For the past eight years, Elise Raimi and Stacey Conner have created a supportive space to share stories about mothers.
The pair produce “Listen to Your Mother,” a live event where performers read true stories on stage about every aspect of motherhood: being a foster parent, infertility, raising a daughter after surviving sexual assault or growing up with a dad as a mother figure.
This Sunday’s performance has a new meaning for Raimi, who has read her own stories at about half the performances. Her mother, Jane, died from brain cancer last fall, and Raimi will step on stage at the Bing Crosby Theater to tell the audience what losing her was like.
Jane’s diagnosis came shortly after last year’s “Listen to Your Mother” show. She died just six months later, in November.
“She was so confused and so out of it by the end,” Raimi said. But among her last memories is a moment in Jane’s kitchen, where her mother had a brief moment of lucidity, and told Raimi how much she loved her. Her piece will focus in part on that moment.
It’s an emotional moment for Raimi and Conner, who are more like family than friends. Both are East Coast transplants who were skeptical about moving to Spokane, then fell in love with the pace of life in the Lilac City.
They’ve taken vacations together, hold joint Thanksgiving dinners and have met each other’s parents. Both women teared up talking about Jane and sharing memories of her.
Jane was a Welsh immigrant and classical pianist, Raimi said. Conner jumped in to add that Jane chaired the music department at Duke University for five years.
Her favorite pastime was making music with other people. She met Raimi’s father at a music camp in Portugal, and he persuaded her to move to the United States. He played the cello, and they loved their duets.
“Music was kind of the shared space where they loved each other,” Raimi said. At her memorial service, he played a Bach suite.
Conner recalled Jane coming to a joint Thanksgiving dinner between their own families.
“She played show tunes for probably two hours while we sang around the piano,” Conner said. Conner self-describes as “tone deaf” but said Jane always was encouraging, praising her recall of lyrics to songs like “Some Enchanted Evening” from “South Pacific.”
In the years it’s thrived in Spokane, “Listen to Your Mother” has showcased moments of pain, loss, humor and love. Raimi said she has a new appreciation for the safe space they’ve created for people to share difficult moments from their lives.
“It reminds me what the point of it is,” she said. She knows that even if she breaks down sobbing during her reading, she’ll be met with understanding.
The show isn’t all sad. During auditions, Conner and Raimi work hard to pick a diverse group of authors and blend humor with heartbreak. This year’s pieces include a foster mother talking about what it’s like to have a child come and go from your life, and a mother telling a story of a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese that ended with more vomit than could reasonably be anticipated at a children’s event.
A new addition for 2018 is Power 2 the Poetry, a group of Spokane slam poets encouraging underrepresented voices in Spokane to share their stories. Four poets will perform before the readings begin.
At the reception, topics explored on stage spill over into intimate conversations.
“It’s the best part of the show,” Raimi said. People will go up to performers and say, “I could have never got up and said that, but that happened to me, too.”
Conner said she loves seeing the way vulnerability opens people up to connect with others in ways they might not have anticipated.
“You cannot help but have empathy,” she said.
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