The Right Kind
AIDS Advocate Roslyn Kind shares with A&U’s Dann Dulin her personal caregiving journey to help others
Roslyn Kind sings like a dream…..(a voice) as magical as Barbra’s
– George Christy, Hollywood Reporter
It must be terrible to go through life being compared to Barbra Streisand….But if you pay a visit to (her performance), you’ll discover for yourself: this girl is finding her own identity on her own terms, and doing quite nicely, thank you very much
– Rex Reed
Forget that Roslyn Kind is Barbra Streisand’s kid sister. She’s too good –and too special – to have to worry about comparison with older siblings
– Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times
Yes, Roslyn Kind is Streisand’s sister. So now that it’s out, let’s move on because Roz (as she likes to be called) is her own person. Yet, despite their separate identities, one can’t ignore the apparent similarities between Roz and her sis (she doesn’t like the term half-sisters—“We are sisters, period,” she says firmly). They both have gifted singing voices, and they share numerous physical mannerisms and facial expressions. Oh, and they share one more thing—the experience of losing a mother.
In 2002, Diana Streisand Kind (Kind was her second husband) died at the age of ninety-three of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Roz’s dad died when she was eighteen. Though her ailing mother had twenty-four-hour homecare, Roslyn was the official family caregiver and she stayed with her mother until the end. “The disease was a slow, gradual process. In all, she had it for about ten years, but the last three years were the worst,” she remembers, sitting at the edge of my brick-red sofa. “She was a bright woman and, little by little, things would happen. Like she’d leave the gas on, on the stove. Or place something in the cabinet that was supposed to be in the fridge or vice versa. Then there were times when she didn’t like a particular caregiver—paranoia was taking over. It got worse. It’s hard to watch a parent deteriorate into a child, especially when they had been such a strong force. It killed me inside,” reveals Roz with a crack in her voice. There’s a silence. Her face is briefly drawn with sorrow and her eyes teary.
Kind first caught the attention of America in 1969 when she was still a teen, singing on The Ed Sullivan Show (three appearances in all). Soon after, she began recording for RCA Records. Her debut album was Give Me You. Kind has played Broadway (Three From Brooklyn), off-Broadway (Show Me Where The Good Times Are), television (The Nanny, Saturday Night Live), movies (Switched at Birth, The Underachievers) and cabaret. Currently, Roz is putting together a new show.
On this chilly Los Angeles day, she arrived at my door wearing loose-fitting black velour pants, black boots, and a rust-colored chenille turtleneck topped with a Jewish star necklace. And behind those flashy, fashionable, large black diamond-studded sunglasses were her bubbly amber-hazel eyes. Looking much younger than her years—the peaches-and-cream complexion must be in the genes—Roz is personable, energetic, and open.
Weeks before, when our interview was still in the development stage, Roz had asked if we could focus on caregiving. Having lost many friends to AIDS, she thought this would make the most sense to readers. Yes, she has been an AIDS activist for many years, adding her voice to the holiday CD, Cabaret Noël, for Broadway Cares and appearing in APLA’s benefit performance of Elegies, and is also active with other causes including breast cancer, children’s charities, and animal rights, but Kind felt she could contribute to our knowledge bank about caregiving by sharing her experiences taking care of her mother rather than sharing her experiences of advocacy. Great idea! This reporter couldn’t have thought of a better angle.
Caregiving is a strenuous and often thankless job. The caregiver rarely gets much credit, even though many of us have endured this demanding, traumatic situation by caring for loved ones who are terminally ill. “With Alzheimer’s, you’re dealing with memory loss, antagonism, paranoia, and anger, and that can be very draining,” says Roz, pointing out that these similar challenges are faced by those caring for those in the late stages of AIDS. “A friend of mine gave me the book The 36-Hour Day and this helped me to better understand and have patience when caring for someone in this condition. Mom would question, ‘Why are you washing me?’ or ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ Things we all do habitually on a daily basis now became a chore. It was almost a defense mechanism. At the beginning, you watch as they come to the realization of their disease, and this sets off [their] anger because they are not in control anymore. It’s depressing and difficult for the caregiver to witness this.” Roz pauses a moment, uncrosses her arms, laying hands on her lap in a prayer position, then solemnly adds, “It must be horrifying once they come to realize that they have Alzheimer’s or any other life-threatening disease…”
Roz was involved in all aspects of her mother’s care including overseeing the healthcare workers. On one occasion, a caregiver didn’t understand the manifestations of Alzheimer’s and when her mom pushed the caregiver, she took offense. Another time, Mrs. Kind talked about her parents as if they were still alive, but instead of allowing her the comfort of this delusion, the caregiver would inform her that they were dead. Not the most healthy approach, but Roz would be there to gently handle these tense situations.
There were times when Roz had to serve as chief negotiator with the hospital staff. When her mother was admitted to an ICU unit, Roz had to insist that her mother’s caregiver be allowed to stay at the bedside, as Mrs. Kind was unable to communicate with the hospital staff. “Those were the hardest times of all when Mom couldn’t communicate,” sighs Roz. Her eyes shift downward momentarily. She refocuses. “Had I not been there…..the mistakes that could have been made! At one point a staff member wanted to move my mother and the chart clearly stated not to move her. Fortunately, I was there to intercede.”
She adds some non-fat milk to her Starbucks coffee and takes a sip. “It’s very important for me to stress to your readers that when you have someone in the hospital—I don’t care how good the hospital is—oversee everything. You can’t just leave someone there.” Roz would remain at her mother’s bedside, entertaining her until late into the night. “I would play music, sing, and dance for her,” enthuses Roz. “I’d bring Jewish music, my sister’s music, my music, anything to keep her spirits up when she could understand. Sometimes it was very frustrating when she couldn’t make contact.”
But there were times when Roz enjoyed her mother’s memory lapses. Like the time her mother forgot that she had a fear of flying and could travel with ease because she thought she was on a train. “My mom could be very strong and forceful,” Roz notes. “She’d always tell me that moms come first even before your husband—‘You’ll never have a friend like your mother’—she’d say. And if she didn’t know where I was, she would call around to my friends. Late in the disease, she would forget about all this. That was a pleasure!” Roz chuckles with her infectious laughter falling back into the sofa.
How did Roz deal with the stress and the commitment? “Not easily,” she replies with a half-smile and nod. “I learned to take breaks for myself. Even though you’re caregiving, it’s important to take time for yourself. I was lucky enough that my family could afford the outside care and we were lucky enough to have caregivers who loved my mom,” she says, pulling up her sweater sleeves to the elbows. “I can’t even imagine taking care of my mother full-time alone.” She shakes her head in amazement and concedes, “I admire those who do; they have no life. But no matter, they need to find time to take for themselves.”
Sometimes others don’t fully understand the obligations of caregiving. Roz was dating a guy when her mother was in the hospital. He called Roz in the early evening and asked, “Well, are ya ready to go to dinner?” She replied, “Wait a sec. I don’t know what time I’m leaving the hospital.” He impatiently asked, “Haven’t ya spent enough hours there already?!” Roz shouted, “This is my mother! This is my mother. You don’t get it.”
Looking back over her caregiving experience, Roz finds that it strengthened her character, made her a better person, and allowed her to open up as a performer. “Now during my concerts, I go out into the audience and touch and hug older people. I know they need it. Taking care of my mother made me appreciate the older generation, and it made me grow emotionally.” She also discovered how important it is to show compassion toward one another while we are still healthy. “No man is an island,” she declares. “We all need the same things in life: love, understanding, and patience. I believe that our lessons here on earth are to learn unconditional love. Sometimes things are dished out to us that we don’t ask for, but the process of life is about growth. We are here to open up. Life is a test.”
Roz was certainly tested. Being the baby of the family, with two other siblings, Barbra and Sheldon, I wondered aloud if she felt some anger that the caregiving task weighed so heavily on her shoulders? “No,” she replies emphatically, “my siblings took care of their side. They helped with the bills. Plus, Shelly lives on the East Coast. Usually, there’s always one overseer in the family,” she explains. “I lived with my mom the longest and I was the closest to her. I’m not married, don’t have a family, and my sis and brother do. They have active personal lives, as well. Though I have a career, my life is not as filled.” I protest that it’s not fair. “No, I wanted to be there,” she affirms softly, “I am a caregiver.”
Where is you favorite place to disappear to?
What is under your bed at this moment?
Out of the many people you have worked with, is there one in particular who stands out who impressed you or inspired you the most?
I have great respect and love for my sister — her strengths, her convictions — and I take pride in her accomplishments. I’m proud of both my siblings. I love ‘em to death! I love my nieces and my nephews too. I love the joyousness that’s found within families.
Whom would you like to work with that you haven’t yet?
My friend, Michael Feinstein has been a great inspiration the last several years. I’d like to work with him. [She takes several moments before replying] My sister and I used to harmonize as kids…
How do you maintain a healthy social life especially being related to a celebrity?
I don’t have an enormous social world, but I have some wonderful friends. As you know, during life one goes through periods of weeding out. Some friends come into your life briefly for you to learn a lesson then you say ‘Bye Bye.’ The deciphering you have to deal with is like hieroglyphics sometimes. Unfortunately, people are manipulators, and it takes a while to see through that. I’ve learned a lot about people and what’s to be valued. I look for positive people who express love, understanding, patience, and loyalty. That’s so hard to come by.
The challenge started for me in school. When I was a kid, my sister became famous and there were kids who wanted to know me because of that. Then there were kids who hated me without even knowing me. People wanted to touch me because I touched my sister. I came through ‘that one’ with my feet on the ground! [She sighs with laughter.] God has set an interesting course for me to chart. It hasn’t been everything I would have liked it to be, but it’s not over yet. It’s been an emotional growth and spiritual experience, and it’s brought me to a place in my life that I cherish.
Name one of your bad habits.
I’m a worrier.
Name your favorite TV sitcom of all time.
I Love Lucy.
Do you have a favorite movie of all time?
Oh…My….God. [She screams.] I can’t! [She hesitates whether to say this.] Even though they criticized it, Hello Dolly. It’s one of my favorites. I love all my sister’s films. Gosh, how do you pick a favorite?! I don’t just want nepotism going on here! [She thinks] I love biblical movies, even if it’s not a Jewish theme. I like the music from King of Kings. DOM-bom-bom-bom…[She hums several bars]. It does something to my insides. Eleven times I saw The Ten Commandments. There’s something about the majesty and the spirituality of these movies…
Besides Hello Dolly, what do you think of your sis’s other films?
Oye! I must tell you, I always cry when I see my sister’s films. There’s something very spiritual in them for me, as well. Part of it is my pride for her. Part of it is ‘My God, is that my sister?!’ God bless her, she’s brilliant. You know, I can’t pick one.
What are you most proud of?
My personal journey and growth as a human being.
Roz gives a brief response to some people who have touched her life
Bob Hope – A kick.
Bud Cort – [She laughs uproaringly] Oh, God we go way back [Laughs again] A dear friend.
Barbra Streisand – I love her! [stated in her best Brooklyn brogue]
Tammy Wynette – We were in a concert together. She had a great little dog who sat in the palm of her hand. Lovely lady.
Elliott Gould – A real sweetie.
Fran Drescher – Fun lady.
Howard Stern – [She laughs] Oh, boy. Howard. I went head to head with him. I did his show three times. One time, as he was introducing me, he was questioning, ‘Omigod, is she pretty or what?’ He looks as I walk in and says, “Oh, she is pretty. Look at those boobs. What are you a B? Is Barbra an A? I said, What are you, Howard? He said, ‘I don’t have anything up there. I said, I wasn’t talking about up there. [She laughs.] Then one time during a performance, someone yelled out, ‘How was Howard? Was he kind?’ I said, No, I’m kind. He’s stern.
Johnny Carson – Greatly missed on TV. No one’s come close to him.
Ed Sullivan – Oh, Jesus. [In Ed Sullivan twang] ‘Welcome to my sho.” My first break.
Joan Rivers – Quick wit.
When asked to describe herself, there is a long pause, then she replies: heartfelt and empathetic
Tap directly into Roz at www.RoslynKind.com.
Dann Dulin is Senior Editor of A&U.