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Whoopi Goldberg's Lessons on Loving and Losing the Single Mom Who Raised Her—and Then Solo Parenting Herself

Whoopi Goldberg's Lessons on Loving and Losing the Single Mom Who Raised Her—and Then Solo Parenting Herself

By Stacey Lindsay
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Whoopi Goldberg has been making the world crack up for decades. She's also been bestowing needed wisdom on the page via her bestselling books, including the hit Is It Just Me or Is It Nuts Out There?

Her new book is filled with life lessons and has a more intimate tone. In Bits and Pieces: My Mother, My Brother, and Me, the EGOT winner looks back on the two greatest loves of her life: her mother, Emma Johnson, and her brother, Clyde. Emma died in 2010. Clyde passed five years later, leaving Goldberg in the depths of loneliness. In her heartfelt memoir, Goldberg shares personal stories of growing up in NYC's projects and watching her mother face challenging circumstances as a single parent. The pages are filled with fun and laughter, grief and sadness, and offer a rich tribute to the unbreakable love between mother and daughter. Goldberg writes that her mother gave her "the confidence to become who" she wanted to be.

The author and actor recently sat with The Sunday Paper to share more about the motherhood lessons she's learned and why it's always important to celebrate, even in the hard times.


You tell many beautiful, honest stories about your mother, Emma, throughout the book. You write how she said you got two choices, "you can waste a lot of time complaining, or you can get up and figure out how to fix it." How did her fortitude inform the person you are? 

I really watched her. I saw her make decisions about our lives. It was hard at times, but she had to decide things. You don't really understand what it means to be a single parent until you are a single parent. She never faltered, or I never saw her falter. And so I learned from her that you can cry and be upset, but you're going to have to get up and do something. You have to fix it, and if you can't fix it, you have to figure out how to adjust to it. So, I really learned from my mother that sometimes you just got to get up and start again.

A theme throughout your book is the finiteness of life and how things can change so unexpectedly. You mentioned how in phone calls with your mother, you always said to each other, "I love you," as a "just in case." Now that that "just in case" has become real, what do you hold close to you?

I learned this early on, and I talked about it in the book. I said to my mother that her getting sick was really important for me to understand that I had to learn to stand on my two feet. And when she *said, 'Can I tell you a secret?' She said, 'I didn't know who y'all were. I had no idea who you were.' I was like, wow. I was enamored by her before. But to have kept that from everybody for all that time, I am so sorry if I had known that, maybe I wouldn't have been as much of an a-hole as a kid. To what she said, 'No, you had to be an a-hole; that's what kids are.' 

[*Editor's note: When Goldberg was eight, her mother, Emma, had a breakdown that led to her being hospitalized for two years and undergoing electroshock therapy, which impacted her memory. When Emma was released, she did not remember Goldberg and her brother, Clyde. Goldberg writes about this in her book.]

So, I recognize that early on that this has been part of my life, that things shift on a dime. And you never prepare for it. But you just have to do what you can so that should it shift under your feet, you are not left regretting. I knew that early on, so I was lucky. My brother, mother, and I all would talk on FaceTime. After my mom passed, I said, 'I'm really glad we had FaceTime because I got to say all that stuff. I'm glad she heard me say it again.' And the same with my brother.

Your mother was such a big part of your daughter Alex's life. What is something you're willing to share that your mother taught you about being a mother?

The thing my mother taught me is to never forget that you also were a kid. Most of the time, kids forget that their parents were just as big a bonehead as they are. And parents have to remember that they did the same thing. They might not have done exactly what they did, but you were doing the same things. And should give your children a lot more grace than then we tend to give them. I think people have raised children to be miniature adults so they'd have somebody to talk to. But I'm still of the old school where kids are kids, and I'm the grown-up, and here's the deal. I know you don't want to do what I want you to do, but right now, you have to; I'm sorry. I apologize. If, in 30 years, you're still pissed off, call me!

Perhaps the world would be much better if we were all more generous with our annoyances. 

If we could find a way to do that, things would be better. Because who hasn't been there? We've all been there. And it tends to stop you in your tracks so that you can sort of get into why it's so bad. But while you're doing all that, you're wasting time. You could have been on other side of it already. So my mother was always like, 'let's let's move this along!'

You write that anyone who has lost a mom must find a way to celebrate her life. Tell us more about that, Whoopi.

The hardest loss in the world is the loss of a parent. Even if they were horrible people, there's something about that connection; that when it's lost, it's done. So, I suggest to people who feel the need to be here to maybe be here in laughter instead. If your parent wasn't the best parent she or he could have been, celebrate that too. Celebrate the fact that you survived that they didn't have what you needed. Celebrate it, and then go get what you need. Because you don't want to be caught going, 'Oh my god, I hated them so much.' Throw a party, maybe I'm-glad-you're-out-of-my-life party. But celebrate it all. Because you are going to need people to laugh with. You're going to need it. I'm a big fan of going all the way. Go for it. It will get you out of where you are much quicker.

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Whoopi Goldberg is an author and actor who has won the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards). Goldberg’s many credits include roles in the well-known films The Color Purple, Ghosts of Mississippi, Sister Act, and Ghost. She produced the documentary Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley and has written numerous books. Follow her at @whoopigoldberg.

Stacey Lindsay

Stacey Lindsay is a journalist and Senior Editor at The Sunday Paper. A former news anchor and reporter, Stacey is passionate about covering women's issues. Learn more at:

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