Grief is a 'hamster wheel': How a memoir about death can still be funny

Author Nora McInerny Purmort and her son
Author Nora McInerny Purmort and her son
Courtesy of publisher

Nora McInerny Purmort's memoir is difficult to describe.

"It's about my husband and dad dying, after my miscarriage — and it's hilarious, obviously," she joked with MPR News host Kerri Miller. "That's a hard thing to explain to people."

The book, "It's Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too)", captures the worst moments in McInerny Purmort's life, and the best. It starts with a simple story, she said: Boy meets girl. Boy gets cancer.

That boy was Aaron Purmort, the man who made her laugh so hard she pulled a muscle. And the cancer was stage four brain cancer. Staring down the terminal diagnosis, they decided to get married.

'It's Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too)'
'It's Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too)' by Nora McInerny Purmort
Courtesy of Dey St.

"There were 10 days between his diagnosis and our wedding," McInerny Purmort said.

She started a blog, "My Husband's Tumor," to chronicle the experience: the MRI scans, the late nights at the hospital, her pregnancy, the birth of their son Ralph. "It's not a cancer story, it's a love story," her blog reads. "With some cancer."

Then, in the fall of 2014, Aaron died. His death came six weeks after her father died, and seven weeks after she miscarried. In the face of all that, there was laughter: Aaron's obituary revealed that he was Spiderman.

Her book wades into the realities of grief, and the absurdity of the idea that there's a "right way to grieve."

"Grief is chaos, and it is not five neat steps. It is this weird hamster wheel you will be running on for the rest of your life. I don't really believe in closure. I don't use the phrase 'moving on' at all," she said. "I think these are things that stay with you and become a part of you, and if you've experienced that, you would never look at another person and tell them: 'Oh, you're doing that wrong."

It has been a year and a half since Aaron's death, and she's "not in a rush to get through it," she said.

"I realize that this grief is a privilege because it means that I loved somebody very deeply. Not everybody gets that. ... That's a risk that you take when you fall in love: You're saying, 'This is something I could lose someday.'"

Her memoir drops mentions of "Game of Thrones" and embarrassing childhood memories as often as it addresses the realities of loneliness and raising her young son on her own. These things are not exclusive — joy and grief, silliness and sadness — they are life.

"Your heart can feel so many things: I am a happy person. I am dating somebody. I still love my husband," she said. "We all contain multitudes."

For the full conversation with Nora McInerny Purmort on her memoir, "It's Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too)", use the audio player above. She will read from her book at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis at 7 p.m. tonight.

It's Okay to Laugh It's Okay to Laugh

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