It's a deeply intimate thing when a radio piece shakes up your emotions and stops you from driving, cooking or whatever it is you do while you listen to the radio. Mary Beth Kirchner's piece A Year To Live, A Year To Die has done that to me twice and I still can't get it out of my head. I have a distinct memory of the first time I heard this incredibly personal story of a family facing terminal brain cancer. I was sitting on the living room floor surrounded by cardboard boxes and packing tape, getting ready to move into a new apartment with my boyfriend. We'd been together for two years and I could imagine us happily chatting away our entire lives. We seemed to never run out of conversation, much like Rebecca and Stuart, the couple in this piece. But as I heard how Stuart's brain tumor and subsequent treatment unleashed puzzling emotions and transformed them from a happy family into people who barely recognized each other, I was stricken. I set down my roll of tape. Tears welled in my eyes and my mouth hung open. I literally stared at the radio. I couldn't imagine how a piece of audio could have a greater effect on me.
One year later, I was in the room with Mary Beth Kirchner and Rebecca Peterson as they relived the making of this documentary. The conference room at Third Coast International Audio Festival was silent as we learned how painstaking the making of this piece had been. Despite 40 hours of audio diary tape, Mary Beth didn't have the moments of reflection that she needed to tell this story. Stuart had passed away and Rebecca didn't want to be involved. Through a careful tightrope walk of phone calls and emails, Mary Beth slowly opened Rebecca up to the idea that her involvement could offer catharsis and maybe even help people - if she agreed to be interviewed.