This story was written by Michelle, Donor Wife
In 2019, I watched as my husband of 22 years seemingly unraveled right before my eyes. He had always suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome. However, he was losing touch with reality, and I felt helpless. I was in deep grief from the loss of my mother. Then the COVID pandemic took over everyone’s life, and before I knew it, I was living out of my car for months until I could find an apartment I could afford on unemployment. Soon came credit card fraud, identity theft, betrayal, and lies. Nine months later, my husband suffered a traumatic brain injury, and I had to make the impossible decision to take him off life support. Since then, I have been cleaning up many of the messes he left and trying to heal my psyche and find a way to keep living. As part of my healing, I took a 9-month course in Positive Psychology with the WholeBeing Institute. During that time, I developed a program using ritual to demarcate liminal spaces: the ‘lifequakes’ we all have at some points in our lives. Last summer, I was invited to go to the Transplant Games by Gift of Life. There, I came in contact with many organ recipients and started to wonder who my husband’s recipients were. It was a revelatory experience, and I wrote down many of the real-life experiences and the beginnings of this project.
I have never been drawn to produce such personal work as this before. During the past two years, I have done much research on grief and how we, as a society, are so woefully unprepared to experience it and support those around us deep in it.
With this project, I want to change society’s “grief rules.” Through the transformational powers of theatre and ritual, I will provide a safe space to witness another’s grief, asking the unanswerable questions: Who are we, and What are we doing here? I will stand on the threshold, looking back to what was and toward what is not yet—at the same time. I refuse to follow the pattern we all seem to (unconsciously) agree to—that there is only cause and effect. There is also the liminal space that I ask to witness and to be witnessed.
I demand that we provide space to witness others in their grief, despair, and joy without trying to fix or change it, as if to say, “I see you; we are connected.” And to be witnessed, saying: “Here I am, just like I am, broken AND magnificent—all at the same time.” Engaging in this work offers us a way to continue the relational bond, even as grief causes us to grow and change. I’m planting the seeds, not for an endgame, but for an evolving connection of hope.
You will lose a loved one, a pet, a job, a relationship, a house, or all of it. The audience for this project is anyone who may have lost or will lose something valuable. I will present this work starting with the 2023 Fringe Festival.
Read more about IT’S COMPLICATED …THIS GIFT OF LIFE:
Can a play about organ donation and grief be funny? Yes! Follow one woman’s (Me!) moving story about how her husband’s tragic death led to finding new meaning in witnessing and being witnessed. A short and powerful interactive, darkly comedic, and multi-disciplinary theatre performance about organ donation, mental illness, grief, and hope. How can we look at the “sacred transaction” of one person donating their organs, giving their life, and another person receiving them to keep their life going?
To donate organs, someone has to die. How are we supposed to feel about that? And even if our “person” does not become an organ donor, we will all grieve someone or something someday. Instead of hiding our grief or pretending it’s not there, how can we surround each other in our darkest times with presence and love? This production uses the power of live theatre, music, and movement to connect artists and audiences in the liminal space between life and death, peace and trauma, and grief and meaning-making. Through the transformational powers of drama, ritual, and humor, we offer a safe space as we ask the unanswerable questions: Who are we, and What are we doing here?
This is an invitation: to witness others in their grief, despair, and joy without trying to fix or change them, as if to say, “I see you; we are connected.” And to be witnessed, saying: “Here I am, just like I am, broken AND magnificent—all at the same time.”
We are planting the seeds, not for an endgame–for an evolving connection of hope.
Michelle Pauls, solo theatre artist, presents the World Premiere of her new play for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival! IT’S COMPLICATED …THIS GIFT OF LIFE is based on her tumultuous, traumatic, and ultimately hope-filled life of the past three years. Watching her husband’s manic spiral out of control and then horrific accidental death, all during the COVID pandemic, inspired this theatrical multi-disciplinary production. Starring Michelle Pauls and directed by Carly L. Bodnar. Dates for IT’S COMPLICATED… run September 15-23, 2023 (specific show dates and times listed below). Ticket prices are $25.00 (discounts available) and can be purchased through the Philadelphia Fringe website or at the door of the venue, Vox Populi Gallery, on the day of the show. Vox Populi Gallery is located at 319 N 11th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107.
Show dates and times for IT’S COMPLICATED…THIS GIFT OF LIFE
September 15 @ 7:00pm
September 16 @ 9:00pm
September 17 @ 7:00pm
September 18 @ 6:00 pm (Talkback with Naila Francis after this performance)
September 22 @ 7:00pm
September 23 @ 9:00pm
Buy tickets: HERE