My time has run out to be a featured guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
I do, however, have an Oprah story. I was this close to being a guest, but it didn't work out. Here's what happened.
Like everyone else I was, and still am, an Oprah show watcher. Some shows I am not interested in, some are so touching that I want to watch them over and over; and then there are those that frustrate me. It was the theme of one of these shows that prompted me to write a letter to the show. You know those reunion shows where long-lost family members are reunited? There's all the crying and hugging, not just from the principles on the show, but in the audience and in living rooms of those watching. I was one of the biggest criers, sobbing so hard when I watched those shows I'd feel sick and sad. Why? Because a reunion like those presented on the show would never, ever be something I could experience.
I long to meet my biological mom and dad. The void in my life that is a result of their deaths when I was just a baby is huge. I have no memory of them and the idea that I could somehow meet them and know them is a dream I can never realize.
As heart breaking as that part of my life is, I am so grateful for what I do have. I have a wonderful life filled with love that allows me to forget my loss. But, when I’d see those shows I would sob and feel sorry for myself. That’s what I wrote to Oprah.
That was in the early 1990s. One afternoon the phone rang and it was a producer from the Oprah Winfrey Show. I couldn’t believe it. The woman on the other line asked me lots of questions about my letter, my story, and then she invited me to be a guest on the show! Of course I said yes. I was flown to Chicago, picked up at the airport by one of those chauffeurs with a sign, and driven to Harpo Studios. There I was met by the producer who had contacted me.
There was a problem, she said. Instead of being just one of a few guests for the show the next day, they wanted to build a whole show around the theme of loss. They asked if I would be willing to come back for another taping. I would, of course, still be welcome to attend the next day’s taping. I said sure (who wouldn’t?) and was sent to my hotel where I was given the Royal treatment. Everything was taken care of: the room, meals (room service!), and let me tell you, this wasn’t Motel 6. I remember calling my husband and saying to him, “Rich IS better!”
The next day a driver picked me up, took me to the studio where I was escorted into the Green Room where I got to sit with and chat with the upcoming show guests. The only one I remember is Mary Pipher, the author of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. We chatted and I felt quite special. Once, the door opened and standing just outside was Oprah herself. She nodded at me and said, “Hello.” That was my Oprah moment.
When it was time to tape the show I got to sit right up front. I was just another audience member but I felt like I had a little secret; I was going to be a guest one day in the near future!
But, it never happened.
The producers wanted to bring my brother, Michael, to be a guest with me. At first, he was all for it. It was the beginning of his healing process. My brother, age eight when our parents died (Joey was six, Jimmy was four) was very much damaged by the tragedy. For a long time he could not talk about it. When the healing began, it was a very tenuous process. When it started to get close to the actual participation in being a guest on a nationally televised program where our past would be exposed for all the world, he backed down. “I have a family and I live in a small town,” he said. He just didn’t want to bring such a burden onto his family. I understood, but was disappointed.
So, my Oprah opportunity passed. I wonder if it had come to fruition what would have come of it? I know, because it’s Oprah and not Jerry Springer or Maury Povich, that it would not have been sensationalized, but it still would have been exposing.
I do feel that my story and that of my brothers would be powerful: one that describes how love of family and a will to see the good in life can overcome even the most devastating loss and heartbreak.
What’s making me cry these days? Watching Shania Twain tell her story on Oprah’s new television network, OWN. I see so much of my own story in many of these kinds of shows. I’ve always said that my story is just one of many that each and every one of us carries; some are tougher to bear than others but none is more or less painful than another’s because pain cuts deeply, no matter what the circumstances.
And who knows? Maybe my phone will ring yet and someone will say, “Hello? This is Oprah Winfrey calling………”