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Five ways of making an interviewer cry: Noelle McCarthy on her new podcast series

How do you feel about the way your body is changing? Are you afraid of dying? Are you lonely? Noelle McCarthy asks all this and more in a new podcast series for Radio New Zealand.

Here are five ways of making an interviewer cry.

Tell her about:

– how your mother feels about your terminal cancer diagnosis, and the struggle to plan the funeral
– the six years you spent nursing your grandfather before he died
– your first week in a rest home because Alzheimer’s has become too hard to cope with
– caring for your parents in their old age “to give back some of the love they’d given us.”
– fishing with your father at Taupo, and how sad his death still makes you 70 years later.

My new podcast series for RNZ, A Wrinkle in Time, is quite emo. Episode one is largely set-up – history, science, context – but from there it gets increasingly raw. I don’t normally weep at work, but talking to people about getting older made for a deep connection. They’re not the same as subjects who’ve written books, made films, or done something newsworthy, who have a message to transmit and are – broadly speaking – practiced communicators. Most of the interviewees have no agenda at all apart from sharing their own experience of life, sometimes in the light of being close to death. The frankness and the big-heartedness with which they described their anxieties and regrets proves the lie to a national reputation for reticence.

There were times when I felt embarrassed, asking such intimate questions: how do you feel about the way your body is changing? Are you afraid of dying? Are you lonely? But confronted with mortality and the realities of the ageing process, people talked openly. From the first interview – with Gaynor, about living with Alzheimer’s, to the last, with Helen at a chemo unit in Epsom – everyone shared a willingness to make themselves vulnerable. They wanted to talk – not just about physical aspects of ageing, frailty and the quiet betrayals of the body, but also the emotional aspects of the process, the feelings that come with it: love, loss, tenderness, regret, frustration, resignation.

There was a real appetite to have those conversations. I think we need to have more of them. The ageing society is a big story, economically, politically and socially, and there’s a personal aspect to it that affects everyone.

Talking about the most common thread of humanity, the jokes fall away eventually. We had a lot of laughs in these interviews, but deeper feelings were never far from the surface. I’m really grateful to everyone who went there so willingly. There’s a lot of white noise in daily life, perhaps now more than ever, to the point where it can be hard to make sense of the world. But there’s still an enthusiasm to look at the big stuff: who we are, how we live and die.

The stories we tell ourselves to make sense of that individual experience play a big part in how we connect to everything around us. The passage of time from birth to death, the stuff that happens in the middle and how we share that with the world.

Although this is ostensibly a series about ageing, it’s more about living, really.


‘A wrinkle in time’ launches today via RNZ

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