On the power of words

Today’s moment of sweetness comes from PBS NewsHour, whose “Brief but Spectacular” segments encapsule everything good about public TV.

Last evening’s segment featured writer Kelly Corrigan whose father got cancer around the time Corrigan was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

She panicked and so she started writing words.

She wrote The Middle Place.

About twenty years later, having become fine, I called my parents from the maternity ward and cried through the following: “Mom, Dad, it’s a girl, and Dad, we named her after you. We named her Georgia.”

Three years after that, almost to the day, I called home to tell my parents that I had cancer.

And that’s what this whole thing is about. Calling home. Instinctively. Even when all the paperwork—a marriage license, a notarized deed, two birth certificates, and seven years of tax returns—clearly indicates you’re an adult, but all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you’re still somebody’s daughter.

  • MrE85

    I find myself calling home more that I ever have as an adult. Cancer changes your perspective.

    • John O.


  • Anna

    Both of my parents are gone now, my father just last year from septicemia. My mother died in 2004 from dementia, not sure if it was the Alzheimer’s type but the effect was the same.

    My mother and I used to talk every week when unlimited long distance was a figment of someone’s imagination.

    When she could no longer carry on a normal conversation, I would call to check on her and talk with my dad. Sometimes Mom was normal. Other times it was sheer nonsense.

    I have an elderly friend whom I have become very close to. She’s kind of like a second mom and she’s a valued sounding board when I’m conflicted about something. We can talk about anything and she’s as true blue as they come. I’m very grateful for her friendship.

    We all need our parents and our parents need us. When one or the other dies prematurely, a vital connection is lost.

    For all of you out there who still have both your parents, be thankful and cherish those moments.

    They can be very fleeting.

  • ec99

    Coming up on 15 years since my mom died, and 40 since my dad. Sad thing is, I can’t remember what their voices sounded like anymore.

    • rallysocks

      My dad died in 2000. I regret not saving the last voice mail he left me–he was excited because their was a chance that Baylor could give him pin-point radiation to kill the cancer that invaded his spinal fluid. I didn’t know it would be the last voice mail I’d get from him.

      My brother died when he was 23–we had just gotten our first camcorder, and Mr. Sox videotaped EVERYthing. Annoying then, but grateful now to see and hear my brother and catch a glimpse of my camera-shy dad’s smile when he didn’t realize he was on camera.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    I talk with my Mom twice a week now. (via Skype or Google Hangouts if Skype is being finicky,) Our Sunday conversation is a tradition that stretches back to 1979. That fall I arrived in Minnesota to attend college. I started calling on Sunday’s (I don’t remember if it was afternoon or evening) collect from a “phone booth” setup in the student center with a house phone. Over the four years (including one summer) I was able to use other phones I had access to to make those collect calls. I went home for about 2 years after college and then moved back to MN for good. At some point about 5 or 6 years ago we moved things to Skype. Then we moved to twice a week, Sundays and Wednesdays.

  • Jim G

    My Dad is a Korean War Marine Vet with PTSD. When he feels threatened he goes to that dark place. He called last night. He was in his dark place; worry and anxiety over his relationships. They’re changing and he feels lost. I listened as well as I could then told him I loved him. I haven’t done that in a long time. I need to do it more… words do matter.

    • Anna

      The Korean War is often called “The Lost War” as in lost and forgotten.

      With it’s guerilla fighting tactics, it was the “prequel” to the Vietnam War and like the vets of that conflict, many of the Korean Vets came home with PTSD, a diagnosis that didn’t exist at that time.

      It was called “shell shock”, “battle fatigue”, or some other euphemism depending on the war the vet was a part of.

      You’re a good son. Telling him you love him and letting him vent is the most therapeutic help you can give him until the “demons” leave and he comes out of the darkness.

      Keep shining your light at the end of the tunnel.