what need Riggs wrote about in her essay when a couch is more than a couch. Here's Oscar winner, Kate, Winslet reading, Nina's piece
Were I healthy enough these days, I would be sipping a glass of free wine and running my hands over an exquisite accent, pillow and then impossibly hip showroom called something like space or lust while sales assistant speaks to me of the virtues of Anna Lindh verses. camel in leather? So you really. kiln, dried hardwood is worth the extra expense I'd be asking, and does this come in at three cedar? Instead, I'm propped in bed on a dozen pills with my laptop perusing online furniture stores, West ELM, joy, Burt, crate and barrel, and something called cherish. I am an internet sofa shopping fiend I
breaks only when the oxy overwhelms me on my head starts to long. I cannot rest until I have considered every mid century modern with a hint of bohemian sofa the world wide web has to offer. I pour over design sites like apartment therapy, design, sponge and domino searching searching. Since John and I married sixteen years ago, we have never had a real grown up couch. We have plenty of well off misfits, as is I care, specials parental hand, offs Craigslist, semi miracles and roadside rescues. First we were broke and then we had babies and never seemed like the right time to splurge on anything. Nice and the misfits have been fine. We're not fancy on our taste is eclectic
our house is full of objects that are stronger on personality than looks the wood box. My father and uncle sat on his children to lace their boots for sledding, a lumpy chaise by the front window and the world's coziest reading nook Anyway, when we have needed to get down to the serious business of life, we have always preferred to retreat to our bed our war room Cocoon escape Hatch and, at Times dining room. But in the weeks after I learned that the breast cancer I have been in treatment for over the past year had spread My bones breaking my spine. becoming incurable and most likely fatal finding the perfect living room couch has begun to feel like the most important thing. I've ever done.
Except just when I find one I love it turns out. I can't click buy now and commitment issues have not generally been my problem: houses, cars, jobs, switching kid having plane ticket buying restaurant using shoe shopping mistake to me, bring it usual. I just pick a good seeming option. Don't look back within ten minutes of meeting John at a summer job at twenty one I had already mentally signed on for life, although I waited at least a week to tell him that, but the couch, I can't do it, maybe I'm holding off until after my next. The oncology appointment as though something my doctor may say will help determine whether
am willing to spend the extra money for Dac RON, batting and Polly Down cushions? She promised some new thoughts about treatment options, immune authority clinical trials off label drugs acupuncture the dreaded watchful waiting, it's a complicated calculus on the way. And a basic cost benefit analysis. How much money do I want to spend on something I may not be around to really enjoy on the other buying an expensive couch, a kind of lovely expression of hopefulness and after I'm gone, I still want my guests in my home to feel comfortable and stylish. None of this was supposed to happen. a thirty eight I wasn't supposed to lie on my back in the EU are play December morning and be told by a teary radiation oncology resident that the pain I've been having for two months that I've been assured was from how
week or after months of chemo was actually from a tumor that a devoured, my EL twenty four de Burgh John, wasn't supposed to have to hold me up on the toilet. But my pants on for me do Christmas Eve for the children. Without me, I'm not supposed to be thinking about where he will sit and hold my hand. As I take my last breath, despite all the pamphlets the social workers gave us when I was in the hospital. We don't really know how to talk to our boys, yet they are six and nine. They know about the cancer and the back brake, but they don't really know what it all means
Instead I asked the six year old. What do you think of leather upholstery depends if it's slippery or Nazli, he says excellent point. I think I need to take any bonded leather options, no matter how cute or economical they seem off my favorites list and go with a top brain. The day after the emergency surgery, when my doctor was sitting on the end of my bed in the oncology ward, I saw her glance toward those pamphlets that have been left on the bedside table. What to tell your children about your progressive disease? She's a mother to her children are only a couple years older than mine. Is it time to despair? She said during a pause, discussion about pain, management and radiation may be reading. One of the pamphlet headings know she proclaimed staring straight at me
no, it is not. I trust her completely. Even after the king, Failed twice in the cancer spread when she said it wouldn't ever is an oncologist that makes them want to be on that crazy mix of fierceness optimism arrogance and compassion. I get a contact high from it. It's like love at first I'd or touching something on fire. It's like making a choice and refusing to look back. John, is mildly, new, couch averse, but he's treading carefully. He me well enough to understand that when I'm deserting on the merits of tufted cushions, I'm chewing on something else, custom upholstery really with two boys. He asks flipping through ensuring statements on the counter. Ok well, I think you should get whatever you're into one big upside of being told. I have incurable cancer. Is that after all
he's here is. My husband has finally stopped smugly, saying it's your funeral when I make it isn't he doesn't agree with. Did you spend thousands of dollars on the internet. Today he asks when he gets home from work and finds me with my pillows and hot water bottles on the not perfect, couch where he left me in the morning a low slung return situation. My parents bought his patio furniture in the early nineties. Not today I say nice, he says: do you want to go get in bed together and stare at the ceiling? I do we do in January.
The afternoon already looks like evening: can you believe we found out you having curable cancer on literally the darkest day of the year John asks as we hold hands and stare up tour the same blank spot above our bed yeah? I totally can I say we both laugh. I've always loved sound of him laughing soft and comfortable understated offbeat with a mistake, ubly sleek mid century lines. He takes me gingerly in his arms, as if we are awkward teenagers, my back spasms, but I would go closer to him
until I can put my head on his chest and hear his heart beating downstairs the boys gaze at a screen on the old futon in a playroom. We will figure out what to do about them soon, enough they probably already know what's up and are waiting for us to figure out how to say it. Despite not being much of a Christmas person myself, I hated not being able to watch them often presence and can't bear the thought of never doing it again. Their very existence is the one dark piece I cannot get right within all this. I can let go of a lot of things: plans, friends, career goals, places in the world. I want to see. Maybe
the love of my life, but I cannot figure out how to let go of mothering them, so maybe I don't try to figure it out. Maybe I just aim to get the couch. Strong bones: high quality, leather, something earthy and animal unreal I surfaced that know something of what it was to be alive, that warms to our touch and cools in our absence, also an expansive bench that fits all of us, something that will hold us through everything that lies ahead. The loving collapsing and nuzzling the dying. The grieving I know my thoughts have probably diverge from whatever John is thinking about in the near dark of our bedroom. He is silent, maybe he's dozing as I lie here.
With John's chest rising and falling under my cheek. I why that my careful calculations? How long do I have left, Am I really buying this couch for I'm getting a good deal are irrelevant, as in all things I have to believe I'll know. What's right when I see it That's cute wins reading Nina Riggs peace when a couch is more than a couch. Here's Kate, the grace and humility with which she
bad, her experience of living and dying and the love she expressed. The very last moment inspired me enormously and I lost my own mother last year. So this means a lot We we've got more after the break. I love spelling my boyfriend and I often play spelling bee together by together I mean sitting next to each other playing into. and not cheating. Sometimes when I open up spelling bee- and I see that you have completed a few words on your own, I feel a little betrayed. Give may have happened again, since I have one
and who I will send screenshots from spelling bee of inappropriate words. Then I was getting nervous. I sent it to my parents or something me and my dad? We liked the first together and I wish her out- I it. J C K, P, o g, jackpot panic yeah nice I'm same as earth's sky, the digital puzzles editor for the New York Times. You can try spelling bee and all our games at N Y Times dot com, slash games. Nina Riggs modern love. Peace was published in September of two thousand sixteen five months later she died in hospice.
Nina left, a memoir that she wrote over the course of her illness. It's called the bright our and in it she writes about her resolution to love the days that she was living with cancer as much as she loved the ones that had come before he's her husband, John, do bursting she really focused and really disciplined herself to love all the days. I dont think it was just that she was naturally disposed to. I think she saw clearly that if she didn't she was going to waste whatever time
and she did have. That was a lot harder for me to see, because for a long time I could only see my children not having their mom and me not having the love of my life and my partner and my family and the structure of everything that we had built together. I think for me at the time- and I think this is indicative of the role of caregiver versus the role of the afflicted. You know that person is grappling with mortality they're grappling with you know, losing everything, but they're also going to be the absence they're going to be the thing that is, that is gone, and I was grappling with the fact of of losing her and and going on. You know we were together from the time that we were really barely just not kids. We met when Nina was a rising senior in college, and I had just graduated from college and we were married
for almost seventeen years and- and I miss all of the shared memories, all of the inside jokes, the things that could be said without being said, the way that she would buy me clothes before. I even know that I knew that I needed them or that I could do little things for her like get her coffee in the morning, or you know just small token things that became like you, wouldn't go through a day without them John needed help getting through the days after Nina died. So he turned to a suggestion she'd made, while in hospice get in touch with Lucy Kalanithi Lucy's, the widow of Paul Kalanithi, who wrote his own memoir about dying young with cancer, that's called
when breath becomes air Lucy and Nina had written to each other during Nina's, illness and Lucy had read an advance copy of Nina's memoir. Here's Lucy Nino advise John to contact me after she died, which he did almost immediately with this sort of long desperate email written like in the middle of the night grieving Nina two days after she died or so thing, and it was so it felt so familiar and also kind of crew, easy, but Nina was the character reference you know like I. Already fallen in love with Nina and then to hear from John who is this character that a new reasonably intimately from her memoir. I was drawn
and to write back to him, and so we started writing to each other and kept writing to each other and kept writing to each other and then fell in love. Lucy and John are in a relationship something he says he could have never imagined happening in the midst of his grief. I got older, it could have possibly happened, but I think the fact that we had such a common set of understandings about the ramifications of grief and the process of grief, and then we were just incredibly lucky. I mean both of us have a similar approach to a lot of that stuff. We have similar values around things like how do you care for one another's emotions? How do you care for your emotions around your last partner? How do you care for your child's emotions? Those are the things that I think probably make being partnered the most meaningful and the most likely to succeed long term, it's the first relationship for each of them after losing their spouses, and they know, perhaps better than anyone
The risk that comes with love, I think the danger is maximal, but I think both of us having walked somebody through such suffering and you know, seeing them die and being connected during that time and then losing them. We both have a sense of the profundity of what it means to be in that type of relationship and what the extremes of a relationship like this are the risk that you're taking on in falling in love, whether at me the relationship could end, of course, or you leverage, the forever, and then one of you will lose each other at the end of your life. You know it's like that's a it's one of the biggest risks we all take, and I think both of us have a say
what that means, and it's terrible and great the third anniversary of Paul dying is about to come up and in a way, I don't feel any different about that, as I did on the first anniversary, or the second anniversary, you know, relating to the sadness of.
Having died and missing Paul and now I'll do that with John next to me, but it's not different. It's a lot to manage it's a lot to to carry, and I we just passed the one end of the one year anniversary of Nina's death and I expected it to be difficult and it still exceeded my expectations of how difficult it was. But it's you can't view it as I can't handle this on top of whatever else I've got. I can't do relationship on top of grief, or I can't do relationship on top of having kids or or whatever it is it's. You know it's life and and the grief and the person that you're missing are going to be there alongside that. The whole rest of the way- and I guess it's up to Us- to sort of honor that and put all of our energy into enjoying all the days that we've got in front of us and when it comes to their
in the story. There's one word: they keep coming back to lucky yeah. I think it is like how crazy is that to say lucky, you know and- and I think for me- I really have been able to learn to embrace that duality rate of like love and loss and pain and joy, and I think it's really deep and rich, and okey after the break, the couch. The I love spelling my boyfriend and I often play spelling bee together by together, I mean sitting next to each other playing individual
and not cheating. Sometimes, when I open up spelling bee- and I see that you have completed a few words on your own, I feel a little betrayed they may have happened again. I have one and who I will send screenshots from spelling bee of inappropriate words. Then I was getting nervous. I sent it to my parents or something me and my dad. We likes this funny together and I wish Heather out it J C K, P, o Jack Jackpot panic, yeah Nice I'm same as ascii. The digital puzzles editor for the New York Times. You can try spelling bee and all our games at annoying times dot com, flash games, here's Daniel Joan editor of the modern love column for the New York Times.
side note to this piece is after it was published. One of the strange, but touching outpourings was all these offers of free brand new couches. By the time the piece came out. I think she already had a couch and he was you know. People just want to do something, they get moved and they and they they want to offer advice, and want to reach out and help somehow, but that was just repeated over and over again or these. These offers of free, couches and advice on finishes and surfaces and and durability. all of that. Almost like everyone. Everyone else is in denial too, and wanted to focus on the couch in the same way that Nina did Nina bought a two seat, caramel leather couch. It sits North Carolina Home, where John lives with their two boys, Benny and Freddy, who jobs as are both doing well, and that couch is all
Part of another amazing coincidence, the couch the accounts of the pieces about Lucy has couch before name it in His younger son Benny likes to sit on that couch reading or with legos when he comes home from school because it satisfies his most important requirement. It is real whether it snows just so you know she followed by these directions. Just see, you're not stressed out about it next week on the past rosy per as he put his hands on my head. I put my arms around his waist and just like that. We were dancing under the glare of a street light to music coming out of someone else's suv and- and I was still forty.
He was still twenty one and a half when he kissed me, so I kissed him back or it may have been the other way around The modern love, is a production of the New York Times and W B you are Boston, NPR station, its produced directed and edit by Jessica Albert John Perotti, and Marie Sivertson and Caitlin O'Keefe Yeah for the modern love podcast was conceived by LISA Tobin. Iris Adler's are producer, Daniel Jones The editor of modern love for the New York Times and adviser to the show music for the project, courtesy of appear, a magnet for parties.
see you next week.
Transcript generated on 2022-04-16.