Every day Lynn Ruth Miller lives a full life for the people she’s loved — who could not. This and more as memory artist Nancy Gershman talks with this stand up comedian and cabaret performer, currently in England performing “Lynn Ruth Miller: Not Dead Yet” – headed to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer. Watch for Lynn’s return to San Francisco and visit her at lynnruthmiller.net.Regrets are a waste of energy Live a full life for those who could not Write about loss to gain perspective (and happiness) Hear the other person’s side to sharpen your brain Treasured objects are in your possession for a reason Your To Do List
“I am sour on ritual even though I am a romantic. We do weddings, all this expense, and then two years later it’s over. I was married and divorced twice in my life; never saw my husbands again and did not regret it. My belief is that when a relationship is over you get on with your life. Regrets accomplish nothing and are a waste of energy.
The day my mother died, my life began (a story for another time). When my sister called to say my father died 6 months after my mother, I said, ‘OMG, that’s terrible.’ (I was in San Francisco and she was in Toledo Ohio). At the time I thought: Gee. Should I go home for the funeral? And the woman I worked for at The San Francisco Opera House (Mrs. Beverly), said: ‘Why should you go? He’ll never miss you.’ And so I stayed where I was.
My parents left me a bit of money when they died and I used it to go to Oxford and study English literature. Life is what matters to me; not death. I am not afraid of death. I’ve arranged for my body to be donated to medical science. My kidney; my retinas: medical science can have it all. My mother used to say, ‘You’ll be sorry to be all chopped up when you get to Heaven or Hell.’ I thought that was a joke – but I suspect she meant it.
Life is a journey but until it ends my job is to keep going. I don’t have the same feeling about death as my family or even my friends, but I can see how sitting shiva is important to some people because it connects them to others sharing their loss. I can also see that I left my sister with the ganze megillah – all the crap I didn’t deal with: the funeral, the gravestone, sitting shiva, dismantling the house … but that’s a regret of another order.“
“People my age are always talking about all the people who’ve died that they miss. Truthfully, I don’t feel I miss anyone. Rather, I miss them, but I don’t pine. I don’t believe in sentimentality.
We always seem to lose the beautiful ones – like this woman named Lita who lived down the street from me. There wasn’t an evil bone in her body. She died from hepatitis. She was so good and giving to everyone that I often feel she simply used herself up too soon and that was why she died.
I live my life for the people I’ve loved who are gone. Like my dear college friend, Gloria, who died of breast cancer at age 52. She fought death for 6 years and lost. ‘All right Gloria,’ I told her. ‘From this point on, I’m living my life for you.’ I sent her every program from plays, concerts, and operas I saw while she was bedridden – until she finally left us. Because they can’t, I‘m living a rich full life now for them.
There’s a wonderful writer, Wallace Stegner who wrote a book called ‘All the Little Live Things.” In it he said: ‘We do not die of a disease. We die because we are finished.” Gloria was finished. But I am not finished with mine – not yet.’
“I write about loss but I call it “giving me perspective”- not therapy. I’m afraid of losing my faculties but not afraid of leaving this earth. I just don’t want my mind to stop working.
My show called ‘Lynn R Miller, I’m not Dead Yet’ is not a sad show. The audience can see my life was a toilet until I was in my 60’s (I was verbally and emotionally abused by my family; blamed for my divorces even though the first guy smacked me around, and the second was gay). But through writing about it all, I’ve realized my life is my responsibility – and so is my happiness. That is how I got through the negative forces that tried to smother me. I refused to acknowledge them.
Even at age 36 when my body stopped functioning – when it wouldn’t absorb food and doctors were telling me ‘You’re going to die,’ I was sick, but not sickly. I knew inside I wasn’t dying even though the doctors said I was. I kept laughing, being positive, and decided to figure out what the caveman did to get well. He exercised; ate unadulterated food (nothing in a can or a bag); and breathed fresh air (which you could do back then in 1970).
I also got a dog so I could walk him. He walked me back to health. Nine years later I was absorbing food and gained 35 lbs. I have had many dogs since that first one and they all mean a great deal to me. Amy’s death anniversary is just coming up, and I put Stephanie to sleep the day of my first book signing. Again, I just got on with it.
Currently, I’m grieving more for the house I’m losing than I did for my parents. I’m grieving the loss of this house because it was a refuge. I bought a house of my own so I wouldn’t be afraid anymore that someone could evict me. I know it is a good thing and I am actually relieved of the responsibility and huge expense that owning property entails. So what I care about now is today and my plans for tomorrow.”
“I pick myself up by my bootstraps. If I’m not happy, I believe it’s my fault and I do something about it. If I’ve got a problem, I whine to plenty of people. I always talk out my problems with somebody because at first you only see your side – like in a driving accident. Basically, I’m a positive person who doesn’t believe in confrontation. If you take the attitude I’m never going to win, that’s OK. It’s just ok. It’s just their opinion and it doesn’t have to influence what you do. Still, it’s good to hear another way of looking at a problem. You don’t have to agree with it but it should always make you think and re-evaluate what you think about something.”
“I believe in keepsakes. I have a little glass cat my Aunt Sally gave me. One of the few things I’ve brought along with me wherever I go is that little cat. It’s something special (even though I wasn’t even very close to Aunt Sally). And I don’t want to ever be without it. There’s also a bird – a swallow – that my friend Jack carved while he was recovering from cataract surgery. Beautiful things give me peace of mind.
I don’t want to lose the beautiful things in my life. These things came to me and they are something that I cherish.”
Have you ever suddenly walked into a room, and seen your shelves and window sills with new eyes, realizing how much space is taken up by tchochkes? It’s hard to believe how many small seemingly insignificant objects fill our spaces over time.
I’m not talking about pieces bought in thrift stores or souvenir shops. Rather, I’m thinking about those odd or beautiful objects that come to you by way of relatives, friends, or the dead, as they speak to you, from untended rooms under coats of dust. If, like Lynn Ruth Miller says, these things speak to you and give you peace of mind, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
The proof is how they feel in your hand, and how you feel in your heart when you gaze at them. As for the rest, think Salvation Army.