When her mother received a terrifying diagnosis in 2018 that gave her six months to live, Laura Dern realized how little she had asked her about her life and hardships she had faced.
The Oscar winner and "Jurassic Park" star spoke with Hoda Kotb on TODAY on April 25 about how she and her mother, Oscar-nominated actor Diane Ladd, bonded during a difficult time by engaging in the type of conversations that adult children often avoid having with their parents.
“I was shocked at how little I’d asked her," Dern said. "The hard stuff, because I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t want to bring it up and hurt her.’ But even the simple stuff. I’ve been raised by an actor, I’ve worked alongside my mother, and yet I’ve never asked, ‘Why did you want to become an actress?’"
Ladd, 87, had been diagnosed with scarring on her lungs in 2018 due to being exposed to pesticides sprayed in her neighborhood in Ventura County, California, according to Dern. Doctors told her she only had three to six months to live.
"They said if you can get her walking, expand her lung capacity, maybe it will help," Dern said.
Starting in early 2019, the two went on a regular walks together. Dern, 56, suggested recording their conversations and Ladd's stories about her life on her phone so that her grandchildren would have them.
The project blossomed into them co-authoring a new book, "Honey, Baby, Mine," with the subheading, "A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love (and Banana Pudding)." The book is based on their frank and funny conversations following Ladd's diagnosis.
Ladd was hesitant to walk with Dern at first because it was painful and she was on oxygen, but the treks soon became therapeutic.
"And she said that she really felt finally releasing some of the grief and challenges and heartbreak of her life, as well as us laughing over absurd fights and silly things we’ve been through was in fact so healing, physically and emotionally," Dern said.
Dern said the two "told each other everything," starting with a weighty topic.
"In fact our first walk, I was like, 'Mom, what do you want to talk about today, let's get walking,'" Dern said. "She's like, 'Death.' And she was like, 'You got born, that happened, you're going to die, that happens, too.'
"She said, 'I'm not afraid of it.' She was afraid of leaving me, she was afraid of not being here to watch her grandchildren grow, and still has that fear."
Ladd is not only doing much better, she even appeared in an episode of "Young Sheldon" in 2021, three years after her initial diagnosis.
"It was the beginning of 2019 that we started these walks, and they said, your mother will never be here in six months," Dern said. "But from walking and not believing, as my mom said too, ‘They say they’re practicing medicine, so I’m not going to believe one doctor, I’m going to go to several, and I’m going to keep fighting with alternative modalities and my daughter and I’s love for each other.
"And so she kept going, and she’s like, ‘All I know is four years later, I made two movies, a TV show and wrote a book.’"
When they told family and friends about their talks on their regular walks, they found that it sparked others to do the same.
"As we started sharing with people that we were doing this, we saw that siblings and mother and fathers and sons and daughters, they were all having conversations they'd never had," Dern said. "And we thought if this can inspire friends, we hope it will inspire others, too, so that's why we're sharing."