Changes: Tembi Locke
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:03] Hello. It's Annie here. Welcome to Changes. We cover so many different types and facets of change on this podcast, but this week's episode gets to the heart of things. It's a story about marriage, family, health and grief. But at its core is love, love at all costs, and how love can change your life.
Tembi [00:00:32] That was the moment I knew, this is a man who has a deep kind and quality of love that is exceptional. And as I write in the book, he was making love in action. He was making love a verb- it was a- true love was a- he would stand in the rain to love.
Annie [00:00:49] Tembi Locke is an actress and an author and now the co-writer and executive producer behind the new Netflix series From Scratch, which is adapted and produced by Reese Witherspoon and starring Zoe Saldana. The show is based on Tembi's life story, which she wrote about in her New York Times best selling memoir. Her sister, Attica, is an award winning writer who has worked on shows like the Emmy nominated Little Fires Everywhere and is also an executive producer and co-writer of the series. Tembi has appeared on so much over her career. You might have seen her in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Beverly Hills 90210 and loads more. But it's her life changing story in From Scratch that she talks to us about today. As a student, Tembi left America to study in Italy, where she met and fell in love with her Sicilian husband, Saro. The romance was completely whirlwind and not without its challenges. They were from very different cultural backgrounds. Saro's family were traditional Sicilian people, particularly his father, and they rejected Saro for not leading the life that they expected of him. To then marry a black American woman only made matters worse in the eyes of his father and meant that Tembi was also not accepted. They persevered because of their love for each other but whilst living in L.A., Saro was diagnosed with a rare cancer, which meant that Tembi had to become his carer. In 2012, Saro sadly died. At the time their daughter was seven. Tembi writes so beautifully about this in her memoir and speaks honestly about her experience of witnessing Saro dying. Her story is romantic, defiant and moving. It's about bringing families together despite their differences. Changing your life because of love and the challenges that come with that. It may even change your idea of romance and what it is to love someone. Please welcome to Changes, Tembi Locke. You wrote this Netflix series with your sister, and now we're going to get on to that, but I wanted to put a quote to you from Attica, your sister, that I read in an interview, a gorgeous interview. She said 'everything about your marriage, T, was improbable and wonderful and an incredible story, extraordinary in its scope'. Can you tell us how you came to meet your late husband?
Tembi [00:03:16] First of all, I'm very emotional about that quote. So we- that improbable *laughs* love that she talked about, the improbability of that began with how we met. I was a junior in college who left, you know, the sort of sleepy Connecticut town where I was studying art history. And I got my passport and I went to Italy to study abroad. And I was walking down the streets of Florence and we quite literally bumped into each other *laughs* I still laugh. We bumped into each other and I was walking with a friend of mine who was an expat, and she happened to know him. And so she was like, oh okay, well, hey, Tembi-Saro, Saro-Tembi dadada. And for me, it was like, oh he's cute but, you know, I didn't think much more of it, but he- for him, it was.
Annie [00:04:12] Boom, immediate.
Tembi [00:04:15] Boom. Boom, right. And in his telling of the story and as he told it always, he was like- he said it was like lightning just struck. And he was a chef and he went back to his restaurant and he was like, I've met- like I just met her. They were like what are you talking about? And he was like, I know she's it. They're like, you spent 2 seconds talking to her. How is she it? You know? But for him, he knew. And then he very, with great intentionality, pursued me. I was 20, he was 32 at the time. So he was 12 years older. So I didn't know my, you know, we say here my head for my arse. Meaning like, I could not have conceived of bumping into someone who would change the course of my life, who would be a great and deep love for me. I was 20. I was like, oh hey I bumped into a cute guy okay. There was another cute guy a block away, you know? But because of his visioning for what could be, he really inducted me into what could be the possibility of this relationship. And I can see now in retrospect that clearly there was a willingness to be inducted *laughs*.
Annie [00:05:22] Sure. Yes, yes, yes.
Tembi [00:05:26] And there was a willingness to take that journey. And What was improbable about it is the fact that, like, you know, he was Sicilian, he was from Sicily but he was working in Florence. I had to go back to the States. You know, we come from two different cultures, languages, you know, economic backgrounds, educational backgrounds, there was so much that was different about us. But what was the same was a commitment to say, well, we're going to just take a leap and we've got each other.
Annie [00:05:57] The love that you had for him. You know, you describe it so beautifully in the book, you said there was no one with whom we could compare ourselves, no one who we could turn to for the ins and outs of long distance, bicultural, biracial love. That was scary, but it was freeing. For the first time in my life, I was making a brave, bold decision of the heart that felt expansive, intuitive, a wish from my soul. A wish from my soul Tembi. Clearly, from what you're saying, you guys had tenacity. You had this kind of inner strength in, and a belief in each other and what you could do together. Where does that come from?
Tembi [00:06:36] I think I spent the whole book trying to understand that, and what I came to is that it has to come from some place so deep within. I think it with Saro, I had and he had with me, a way that we could cut through the static, cut through the noise, cut through the conventional ways of being and drill down and just quickly and deeply access, like what is the most heartfelt thing we can do right now? And if we do that, if we do that, nothing can go wrong. I know that sounds almost in- not insane to say, but it was just so clear with him. It was that wish of the soul because, you know, look early on in our marriage, I mean, there was his family who didn't understand him and didn't understand one, just the kind of person he was in the world. An artful soul. Born to farmers, right who were like, go work the land. Like, you know, save this amount of money. Get this house. Get your pension. Ride out this life and you've done a good job.
Annie [00:07:42] And he was like, hi, I want to sit under a tree and read poetry. And I like to cook. And there was a mismatch.
Annie [00:07:48] Yeah, and expectations put on him, right, that he wasn't able to fulfil.
Tembi [00:07:54] Absolutely, yes. And he couldn't, because to do so would sacrifice a whole part of who he was. And it wasn't that he was sitting in judgement of that way of being it just wasn't for him. And in me, my parents were the first to go to integrated schools for the university. My family came out of the Texas, East Texas, Jim Crow American South. And so the kinds of opportunities that were available were become a lawyer, become a doctor, get a solid professional job, you know, participate in this integrated America that your grandparents couldn't participate in, we couldn't participate in until we were, you know, until college age. And so go do that. Here I am like, well I want to act! *Laughs*. And for them, there was this sense of like, well, we don't know how to help you do that. And two, how are you going to provide for yourself? So there was always a kind of question at the margins of what each of us, Saro and myself, both desired for ourselves. And the margins that were questions. Our family, societies questions like can you do that? What we chose to do was to slow down and say, well, I can't ignore this voice within, and the voice within is saying go for it. And so we did that both in our sort of choices as professions, but we did it inside of our love, inside of our union and inside of our partnership. And it became the core value and principle of all the decisions we made. I think in some ways he had that a little more than I did. That connection to himself and his his inner voice in a way that I think I had, but I was able to cultivate it more because I was his partner and I watched him do it more and then I became more comfortable doing it, right. I like talking about it, thank you for asking, because I hope that there's someone listening right now who will say, oh, maybe I can do that too.
Annie [00:10:00] Yeah.
Tembi [00:10:01] Like Saro always had- I always say he inducted me into a bigger vision of what could be. He always did that. Either in his understanding or version of what our love could be when he was like, I'll come to America. You know, people eat all over the world *laughs*.
Annie [00:10:18] Yeah.
Tembi [00:10:20] When he was like, you're going to be an actress. Of course you're going to be an actress and you're going to be great. Because you know, at that point, I didn't even have an agent. It was just a dream. Like I was doing plays in college and he was like, yes, he just- he could see it for me.
Annie [00:10:33] It's like his lived experience was defying expectations, societal expectations, familial expectations of him. So maybe there was a kind of element of like, he had that courage because he had done it by leaving home. So it was kind of like, it was practised. But you did too? A little no? But not to the point where you sacrifice your family.
Tembi [00:10:57] Yes, exactly. I mean, he made big, big sacrifices. And when he left home to go study university, he wanted to study like poetry and translation. And they were like, we do not understand what that is like, you know, and then he left school because he, you know, found his way into a kitchen. And so he had always made these like left turns. But he always said, every left turn led me to you.
[00:11:19] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:11:28] Was your childhood happy? Do you look back at it fondly I suppose?
Tembi [00:11:31] I do look back at it fondly. Like everyone's childhood, it had its pains. The divorce of my parents was certainly a loss.
Annie [00:11:40] How old were you when that happened?
Tembi [00:11:42] Seven. I was seven. So I was the same age my daughter was when Saro passed. So what was interesting is, I would not have characterised my parents divorce as a loss prior to losing my husband and being a parent to a seven year old who was grieving. But I could see that oh, when I was seven my life changed in a big way and my parents were very loving and largely amicable in that process so I didn't have one of those, you know, like television movie of the week, you know, family divorces where people didn't talk and it was, you know, strife and yelling. It was none of that. But it was a quiet rupture. And it hurt my heart. My young seven year old heart. What was the silver lining in that is my sister and I became like, you know, the best of the best because as we shifted and we went between homes through shared custody, we became our own little unit that I think only happened because of divorce.
Annie [00:12:44] What did your family think of Saro when you brought him to meet them?
Tembi [00:12:48] *Laughs* you know, it's funny. So my dad was like, I don't know about this, and not because it was like because of anything that had to do with Saro. But I think it was just like he just, he could not wrap his mind around the idea.
Annie [00:12:59] You were still a baby for him.
Tembi [00:13:01] I was a baby. I was a baby. And I was like living abroad. And he was like, you know, and I was someone who did not have the kind of relationship with my father where we you know, I would tell him, oh I have this boyfriend or we did not have- like we never talked about that. Like I would talk to my dad about politics or my studies or whatever, but not like relationship things. So I suddenly call him from Florence, I'm like um, so there's someone that I've met *laughs*and he immediately was like, what? Like, antenna goes up. But my step mom, she knew. She was like, ohhh, I see this. I see the way he looks at her. This is real.
Annie [00:13:39] This is real.
Tembi [00:13:40] This is real. And so she was really our advocate *laughs* inside the family. And she was like, she told my dad like, no, you need to like zip it. Just zip it, zip it, dude, because this is happening and they are in love and look how he looks at her. This is a thing. And quickly my dad was like, he could see it, you know, and he adored Saro. You know, they had a lot of things in common, Saro was very well read, as I said, poetry, translation. And then my mom was like, he makes you happy. And so she was, you know, on board for that. I mean, I think and I write about this openly, you know, in the book, she was a little like, oh my goodness, you know, just find you a guy in America. Like, find you an American black man and that would be just so wonderful. But, you know I think the wonderful thing about my parents is that very quickly, they say, you know, we love you, we trust you. We're going to get out of your way. So whatever initial hesitations might have been there, they dispensed with them very quickly and they had to have that philosophy. Both of them was like, we don't mess with people's relationships. Like, I'll weigh in on your grades. I'll, I'll, I'll like give you, you know, lots of professional advice, but we don't wade in the waters of affairs of the heart. And I think that was a gift. And to not be the meddling parent in that way. And Saro didn't have that. He had the opposite experience. His parents were very much like, we have our opinions and we're not going to be moved from these opinions. And that was a part of the early conflict in our relationship, was the fact that they rejected me and rejected the idea of our union, and they disowned him, quite frankly. I mean, that's what happened.
Annie [00:15:32] And what were their grounds for that?
Tembi [00:15:34] Their grounds for that were largely the fact that one, there was, as I said, the initial father son strife, which predates me.
Annie [00:15:45] So the father being angry because the son didn't choose to stay and farm with him and kind of live that life that was expected.
Tembi [00:15:52] Exactly. So it was already, you know, he was the son who didn't follow in the tradition that the family expected. So that was already there. And then when I came in, it was the idea that I was foreign. They were not worldly people. There was a provincial quality to them. And for them they really thought like, it's going to be complicated to be married to someone who doesn't even speak the same, you know, mother tongue issue. It's going to be complicated. Like, why are you complicating your life in these ways? You know, and she's not Catholic and all Americans divorce and she's black and her parents are divorced. And by the way, she wants to be an actress, which oh my gosh, for them was the same thing is like you might as well be like, I don't know, a circus, you know, performer or a prostitute. You know like, an actor? Like, what is that? So it was a bridge too far for them. And it was easier to shut it all out, to say no thank you. You have made your path. We disagree with your path. We disagree with all the choices you've made, including the latest, which is to partner with this black woman from America. And his father said, I have no son. You have disappointed me to the level I have no son. The son as I imagined I should have in the world, I don't have that son, so I have no son.
Annie [00:17:10] How did, if at all, they reconcile?
Tembi [00:17:14] That was me *laughs*. It began with me. They had to do the work but I pushed. You know, I erm, what's the thing, Mohammed to the mountain? You know, the mountain to Muhammad. I, because of the family that I come from, for me, it was unimaginable, I was it was unimaginable. And because I love Saro so much, I saw the pain that he was in. I saw the cost, the emotional cost of being exiled and rejected by his family. And although he covered it and although he was, you know, apt to say, it'll be okay, I have you, I knew that there was a deep grief within him that I suspected if we didn't try, if I didn't try my best as his partner and as the person who loved him the most in the world to sort of like help him repair that, if it could be repaired, if we didn't make some attempt, he would always suffer a quiet pain that would eventually bleed into so many aspects of his life, including our marriage. And I just loved him. I was like we got to do this. And I was also annoyingly optimistic and American and I was like, oh my God, they'll love me. Like, I just need to get over there to Italy and they will love me. Like, you know, they just need to know me. I was like, okay, if they meet me and they don't like me, then they don't like me. But now they've never met me.
Annie [00:18:49] They don't like the idea of you.
Tembi [00:18:51] And that is something I think we can get past. I was like, I think we can get past that. And so I, you know, and I write about this in the book, I just, I booked a ticket and I kind of, you know, I ambushed him and I said we're going, we're going to Sicily. And you need to call them. You need to write a letter. You need to do whatever. Tell them we are coming. And, you know, he laboured over that letter, but he sent it. And back then, you know, he put it in the mail and we waited and we waited to see was he going to get a response because they weren't speaking on the phone at that time. And we got a response that was, don't come *laughs*. And I said, well, we've bought the tickets. We're going to go because I thought, you know, we get there, maybe they'll change their mind and eventually they did. I mean, when I say eventually, we arrive, we told them where we were. We checked into a hotel on the sea not far from their town, and we said we'll be here every afternoon, come visit us if you'd like. And what happened is there was a kind of erm, word got out in town *laughs*. In this small Sicilian town that Saro was on the coast with the American wife, and gossip started happening and first cousins started to come visit us and eventually, you know, my sister in law came and my mom and on the final day his father came.
Annie [00:20:09] Wow.
Tembi [00:20:09] And that began the repair work. And over the years thereafter, they father and son had to do the deep repair work. And when I would go, I'd be inside of their nuclear family, which was odd for me. And I didn't speak Sicilian, so I would just like have a book in the corner. And I was like, okay, you guys talk amongst yourselves and I'm going to take photographs and read my book and I would journal. And those journals became the tools that I reference and that I went back to when I wrote the memoir, because I had a kind of real time account of what it felt like to be inside of a family, a nuclear family, his family that was trying to repair itself. Those journals were really, really instructive to write the book. And later for the series, I brought them into the writers room and I would read from my journals, like the writers, I'd be like guys when I was in Sicily for the first time, here's what I thought and here's what I said. And all of that stuff sort of, I think, infused its way into the series.
[00:21:11] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:21:21] Tembi, if you don't mind we'll go to the biggest change of your adult life now. Tell us what you said for this, please.
Tembi [00:21:28] The biggest change in my adult life has been becoming widowed and being a solo parent. That in my adulthood, I would say bigger than even his diagnosis, bigger than being a caregiver. That was an unmooring of everything that I thought I knew. Meaning to be left without my life partner, the person I spent half my life with and who was the father of my child. My lover, my best friend, my confidant. Like I suddenly, I was dislocated in time and space. I just didn't. And that was grief but that was also the specific relationship I had with him and trying to figure out who I would be in a new life. So you're not only grieving the person you lost and the loss of that identity. I was also trying to understand who this new person I would be, you know, who I would become. So that was a huge change in my adult life. And I was doing it at the exact same time that I was the only parent to a grieving child who had lost her father. None of her peers had been through anything like that, whose everyday was like body shaking grief in those early months after her father passed away. And I did not have a childhood experience of loss. I had friends who had lost parents and so I was calling them and saying, what do I say to her? How do I interact with her? What do I do? So there was this moment in my adulthood where all the cards, like sort of, if the images, you know, they all were thrown up in the air, you know. And it's like, I don't know how this is going to play out. I don't know how this is going to land. I don't know if I'm going to be able to put one foot in front of the other. I don't know that I'll be able to show up as the best parent I can be for her. Can I be a mother and a father to a child? What, how? How? Was the how and the why. You know, the why was why did this happen. And I knew I could never really understand, you know, and that was an unanswerable question. So, I shifted to how, how can I do this?
Annie [00:23:38] While you were caregiving to Saro, would you mind kind of walking us through how long into the relationship were you when you realised something wasn't quite right with his health?
Tembi [00:23:49] We had been married six and a half years. And we didn't have children. I was 30. I was like, we have all the time in the world. Like, your career is going well. My career is just taking off. And I was big into like exercise and yoga and so I took him to a yoga class with me *laughs*. He was like, okay, I'll go with you. And in the class, he started having some pain in his knee that we didn't really think much of it. But it persisted to the point where it was difficult for him to work and stand as a chef. He was working at a restaurant in Los Angeles at the time, and he every day was coming home and was like icing his knee and he was like, something's off. We sought, you know, advice from a doctor. Anyway, X-rays, MRI's, the whole thing, which led to a biopsy. And before you know it, within, I think the span of three weeks, they tell us that he has this rare soft tissue cancer, which has metastasised to his bones. And he was said, you cannot work, you literally can't, you should not stand on this leg because until you can have chemotherapy and eventually surgery, you run the risk of shattering your bone. You're going to need someone to care for you all the time. And that was a big change in our lives. And this podcast is about change, right?
Annie [00:25:18] Yeah.
Tembi [00:25:18] And that was a change for him. Every understanding of his identity, his way of being in his body changed in an instant. It changed me because I went from being a 31 year old woman who had like an acting career who was taking off to being like, oh my gosh, maybe I can't work so much. I need to be here for him. And I have to learn what it means to be a caregiver.
Annie [00:25:45] Yeah.
Tembi [00:25:47] But then inside of our marriage, there was a shift and a change. It wouldn't call it a riff, but it was a moment where we had to decide what kind of marriage are we going to have now? Because the things that we thought were ours are not ours. Health, wellness, you know, and at the most intimate levels, everything changes when you go into chemotherapy, your sense of sexuality, your sense of- everything shifts. So our marriage was in a new landscape as well, and our marriage changed. And we spent the first years of that experience very much just in survival mode. Just- it was just survival mode. But as time wore on and as we realised that his illness was going to be another person in our marriage quite frankly, is the way I would say it, it was a third entity in our marriage that we had to address it as such and also decide what kind of marriage did we want to have. Right, and that, when we did that it deepened everything, because we recommitted to each other from a different place.
Annie [00:27:07] You became the caregiver.
Tembi [00:27:10] Yeah.
Annie [00:27:11] How did that change your perspective on the relationship? Or change you?
Tembi [00:27:18] Well, it did two things. On the one hand it changed things because some days I was more nurse than wife. So I was like- and I don't like that. I was like I want to be the wife. I don't want to be the nurse right now. But I also was able to observe a strength in him emerge that I didn't know and had never seen. And I saw the ways in which his life became very still. Illness is a very clarifying experience. You really instantly see what matters most. So for him, all the excuse me for this word, the bullshit fell away. And he was like, this is what matters most to me. And when I saw that in him, I loved him even more.
Annie [00:28:07] Yeah.
Tembi [00:28:08] And he was willing to be more intimate with every person in his life because he understood how precious his life was. And he didn't want to waste time on frivolous, like, small talk. Like, he just wanted to get right to the heart of the matter. So he upped his living game- like his way of being in the world catapulted. And so I was watching that and I was like, oh my God, I couldn't love you more. This is hard. This is painful. This sucks. This is terrifying. But also, you're a kind of an amazing human and you make me want more from life. You make this marriage a more intimate marriage because you're willing to have the tough conversations. You're willing to not hide behind some kind of, you know, masculine, like, I'm going to just get through this and tunnel and everything's going to be fine. But you're saying, no, I'm afraid, I'm scared. I need you in ways I didn't know I'd need you and that makes me mad sometimes. Who's willing to have the hard conversations? And he was also more tender in these ways. Like, he would like, strike up these beautiful conversations with strangers. When we had his memorial service, there were nurses who met him one time in the hospital, and they came to his memorial service. And what that told me was, oh, he was able to reach in and connect to people in an instant. And it touched them in such a way that it ignited something in them that they felt seen, heard, connected. And that's why they're coming to his memorial service. Like how did he do that? It made me more attuned to the vulnerability of life, and I think it made me a better friend and made me a better wife. It made me eventually a better mom. I don't know that this book would have gotten written had I not had those ten years of being a caregiver because I was so afraid of losing myself inside of the big experience of cancer and caring for someone, I chose to write as a way to find my way through the darkness. It was like, I just need to do this because I need to write this down. I need to say the things that maybe I can't say to him right now because it might hurt too much. Or maybe I'm just angry and resentful-.
Annie [00:30:32] Which is equally valid. But you need to be able to express that.
Tembi [00:30:35] Exactly. And so the page was a place that I- and I highly encourage people to do that.
Annie [00:30:40] Oh, yes.
Tembi [00:30:41] These are not eloquent, beautiful sentences. It's literally like, I feel this, I feel this, this happened. But it's a documentation. It's as Elizabeth Gilbert says, it's putting your handprint on the wall of life.
Annie [00:30:57] I love that.
Tembi [00:30:57] Saying, I've seen this, I've been here, I've experienced this. And I think that's what I was trying to do. And that eventually led me to the book, which has led to the series, which has, you know, just opened my life in a whole new way. So that's been a big change.
[00:31:13] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:31:18] Tembi, you describe the moment in the book of Saro's passing so beautifully and I wanted to ask you about that. You mentioned it at the top of the show, being at his deathbed, being there at the very precise moment that he passed. There's so much beauty in how you talk about your experience. And I think especially in a world where it feels so taboo to talk about death, to talk about grief, to be near it, to touch it, to feel it, it's remarkable how you were able to talk about it and feel it and explain it in that way.
Tembi [00:31:51] You know, first of all, I want to say that was a passage that I really struggled with. I mean, interestingly enough when I wrote it, I didn't struggle with the writing of it. I struggled with whether or not it belonged in the book. And I almost didn't put it in the book because I was so afraid that it would take people out of the narrative. Meaning, to your point, you use the word taboo. Death is so- we're such a death phobic culture here in America, for sure. And we're a grief phobic culture. It's very hard for us to make space to even think about the idea that the other end of the spectrum of being born is that you are going to pass away. Like it is the one universal experience that we all have, right? And yet somehow we can not talk about that.
Annie [00:32:44] Yeah.
Tembi [00:32:45] So I wrote about it because one, I needed for myself to write down what had happened. I just for Tembi, if no one ever read that or it never made it into the book, I needed to document that for myself. And so when I wrote that passage, I put it away. But as I was just crafting the book, and I knew that I was taking the reader through my experience of grief over those first three summers, those first three, you know, the arc of those three years. And I was being honest and authentic about everything else, I was like, but I think the reader needs to be with me in that moment to understand why this grief feels the way it does. Like they won't understand the rest of the book if I don't actually offer up this one intimate moment. And also, I had a desire to normalise being with someone that you love at the most vulnerable and important moment in the continuum of their existence. It is a privilege to be with someone when they transition and they leave this world. It is an absolute privilege, and I know many people don't get that privilege either because of distance, or sometimes people die suddenly. Sometimes people don't get the benefit of having someone at their side when they die. And I felt like there was something, there was a value in offering that up for the reader, for them to contemplate for themselves. What would they want? Would they want to be at someone's side? Would they want someone at their side? And if so, what that might look like. And because the way Saro had waited for me in the rain.
Annie [00:34:40] We need to explain this quickly. I'm sorry for those who don't know, early on in your relationship, you hadn't fully decided that you were going to be his girlfriend. You said call in after work. Come to my flat after the restaurant. You waited at the window. Then you got tired. You fell asleep. You woke up. It was lashing rain. He had been waiting outside for how many hours?
Tembi [00:34:59] Hours? I don't even really- yep hours. This is pre cell phone. This is all the things where I was like, that was the moment I knew. This is a man who has a deep kind and quality of love that is exceptional. And he was making, as I write in the book, making love in action. He was making love a verb. True love was- he would stand in the rain to love, right? So at the end of our time together in this realm, as partners, as lovers, as best friends, as companions, it was my time to stand in the rain for him. And what I mean by that is to be at his side as he is leaving this earth. And that whole night, the nurses told me it's beginning to happen. This is sort of how, what happens to the body. This is, he's beginning to transition. We don't know how long it'll take. I then was like, I am here and I'm going to be present. That night changed my life. I had never done that before. I'd never been bedside someone for hours and hours as they're going through the labour of leaving their body. There's a labour to dying.
Annie [00:36:13] Yeah.
Tembi [00:36:14] Just like there's a labour to coming into the world. And there are people who they do this as a job, they're death doulas the same way there's doulas who help women have babies. There's doulas who help people leave the earth. And I didn't know at the time, but the work that I did, was doing that night was the kind of the work that death doulas do. You sit bedside to someone, you caress them, you speak to them, you offer them comfort. You are easing them through the process. And so I wanted to take the reader into that room, make it as intimate as possible, sacred as possible, so that if one day they have the opportunity for themselves to sit with someone, to be with someone, that maybe they will have a kind of a guidepost emotionally for the things that they might want to do, the ways they might want to be with their loved one. Part of me didn't want to write it, didn't want to share it because it was so intimate. But I was like dammit, Tembi, you chose to write a memoir like you're putting everything out there. I think you kind of are cheating the reader and maybe cheating this book if you don't do this. And because it's also at the front of the book, I'm also setting the stage for the reader that we're going to get this intimate. Like for the rest of the book-
Annie [00:37:26] This is elemental.
Tembi [00:37:27] This is like elemental to like what the experience of reading this book is about to be. It's on. Like we're going to do this. And it's not that every moment is sad at all, but it's infused with a kind of intimacy and micro moments of closeness and togetherness. It was terrifying to share, so it changed me. It changed me writing it. It changed me, choosing to include it in the book. And it has changed me as readers come to that section of the book and write back to me, or reach out to me and say thank you for including that. I've had a moment like that where they say, If I ever have a moment like that, and that's all I can do, is- I think the role of memoir is to offer up our stories, not because we're the only person who's ever been through any of this. That is not the role of memoir. The role of memoir is to say, I have experienced this thing that is so universal that should you walk through it, know that you can come through the other side of it.
Annie [00:38:32] Well, it is such a beautiful memoir. And I, for one, thank you for writing it. And it's out now if you're listening and you want to read this. How could you not after hearing us talk about the book and also the drama from Scratch on Netflix now too. Tembi, what a pleasure. I thank you so much for your generosity and for speaking so openly about such precious details of your life. I think people will be so moved from this.
Tembi [00:38:58] Thank you.
Annie [00:39:04] Thank you so much to Tembi. I just loved hearing from her. She was so passionate and just so kind of refreshingly honest about those moments in her life that was so intimate and so defining, I suppose. It really made me look at my relationship in a different way. Like, it's hard not to listen to someone talk about being in love like that and then turn the mirror on yourself and think about the burping and the farting and the way they leave their socks all over the house and you know, the way they brush their teeth that can really annoy you. And *laughs* it's hard not to think about the reality of your relationship and wonder where all the romance has gone. I did go to tea after speaking to Tembi and say, 'we're not romantic enough', which got promptly laughed off. As I mentioned, From Scratch is on Netflix now and we're going to put a link to the memoir in the show notes as well. Let us know what you thought of Tembi and From Scratch and do share the episode if you think it's going to be helpful to anyone who's been through grief of their own or challenges in relationships. We are releasing episodes every Monday. We're also transcribing them and putting them on my website so please make sure you subscribe to this. And if you do want to experience this in written form, you can read the transcripts of the conversations any time you like on www.anniemacmanus.com. Changes is produced by Louise Mason, through DIN Productions. Thanks so much for listening and we'll see you next week.