This article originally appeared on NYPost.com.
Nora McInerny Purmort may be only 32 years old, but she has plenty to talk about in her new memoir, “It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too).” It examines a not-so-distant time in Purmort’s life: a year-and-a-half ago, when her husband died of brain cancer just a few weeks after her father also passed away.
“It’s a funny, sad book about my dad and my husband dying,” Purmort says of her book, which hits shelves this week. “People are like, ‘…OK’ and I’m like, ‘You’ll just have to read it!’ Isn’t that s–tty? But that’s kinda what it is.”
And it is funny. And, yes, sad too. There’s no avoiding that. Mainly, Purmort tells The Post, she wants to show people that it’s OK to not be OK. She wants to teach people how to talk about unspeakably sad things, or get them to talk about it at all. As she describes, the worst thing you can say to someone whose husband is dying of cancer is nothing at all.
“We always want to be endlessly polite,” she says. “People are like, ‘Oh, I didn’t want to bring this up, I didn’t want to upset you.’ You’ve not reminded me of something that I’ve forgotten. There’s not a day in my life when I’m like oooohhh, yeah.”
Hence the speed of publication. It was important for Purmort to share her story while it’s fresh, she says, not only because there are already plenty of “it’ll all be OK” books in the world, but to help herself process her life. You are here: recently widowed mother of 2-year-old Ralph, founder of non-support-group support group Hot Young Widows Club, leader of Still Kickin, a “nonprofit dedicated to building a braver, more supportive world” and named after the slogan on her husband, Aaron’s, favorite kelly green T-shirt. She’s doing plenty from day to day, as a generally chipper social media presence documents, but what else is she meant to be doing?
“It felt important to be writing the book a couple months after Aaron’s death, truly, because I didn’t want to write a book that I wrote when I was in my mid-40s with my third husband and our nine combined children living in Colorado or wherever and be like, ‘This crazy thing happened to me in my 30s, but everything’s fine!’ There are plenty of books like that, like ‘Everything happens for a reason and here’s where I ended up.’”
People read her blog not because they’re in her exact situation, she says, but because they want to see how someone is coping, present tense. The tidy “I overcame” books are out there, but Purmort’s is the sometimes messy, jarring overcoming.
“Being close to something is a perspective too. That’s the book that I would’ve wanted to read too,” she says. “I didn’t want to write it with the perspective that everything is OK. And I think you can tell that reading it too. Sometimes it feels OK and sometimes it does not.”
“It literally just hits me,” she says of her husband’s death. “I woke up yesterday and like cried for half an hour because holy f–k, what happened? It still feels like that. It either feels like it’s 500 years away or like it happened five minutes ago.”
There’s very little of the hospital in Purmort’s book, nor are there pages of medical specifics and details of both Aaron’s and her father’s maladies. In a genre that tips easily into tragedy porn, Purmort focuses on the lives, not the sicknesses that ended them. There are stories of regrettable tattoos, the joys of a college class syllabus, an attempt at describing the term “take the message to Garcia,” Facebook stalking your way to BFF-dom with your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, the questionable merits of silent retreats, and doing drunken karaoke after your husband’s funeral, among other things. It’s full of the funny, happysad, weird things that you remember from the time you’ve spent with people you love and the time you spent wishing you were spending time with them.
Purmort breaks the barrier of silence, revealing the quirks and wrinkles of a time that many would prefer to pretend never happened.
“It’s always someone else until it’s you,” she says of the cancer, the miscarriage, any of the bad things that swiftly and irrevocably change a life and make Tuesday very different from Monday. “And when it is, you’re going to be not fine and then fine and then not fine again.”
But you have to go on, she says. “You don’t have a choice. They totally make you be an adult. The whole world. Society. All of it, so rude. It’s incredibly inconvenient, but they do make you do it.”