Grief can be the mother of all emotions.
Ever since her mom died suddenly in 2006, Mary Lou Quinlan’s journey to acceptance pinballed between humor and pain before finally landing at release.
Quinlan shared this emotional odyssey in her best-selling book, “The God Box,” so named for the collection of prayers, notes of goodwill and faith-filled wishes for every person her mom came into contact with over several years, which were discovered after her passing.
Quinlan turned her book into a heartfelt one-woman play — in which she plays herself along with her mom, dad and brother — called “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story,” which comes to Scranton on Thursday, Nov. 8. The show starts at 7 p.m. at the Theater at North, 1539 N. Main Ave. Tickets cost $25, and proceeds benefit Hospice of the Sacred Heart.
From the first performance five years ago, Quinlan’s show has hit stages hundreds of times, including at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, off Broadway and in 10 cities in Ireland. She has donated nearly half a million dollars from these performances to local women’s health-related charities in memory of her mom.
The Nov. 8 show marks Quinlan’s return to the Electric City after a well-received keynote speech at the Society of Irish Women’s St. Patrick’s Day dinner in March. Before the program began, Quinlan gravitated to Laurie Cadden and Diane Baldi, R.N., who respectively are the development director and CEO of Hospice of the Sacred Heart.
The trio struck up a friendly chat about Quinlan’s passion for supporting hospice care via her show and the need for a celebratory event in November, which is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month.
“When we made that connection, I realized they were the exact women to talk to,” Quinlan said during a recent phone interview from New York. “The play opens in Pennsylvania, in Bucks County, so it felt like it belongs here.”
Quinlan donated proceeds from book sales at the society dinner to Hospice of the Sacred Heart — which has offices in Wilkes-Barre, Dunmore and Moosic — and after sharing portions of her story in her speech, she promised to bring her play to Scranton in the future.
“We were just so honored and pleased and grateful for her to donate the proceeds back in March and come back and do the same,” Baldi said. “What I saw at that dinner was remarkable, and I thought she was so engaging. When she spoke, you could hear a spoon drop. She’s kind, she’s witty, she’s smart, and she speaks from her heart.”
“The God Box” book reads as a memoir and tribute to a mother-daughter relationship, while the play takes the perspective of a daughter who has lost her mother and digs into the soul of someone who loves, goes through the losing process, and tries to keep control and hold on, Quinlan explained.
“It’s the experience I had from growing up — truly growing up — and learning to let go,” she said. “It has music, video and visuals throughout. It’s a recreation of a life story and a very human experience.”
Handing over the proceeds is Quinlan’s way of giving back in gratitude for the care her parents each received at the ends of their lives, she added.
“‘The God Box’ is an expression of (my mother’s) compassion,” Quinlan said. “It only seems right the play itself have a heart to it.”
The show’s tagline, “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to call your mother,” came naturally from the conversations Quinlan had with the audience after performances. Those who lost moms told her how they wished they could talk to them once more, and those with mothers still living expressed a need to reach out after seeing the play.
“It does bring back beautiful memories that they have about their mothers. In the end, it’s about them and their families,” Quinlan said. “People also say they want to go home and start their own God box, and my mother would be so thrilled about that.”
Theatergoers often question her about how she handles telling such a sad and personal story on stage, but Quinlan called it the best way to remain positive about the woman she misses.
“I feel like she’s with me when I do this play,” Quinlan said. “I get to have her and keep her in this world.”
Grief can be the mother of all emotions.