Video Transcript

It took me 10 years to be able to take 40 steps. The 40 steps from my bedroom to the room where my husband lay dying. The 40 steps I never wanted to take. Steps that I had taken countless times before on the way to get the mail or to make dinner or to help a six-year-old daughter tie the laces of her shoes again. You see, I knew that there were 40 steps because in those 10 years I was a caregiver. And that means that on more than one occasion I was asked to count the number of steps say from the front door to the bedroom, from the living room to the kitchen, from the bed to the bath. It was often a requisite for in-home physical therapy. A condition of hospital discharge. And sometimes in those years I took those steps in a matter of minutes, sometimes longer. But it was the culmination of those 10 years that gave me the strength I needed to take each one of the 40 steps I would have to take to do what came next. And I will say I gave those 10 years willingly and I never would have been able to take those steps had I not had the solace and the fortitude of that time that we had together. So this is my story of momentum, or as my Italian chef husband would say, how I gathered the earth beneath my feet to do what came next.

You see, I knew firsthand that life can change on a dime. When I was 20, I rounded a corner in Florence and I locked eyes with the man who would change my life. Now at the time he was standing in front of one of the best gelaterias in all of Florence and nearby there was this bakery that was emitting the most exquisite smell of fresh-baked bread so really he just seemed like an obstacle to my next meal. Beautiful one but an obstacle. I was too young to know anything about fate or destiny and I certainly wasn’t looking for love. I mean, not the kind that could last a lifetime. But the momentum of meeting this sexy man while I was thinking about ice cream, well that was just undeniable. And it didn’t take me long to realize that I had met the love of my life. So with this deliciously Italian chef in one hand and a marriage license in the other, I’m set. I mean the gods have smiled on me. I am an actress in a loving, supportive marriage, I have a lifetime of home-cooked meals to look forward to, I am living my version of la dolce vita. I have everything I want and the potentiality for everything that I could imagine. And then in May of 2002, we heard these words: rare soft tissue bone cancer.

Overnight I became a caregiver. And where I thought that I was in for a life of receiving, I would discover that I was set for a life of giving and that it is in giving that we receive life’s greatest gifts. But I didn’t know that yet. I mean, at the time of the diagnosis all I could say was, “Why? What the hell?” But as it turns out, in the decade to come in being a caregiver, I would receive this one astounding gift: I would experience and learn beyond a shadow of a doubt the meaning of love. And he, in allowing himself to be cared for, would experience deep, soul-affirming love.

So you see in this 10 years of deep living I learned two simple things: unconditional love and connection. Two things that are the fundamental anatomy of this human experience. Two things that suited me with the heart skills that I would need to take the 40 steps I never wanted to take. The 40 steps that marked a lifetime. The 40 steps that would lead me to lie down at my lover’s side, to hold his hand, to kiss him, and to share one last loving breath together.

You see it’s the momentum behind those 40 steps that is one of the greatest achievements of my life. Those 40 steps made me who I am. They taught me how to show up. And when I walked them in reverse, everything had changed. I walked them in one direction a wife and a co-parent, and when I walked them in reverse I was a widow and a solo parent carrying not only my own grief but the grief of my beautiful child. But, but, and this is the good part, I carried with me in those steps the depth of love that began underneath that ice-cream awning. A love that had only deepened not because of what I expected but because of what I chose to embrace fully, willingly. And it was that same love, that very same love, that led me to want to give back. Because you see, love it has this way of gathering more of itself. If we just allow it, if we show up. And so just as I showed up in caregiving I had to show up in my grief. And when I did, in time — time — I realized that I wanted to transform my loss into an act of love and service as great as the love that we had received. And so I asked myself, “What would I create if I dared to dream big and speak authentically about two things that we have a hard time talking about in this country: caregiving and death.” And out of that visioning came The Kitchen Widow. You see, because my husband had been a chef I dreamed of a project that would use the prism of food to help us better understand how we support ourselves and each other for the moments when we all have to take the 40 steps.

It’s been three years, two months, and two days and I still take those steps everyday. I walk them with my daughter at my side. I walk them out in the world in the form of new experiences. I walk them holding the hand of a friend. I walk them today to be here on the stage before you. And sometimes I walk them easily, sometimes not. But they have taught me, they have prepared me for the rest of my life. There are no steps I can’t take. And they have even prepared me for the moment when I will have to face my own death. They taught me about love. Just deep, soulful love. And it is the momentum of showing up that allows us to gather the earth beneath our feet and take the 40 steps toward the only two things that matter: unconditional love and connection. So I share my little story of momentum in the hopes that you will remember it when that moment comes when you too will take your 40 steps. Thank you.