Grief, Comedy, and COVID

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S1: Laurie Kilmartin is a comedian and writer based in L.A.. She’s used to making people laugh by getting up on a stage, going on tour. But the coronavirus put an end to that as a stand up now.

S2: I do my job and zoom in my bedroom where exactly where I’m doing this podcast.

S1: Is that weird? It feels weird.

S3: It’s incredibly strange. The funny thing about standup is being with a crowd and knowing that things can go off the rails at any second. I think that’s totally lost on Tim. If the audio delays are there out there, like only two or three second delays, that they will jump. They killed timing.

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S1: Yeah, it’s funny because you said, you know, standup is all about something could go wrong, which is so true and stuff goes wrong on Zoom all the time. But in like the least funny way.

S3: Yeah. In a frustrating way. And and it happens multiple times in a show. So it so it’s less funny every single time when someone starts chewing during your set, Laurie’s been to zoom shows with designated Leifer’s folks who tried to make it all feel more seamless.

S1: It’s still weird.

S3: I mostly just try to slam in as many jokes as possible on Zaim. That’s my style. And then get out of there and get get the hell out of there. Do the dishes or whatever. Yeah.

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S4: You talk about coded in your sense? Yeah, I was definitely talking about code.

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S1: One of Lori’s coded jokes was about her 82 year old mom. Her mom is a bit of a regular and Lori’s comedy. They’ve been living together. They’re a bit of an odd couple. They fight about politics.

S5: My mom is a pistol. And that that’s what you want to put in your mouth when she talks to you.

S1: Recently, Laurie had been joking about how she was avoiding washing her hands, just hoping to infect her mother.

S4: She has been driving me crazy for four years. So that’s sort of like a staple of my act is when is my mom going to die? And she and she’s never going to die. She’s just going to keep living. So for I guess I guess two months I was working on a chunk about how I could not even koban Kobe could kill this woman. So anyway, that ship’s going to be tweaked.

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S1: Obviously, that joke’s gonna be tweaked because Laurie’s mom did die of Kofod.

S4: But, I mean, I didn’t get my mom, Kevin, a nursing home, did.

S1: To be quite clear for Lori, telling a joke is a kind of incantation, a way to keep her worst fears at bay.

S4: In comedy terms, it’s like if I make a joke about this very specific thing, there’s no way it’s going to happen. Right.

S3: So, you know, I would make jokes about my mom slipping in the shower or whatever just to, like, almost protect her because it would be too, too on the nose for my mom to die exactly the way I had predicted. And so, in a way, you know, doing a check about I hope my mom gets Cobh, it is a way of me going, well, she’s not going to get Copan because I made jokes about it. And there’s no way those two things never intersect. So it didn’t work. Obviously, the coronaviruses, it’s very strong and it doesn’t pay attention to my ridiculous rules.

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S6: Laurie Kilmartin lost her mom a week ago, but she hasn’t stopped kidding around. In fact, her jokes about losing her mom to Corona virus have been going viral today. Why? Laurie’s funny version of grief is a kind of trick mirror, reflecting the experience of tens of thousands of Americans who’ve lost loved ones, too. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

S1: I wanted to speak to Laurie after I ran across her Twitter feed the other day. It was like this news ticker from inside, a horror story with moment to moment updates on her mother’s death, but was also shockingly funny. Each missive, like a little note your sharpest friend might pass you in the back of class while rolling her eyes. It turns out part of the reason Laurie was so good at coming up with jokes about death is that she’s done it before. When her dad went to hospice for lung cancer a few years back, she live tweeted the whole experience, including the 24 hours she and her family spent with his body after he died. It was intimate. People responded. So it made sense that when her mom got sick, she didn’t think twice about letting them in again.

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S4: The task of trying to write a joke was also a relief to me because I was like, Oh, here’s something I can do pretty well. I can’t really help my mom. She’s she’s dying and I can’t do anything about it.

S2: But I can write a joke about how crazy that is.

S1: Yeah, it’s control.

S4: Yeah, so that’s what I was doing and still continue to do.

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S1: Part of how I really started paying attention to your Twitter feed was that you were so willing to access the anger and hopelessness that I think people who are dealing with covered in a loved one feel like this other podcast were tweeted something out about masks, about like, I don’t want to wear them. I’m not going to wear them into businesses. So you tweeted right back at this guy like my mom is dying of Kofod. I’m watching it right now. And Face Time, the palliative care team says her bed’s gonna be ready for you in 12 to 24 hours. See you then.

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S4: Yeah, I’m pretty mean. I’m not a nice person.

S1: So did you know that you were gonna make that joke, like as soon as you saw this thing fly across your feed?

S4: Yeah, I guess so. My fingers started typing it. So, yeah, it was just outrageous. Just so stupid, you know, and and it hit me right. When I’m watching I’m watching my mom die because somebody like that was careless. My mom was she was quarantined with me. We were really careful when she went into the nursing home. She was covered free because they tested her. So she came in contact. I wouldn’t even say somebody working at the nursing home. I think they’re they’re being as careful as they can. But if they come in contact with somebody who went to the beach on Memorial Day weekend and that person, you know, was asymptomatic, then that’s how my mom got it. So I look at I look at people like that is as people that killed my mother.

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S2: So, yeah, I don’t care.

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S4: I’ll come after you. You know, I’m not I’m not saying my mom would have lived 20 more years or even through the end of this year. I don’t know that she would have know. She and her body was she was very frail. My my pain is that the way she died, you know, alone as opposed to at home.

S1: Yeah. I think there are people out there who will hear this different ways, like some people who who maybe want the country to open up again and kind of get back to quote unquote, normal. I could hear them saying exactly your mom was vulnerable. And what we need to do is protect vulnerable people. But why can’t we just. Get back to the way things were for everyone else.

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S4: Well, I mean, I understand that especially if you’re losing income, but it’s not just old people.

S2: A lot of middle aged people are dying. And yet, you know, physically frail people are more vulnerable and may die. And, you know, if you don’t care about that, I can’t help you. But you might die. How do you know you don’t have an underlying condition that hasn’t been diagnosed yet?

S7: Do you want to find out by being in the COGAT ward? Trust me, you don’t. I’ve seen a covered ward. It’s awful. You don’t want to be there. You don’t want your loved ones watching you on an pad. You can’t talk because you don’t have the energy to speak. You don’t want that for them.

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S1: They do want to talk a little bit about your mom and how she got sick and your relationship with her. She was living with you, right? Yeah. You’ve called her in the past, the Donald Trump of your family. Can you explain that a little bit?

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S4: I did. I don’t remember that. But she was she was a Trump supporter. She was a Republican. So she listened to Russian Glenn Back and Savage and Mark Levin and all those guys in my in my house. I would hear it. I would be like, this is like second hand smoke to me. You you have to wear headphones, please. So there is a lot of tension. And I was frustrated a lot. But when I could put aside her politics and when she would let me when she wasn’t, like, flaunting them in my face, then we could just be two people who loved each other.

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S1: What did she think about the pandemic?

S4: She was terrified of it. She said she didn’t think it was a hoax. She knew it wasn’t a hoax. And she was very afraid of getting it. That’s what my sister told me. I didn’t know that. She didn’t tell me that. Maybe because I would have gone into an anti Trump rant. But she told my sister that. So I hope she didn’t know she had it. I’m like, I’m still debating. Should I call the hospital and ask, was she conscious when she came in because they tested her at a hospital she died at? I hope she did. And that she had copies that would be devastating.

S1: So you’ve talked about how when it was discovered your mom did have covered you and your sister had to really fight to be with her. What did that look like? How do you do that?

S4: Well, that was that was insane. We you know, we spent a little time arguing with people, and it’s like we understand. Yes. And they would give us sort of a bureaucratic answer. And then, like I went to Twitter, I had a bunch of Twitter followers. So I said, hey, King, can you guys can you please send a nice, polite e-mail to this guy who it turned out was the wrong guy or whatever, and a bunch of people did, I guess. And then my sister is a psychiatrist and she belongs to this Facebook group of female physicians, and it’s gigantic all over the country. And she posted something. And I think what really turned the tide is 40 female physicians signed on a letter just saying that this is doable if you put them out and put them in PPE. You know, I work in a hospital that does this. We do this safely. This is doable. And I think that combination of that, the pressure from maybe both sides really helped push Chris in the administration of a hospital to doing that.

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S1: So Laura and her sister were let in to see their mother. The hospital ended up changing its policy for everyone, actually. But Laurie, her family was the first allowed to visit.

S4: So we got to spend. We’re supposed to be at our best. I think was like an hour and half. And we were completely suited up. You know, we had we were wearing plastic of our clothes and masks and the face shield. And, you know, we’re we were brought into my mom’s room and we’re able to hold her hand, although obviously we were wearing plastic on our hair. And so she couldn’t feel skin on her skin and rubber feet and rubber legs and place her hair properly. So it’s kind of wild. And just tell her all the things you tell your parents. At the end, it’s you know, it’s pretty basic. It’s like, I love you. Thank you. I’m sorry. And all that stuff. When my dad died, he was able to say back. And I can feel we can feel my mom trying. You know, we saw her physically trying to communicate and she couldn’t. I mean, that’s I would want my last words to my my kids. I love you. You know, my I think my mom’s last words to me were complaining about the nursing home and what I’ve done, which is classic my mom, because she complained about everything but a you know, it was very intense hour and a half. And we played music and I held my mom’s hand and I sort of danced a little bit with her and. And then, you know, time was up.

S1: How do you know it’s time to leave?

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S4: They knocked on the door, so we we exited in a very, very methodical way that we take off our PDA so that we don’t contaminate ourselves. And so we followed those protocols and then we drove we drove back to my house and immediately put her on face time again. And then we didn’t we didn’t turn the camera off until after she died. So we were on with her almost 70 hours straight. And we were just yes, she was on the iPod. And we walk around the house with her and we’d go about our normal lives doing dishes whenever. And then I love you, Mom. We’re here. We’re still hanging out with you. We’re right. We’re right next to you. You’re not alone.

S1: You tweeted about how if you’re going through this, you know, here’s a tip. You need two phones. You need a phone for your face time, and then you need a phone to call the nurse. And I was like, I hadn’t even thought about that.

S4: Yeah, I mean, you need an Apple product because Face Time is just on Apple. My sister, we can use our Android stuff, but luckily I’m an Apple lady, but so did was at the hospital like the hospital had iPods in every room or was your mom had gone in with one. No. The hospital, the hospitals, iPod. So, you know, if you’re a person that doesn’t have one and you can’t buy one immediately, you’re you’re in trouble. You won’t help them do that. You know, it’s unfair. It sucks.

S1: Yeah. It’s like even that it shows how a quote unquote good death with covered. You have to have a measure of privilege.

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S4: Totally, yeah. I was so afraid of losing her that on face time that we just she’s my sister sound to say, hey, she’s she’s frowning.

S1: It looks like she needs more morphine. I know you said you you left the face time open after your mom passed away. Why was that important to you?

S4: Well, we had been watching her on Thursday morning and her breathing there started to be pauses, long pauses between breaths. Right. So I don’t know, maybe in the half hour before she died, my sister and I would be watching her and we were watching her. And she would take a breath and then she would just stop. And we were the weird thing is, is is her breath because her chest stopped rising. And then during obviously when breath, she never recuperated, took another one. And we just watched for like we started going. How long has it been? Ten seconds. Twenty a minute. Oh, my God. She just died. The hospital, the staff didn’t come in immediately. I don’t know if they were. I mean, they had a windows and they could watch her. And I don’t know if they were notified that she had stopped breathing machines or what, but they left us with her for about an hour, which is fine. I didn’t want anyone. I just wanted to be with my mom’s body in the way whatever way I could, because when my dad died, we kept his body overnight. And that was really helpful. Very healing. So they the hospital staff came in about an hour later and they said, would you like a little more time with her? And again, this is also. We are so lucky because had this been New York City, you know, a month and a half ago, it probably would have shipped her out immediately because we got 20 more patients coming in. You know, so we’re really lucky that we got in this hospital when they had already set up their face time iPod situation so that we could watch her this whole time and that they had they had time to let her be in this room, this coveted room for an extra two hours so that we could just watch her and talk to her and accept and process that she’s that, you know, like it is.

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S2: It’s very helpful to just. To.

S4: To see them not breathe and go, wow, it’s you know, I’m not being told she’s dead. I see it. I see it.

S1: Did you know you weren’t gonna see her again? Like, I don’t even know what the protocol is. When your loved one dies of Kofod.

S4: Yeah. I think we figured that the worst the worst thing was when they came in. And they said, are you ready to turn off the feed?

S2: And we said, yes.

S4: And then they turned off face time. And I mean you to face time. There’s this little noise. And the image goes away immediately. And it was so shocking because then our vigil was over.

S3: We couldn’t protect her anymore or help her in our limited way anymore. And that little face time noise. I’ll never get over it because she just went away. And then my. My break, my iPod, all my dumb apps replaced my mom, like, one second. There’s my mom. And the next second it’s, you know, Venmo and Vimeo and Twitter and I, iTunes and the apps. It was very stark image change.

S4: My mom’s been cremated sometime this week, and we’ll get the ashes and then. You know, well, there’s already an age where my dad is and she wants obviously she’s gonna be my dad. They’re going to be in the same niche. And so we’ll we’ll take care of that. And we’re going to have some kind of zoomer remembrance on the Fourth of July weekend with family, because this weekend is my cousin’s getting married. So we don’t want to like I don’t want to step on her wedding with mom’s side of remembrance. So we’ll do it next week.

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S1: Yeah. Have you been able to write any jokes since your mom died?

S4: Yeah. I mean, there’s a bunch of jokes on my Twitter feed.

S1: What is it like? Is it different?

S4: Is it easier or is it harder or is it just so it’s just now now in chronicling this side of it. Before I was chronicling the part where she was dying and now she’s dead and I’ve done it before with my dad.

S2: So I don’t know, maybe I have calluses or something.

S4: But grief, sadness, rage, don’t don’t come out in joke form in your body. They come out and Noyce’s and they come out in in Wales and your stomach tightening, you know, and then it’s my job to when that ends or when that starts to subside to sort of tie it up into a neat little joke. That’s my job.

S1: Mm hmm. Interesting way to think about it. You had the song that you listened to with your mom and your sister when you went to go see her. And you mentioned you listened to it a couple times. I’m wondering if we might even close the show with it, but can you tell the story? It’s a song, Joanne.

S4: Yeah. Soon as you said the name by throat filled up with. Yeah. It’s a Lady Gaga song and it’s her album. It’s called Joanne.

S1: We should say your mom’s name is Joanne.

S3: Her name is Joanne. And the song, Joanne is about a woman who’s dying.

S8: Dinu.

S4: It was a plea to Joanne to stay and not leave just yet. And then it’s also a love letter. Her.

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S3: It ends with X o, XO, Joanne. That’s the last lyrics of the song. It’s a beautiful song. Even if your mother is a named Joanne. But the fact that ours was was really striking.

S9: Call me Jill.

S1: Laurie, I’m so grateful for you joining the show at this time, because I know it’s a lot. So thank you.

S3: Thank you, Mary. Thanks for having me.

S9: X, o, x. So. Joey.

S6: Laurie Kilmartin is a comedian. She wrote a book about her dad called Dead People Suck A Guide for Survivors of the Newly Departed. You can find her making jokes and doing all types of stuff on Twitter at any lauree 16. And that’s the show. What next? Is produced by Mary Wilson, Jason de Leon and Daniel Hewett. I’m Mary Harris. I will catch you back here tomorrow.