“Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”
Very few of us over the age of 40 are unaware of Gilda Radner, that hilarious spark plug of a woman who tore up the airwaves each week on Saturday Night Live.
With her characters such as Roseanne Roseannadanna, Emily Litella, and Baba Wawa, she found a way to our collective funny bone on SNL with every performance. Little did we know at the time, she was to only to be with us for a short time. Ovarian cancer took her from us at an early age, as that awful disease so often does in the families it touches.
Gilda was married to Gene Wilder at the time of her death. Upon her passing, Gene wanted to leave a lasting legacy to her. One of the things Gilda was quoted as saying was ” Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I’d rather not belong to”. So with that in mind, Wilder teamed with Joanna Bull and Joel Siegel to form Gilda’s Club in New York. The purpose of the ‘club’ was to provide a place where people touched by cancer could go for information, guidance, to talk, cry or (most importantly) laugh. Before long, Gilda’s Clubs opened all over the country.
GIlda’s Club opened a chapter in Grand Rapids in 2001.
It is located in a restored farmhouse in a peaceful setting at the outskirts of downtown Grand Rapids. Gilda’s Club of Grand Rapids offers cancer, grief and emotional health support for children, adults, family and friends. People with cancer and their families can come and go as they please, to seek out comfort and compassion as they work their way through their journey with the disease. They also offer community outreach and in-school programs. People are encouraged to give themselves permission to smile again…something Gilda referred to as ‘finding her funny again’. We were invited to GCGR by Sister Sue Tracy to hear her speak. Being surrounded by other cancer survivors let us know that we were not alone.
We were first introduced to Sr. Sue when she, in the role of chaplain at Spectrum Health, sang Christmas carols with my extremely ill mother. She will go to any length to get patients to laugh, and is a joy to be around. She is in her 5th battle with cancer…yes, I said FIFTH. I have had the pleasure of walking laps with her at the downtown YMCA on occasion. She once told me that she was invited to speak on Mackinac Island and was given a beautiful room with a king sized bed. But the real bonus was that there was two mints on the pillow and she got to eat them both. She then told me “Jim, there ARE benefits to being celibate!” What a great lady. If anyone deserves sainthood, it is undoubtedly Sr. Sue.
With Gilda’s Club being free of charge for the people it serves, they rely on donations to keep them going. In 2011, they launched LaughFest, a 10-day comedy festival in March. Quite honestly, Grand Rapids usually needs a reason to laugh by March! This is but one way they seek to fund their programs.
That first year saw 642 artists on 49 stages around town, and included names like Betty White, Bill Cosby, Margaret Cho, Kevin Hart and Gabriel Iglesias. It was a huge success. Each year has brought more talent to town, and the festival has spread throughout the entire metro region. This year, the headliners are Wanda Sykes, George Lopez, Billy Gardell and Colin & Brad from ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyway?”. LaughFest will have somewhere in the vicinity of 900 artists. Obviously, a festival of this size requires an army of volunteers.
Count us in! With us being retired, we decided to give back to the community for all the support we received though our journey with my cancer.
We attended a meeting last night for new volunteers. By the time the meeting started, this room was packed. Next week, we will meet with the specific group we will be working with, namely ‘Front of House’. We will sign up to work events over the course of the 10 days of LaughFest, and will do things like taking tickets, ushering, greeting patrons and so on.
It promises to be a very fun experience, that is for sure. We will keep you posted on the festivities, as they occur. There will be a lot going on in a short time frame. Or, as Gilda would say… “It’s always something!”