How George Carlin's Words Changed My Life

The late, great comedian helped me cope with the worst day of my life

Photograph by AP/REX/Shutterstock

Back in 2006, I started each work day with a little levity. When I walked into my office, I grabbed my Page-A-Day calendar compiling 365 random thoughts and grievances from the now late, great comedian, George Carlin. Sometimes the messages were funny, sometimes vulgar, sometimes they rendered nothing more than a slight chuckle. But, for whatever reason, I enjoyed sharing a moment with George in the morning.

On March 24, 2006, I came to work, and as was my morning ritual, tore off the page for the joke of the day. My phone rang at 11:51 am.

"Are you Brandon Bieber?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Sir, I need you to sit down … are you sitting down?"

Seconds later, I learned the man on the other end of the line was a police officer. He called to tell me my wife of six months was gone—forever. Dead after a car accident.

We had just bought a new house. We were painting, decorating, building a marriage and planning for children. I even bought her a beagle for her birthday to test out our skills. Then time stopped.

I took two weeks of bereavement leave, during which I drank, smoked and tried to forget I was still living. I returned to work, numb. I didn't yank off the previous days' tidbits of humor. I didn't feel like laughing. So, the calendar sat untouched, stuck on March 24, 2006. For weeks.

Sometime after I returned to work, I can't be sure of the date, I had a dream starring a different George. George Burns, as God, showed up and said, "There's something else you're meant to do there."

I couldn't make sense of the dream. I tried to decode it, to figure out why God took my wife. When I arrived at work on May 9, 2006, I felt like it was time for a more uplifting message, so I opened my Page-A-Day calendar.

Carlin's advice for that particular day came as a surprise. There was no off-color joke. No witty quip. No kvetching. It was like George was inside my head, nudging me forward with a simple message:

"Just keep moving straight ahead. Every now and then you find yourself in a different place."

And that's exactly what I did.

For the next several months, I walked a lot, usually drunk at the end of the day, with a Marlboro Light in one hand and a dog leash in the other. My late wife's beagle, Charlie, was still by my side. I didn't want to be home. I didn't like it. I suspect he didn't either. It was lonely.

I kept putting one foot in front of the other though, with George's message playing on a loop in my mind. While I sometimes wanted to dismiss his advice, I couldn't deny it made sense, given the options. I framed and mounted that page of the desk calendar on my office wall. Every day, George reminded me that forward was the only way to live.

So, I moved forward. I watched movies. Drank. Smoked. Drank some more. After the New Year, I watched "The Shawshank Redemption." When Tim Robbins' character, Andy, said: "Get busy living or get busy dying," I hit pause. Then rewind. I was processing and it went deep.

I asked myself, "What are you going to do, Brandon? Give it another shot or wait until your liver kills you off?"

I was tired of living like I was dying. At 28 years old. A few months later, one year after my wife died, I signed up for eHarmony. And today I find myself on a different kind of walk. Charlie is still with me, but we have company: my second wife, Amy, and my angels—three sons, the twins, Max and Brian, and our comedian, Jack. Looking back, maybe I should have named our youngest son George.

Tags: marriage