Many memoirs have covered the terrain of grief, but Nora McInerny Purmort’s does so with more sass, swearing, and style than most. For a book that chronicles the author’s experience losing her husband, father, and unborn baby all within two months, it’s a surprisingly funny and enjoyable read. (Which isn’t entirely surprising if you've read the Minneapolis author’s blog My Husband’s Tumor or saw Aaron’s obituary, which revealed his true identity as Spider-Man, who’d lost his battle with a nefarious criminal named Cancer.)
“It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool, Too)” offers a certain amount of permission in the title itself—and believe me, you’ll do plenty of both. Sitting in my favorite coffee shop as I read, I found myself laughing out loud one moment, tears filling my eyes the next. If my emotional rollercoaster garnered any weird looks from fellow coffee shoppers, I was too engrossed in the book to notice.
Nora was voted “Most Likely to Have a Talk Show” in high school, and it’s easy to see why. She’s funny and self-deprecating, sharing her guilty pleasures, trainwreck moments, and life lessons in a way that’s raw, relatable, and honest. (E.g., “I’ve lived a life, I realize, of dirty pain. Of obsession and anxiety, of guilt over not living my one precious life to the fullest, whatever the fuck that even means. Aaron released me from that little self-imposed self-conscious jail cell. He let me be myself, and he loved me even though I never fully put the cap back on anything when I’m done using it.”)
Nora takes us along for the ride as she and Aaron deal with the brain tumor that’s discovered just a year into their relationship. Along the way we get to see Nora unabashedly embrace what she loves (Britney Spears and all), fumble her way into adulthood and motherhood, and discover what it means to love, lose, grieve, and keep going.
The book sometimes feels a bit random, bouncing non-chronologically between different parts of life, and I occasionally craved a less comedic tone, but there are plenty more moments that make it worth it—passages of heart-aching beauty and insight that pierce through the humor. I found myself thinking twice about my own life and how I’m living it, remembering how quickly things can change and how easily we take for granted what we have while it’s here.
In the end, Nora’s vulnerability, resiliency, and reflections on life feel relevant not only for those navigating grief, but for any of us still experimenting with this whole “adulting” thing and doing our best to make our own creative way through life.
“If you’re reading this, you’re one of the 80 percent of zygotes who made it all the way into this world,” Nora writes. “Do you know what that means? It means you did it! You are supposed to be here. You’re incredible. You’re a fucking miracle. Try every day to remember that, when you are confronted with jerks or people who don’t use their turn signals. We all got here. We’re alive on this planet, this mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam, against all odds. And also, please use your turn signal.”
Purmort family photo by Kelly Gritzmacher