dana perry, graham moore, and what mattered at the oscars

You know which two moments really mattered at the Oscars this year. You know because they jumped off the screen with their audacity, authenticity, humanity and courageous, revelatory love.

The first occurred when Dana Perry, hefting her award for best documentary short, dedicated it to her late son, Evan. “We lost him to suicide. We should talk about suicide out loud. This is for him.” The second came when Graham Moore, hefting his own hunk of Oscar for adapted screenplay, revealed that he had tried to kill himself at age 16. “I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do.”

The suicidal urge and action are a mystery. What form and depth this darkness takes, no one can imagine. Answers will always escape us, just as answers always elude the living in the weeks and months and years following such a death. The whys, the what-ifs, the how-could-this-bes. The what-could-we-have-dones. All were asked after Robin Williams took his own life. All are asked after every suicide. My husband’s, my sisters, everyone’s. We ask the questions. We cup our hands to our ears. There is no reply to be heard. There isn’t anything we can say — to each other, to the dead — to satisfy the urge to know why it happened, the need to nail down its cause and meaning.

But we can still say something. Maybe there’s no answer to hear, but we can still fill the void with our love and electric impulse to connect. We can still speak of the unspeakably hard, because only by talking can we ease our pain and the pain of others.

Perry was right: This needs to be discussed. Moore was right: We need to make room for eccentricity, difference, all that makes us singularly and miraculously who we are.

Let’s talk to each other. And then let’s listen.

beep beep

I hate cars. I’ve said this before, and in exactly those words. I’ll say this again. That is a safe bet. Because I HATE CARS.

I even hate this new Honda I just bought, and lemme tell you, I LOVE Hondas. Toyotas, too. I love them so much that I would marry them in a group cult wedding with thousands of other Japanese-car-worshippers, all of us naked and oiled and holding hands and singing ditzy folk songs with daisies in our hair. Yes. I would do that. In fact, I already have.

But still, I HATE THIS HONDA. Two days after buying it, I had to get the roters fixed. Four days after buying it, it broke down in Manhattan — on 85th St., just east of the tunnel in Central Park! Where there’s no shoulder! With lots of batshit traffic whizzing past! Ahhhhh! — and I freaked the *BEEP* out until a AAA truck took my vee-hickle and a cab ferried me and my son to a friend’s place on the Upper West Side.

The irony: I bought this car because I needed a reliable vee-hickle on a few long drives ahead of me (italics mine), and this awesome website I found identified THIS VERY HONDA as THE most reliable year of THE most reliable model in THE most reliable body type in THE HISTORY OF CARS. Oh, hey! I innocently thought. I am one smart cookie! I am one shrewd customer! I’m buying a sturdy and dependable vee-hickle!

So on the drive down, just north of New York City, when the engine starting making a crunching noise similar to that of Ewoks stuck in a sink compactor, I told myself NO NO NO NO NO. When a dude at a rest stop heard this awful noise, came over, shook his head sadly and moaned, “Ohhhh, that’s not good,” again I told myself NO NO NO NO NO. This is a Honda!, I objected Hondas don’t do this! Especially not MY HONDA! Why, I married it just last week!

To be clear, I am NOT mad at the dealership that sold me this cursed *BEEP*-ing beast of a Honda. The folks there have been lovely, absolute paragons of decency in the business. I know they’re required by law to cover these repairs, but they’re not required to apologize profusely and express profound dismay as they arrange to haul my Honda’s ass north on a flatbed truck and then fix the thing in seemingly minutes flat. Turned out it was the A/C compressor and the serpentine belt. I have no idea what those two things are. Don’t try to explain them to me. Someday I’ll learn to fix them myself. Just not today.

Anyway, the hated Honda is back and running fine now, but I still hate cars. I still hate THIS car. If it wants my affection back, it’s gonna have to woo me with roses and Dove bars, and maybe oil itself up and hold my hand and sing a few ditzy songs in the process. The *BEEP*-er.

at sea

Let. Let. Let.

I’m not good at that. I was never good at that. I’m not a Type A control freak, exactly (witness: my house), but I have a hard time abandoning myself to various and sundry Cosmic Forces, be they personal, physical, spiritual, meteorological or digestive. (The last time I ate mussels, the things gave me such gas that I could have fueled all of Albany County for National Grid.)

But I know that I should let. Most of the time, my futile stabs at control are weak and whimpering little efforts, just tacit acknowledgments that I actually control squat. I’m aware of this pathetic global impotency of mine and everybody’s, but still, I refuse to yield. I know I ought to. I don’t.

But sometimes. Sometimes the letting happens for me. Sometimes I’m led to it, firmly but gently, and it yields a peace that feels like joy.

I am not one to thump bibles. Or wag them around. Or bonk them into people’s faces with loud, spittle-spewing talk of hellfire and damnation, as I’m not a fan of either. But I do own a few in different translations, and I flip through them once a day around bedtime, keeping my spittle to myself.

I often flip to the same ol’ pages. Some of them, dog-eared and post-it-noted, feature my All-Time All-Star Bible Passages, the ones I turn to for wisdom or uplift over and over again. I John 4:7 is top of the pops, for me: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” I read that thing, and I think, Wowza! That’s some radically inclusive stuff right there! EVERYONE who loves? Including, you know, weirdos and atheists and apostates and and folks who adhere to other religions? And annoying boobs with bad breath? ALL of those people, not just five or six of the nicer ones, are creations and reflections of God’s love, too?

I like that bit. I turn to it of my own volition all the time. But some nights, flipping away at random, I chance across other chunks of scripture without even trying. I am not saying that God necessarily directs this bedtime bible-flipping, but neither am I saying that the Almighty has nothing to do with it ever ever ever. What I am saying is this: I open myself to the possibility of an insight, whether divinely nudged or not, each time I open the book. I open myself to this same possibility each time I open a conversation, open my mind to a new way of thinking, open my heart to a new way of loving, open a door to the outside world. Insights can show up any time, but only if I give them an entrance.

And so, more bedtimes than I can count, my fingers have accidentally or not-so-accidentally noodled their way to Acts 27:15: “When the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along.”

That word again. Let.

Chris used to say this to me all the time. “Let, Amy! Let!” In the three-plus years since he died, I’ve often heard his laughing tenor, imploring me to give in and allow someone else to take over. Lately I’ve been happening upon that page in Acts at moments I need it — when I need to be told, again as always, that I control just shy of nothing in this tempestuous whorl of a world, and that my best bet, again as always, is to just sit back and see where the wind might take me. It’s taken me into dark coves of isolation, then blown me outward. It’s taken me into raging squalls of grief, then watered my eyes with sunshine.

Sometimes I manage to steer, but I kid myself when I think I’m navigating. Faith lies in letting the boat go; strength lies in not falling off. (As I kid I heard a story, which is probably 99.9999 percent not true, about some wacky ancestor on some crazy shoot of my mother’s family tree who got drunk and fell off the Mayflower. A fellow traveler must have fished him out, or I wouldn’t be here. This a total and irrelevant digression, but it stars a sloshed pilgrim with vertigo, and who doesn’t love those?)

Just a few nights ago, I was feeling sniffly and crotchety and foul — and wanting to control things, and not knowing how, and thrashing about for some power or knowledge or luck or miracle that could Make Things Happen To My Liking. I wasn’t in a mood to let. Let, schlet.  Not me. Bah.

In this cantankerous state I picked up the bible. I cracked it open. I randomly flopped over to that passage from Acts. Some force or finger blew me there, and I let myself be driven. Let. Let.

can you see him?

can you see him?

on gratitude, the memoir, ‘the moth’

sample 2B
It’s an odd thing, this gratitude I feel for so many gifts that have come my way since Chris’s suicide. How can I be grateful for a book I wouldn’t have written had he not jumped? How can I be grateful for a story I couldn’t have told? How can I give thanks for the new people who’ve entered my life in the aftermath, the new surges of love I’ve felt, the new places I’ve been with my kids, the new adventures I’ve had since his death?

But I am indeed thankful. And yet this bizarre and blessed I-am-thankfulness doesn’t diminish the horror of what came before or the pain that still throbs because of it. This is the yin-yang of our messy, mashed-up, miraculous human lives — the push of living that sends us forward, the pull of death that makes us grieve.

What a job we have ahead of us when we’re born! “Hey kid,” says Whoever’s in charge at the gate. “Squeeze through this tube, pop out and scream, then shit all over your parents. Then scream some more. After that, laugh. Be sure to howl in agony at life’s exquisite torments. But don’t stop laughing. And keep shitting. Do this until you die. Now, off you go! Have fun! Don’t forget to write!”

If anyone explained all this to me at the outset, I honestly don’t remember. Took me a while to figure that out. It’ll take me a while longer to figure out the rest. Maybe we can help each other do that; I certainly can’t do it alone.

In the meantime, because I know I have to plug myself no matter how badly I suck at self-promotion, here’s the link to my story for “The Moth.”

And here’s the obligatory Amazon link to my memoir of life after my husband’s death, “Figuring Shit Out: Love, Laughter, Suicide, and Survival.” 

Even better, here’s a link to the book on indiebound.org, where you can find a local independent bookstore. And if you click here, you can order it via indiebound from The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. Or, if you feel like a drive in the snow, I’ll be appearing at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, NH, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19: click here for that.)

That’s about it from me for now. If my memoir or my story helps a few people struggling with grief to feel a little less alone, then it’s served its purpose. I’m grateful for that, too.


I’ve long regarded grief as a monster — as something ghoulish and hungry and shaggy and self-centered, crashing suddenly through my walls and splintering my furniture and my equilibrium with its giant paws and drooling, bloody fangs. It is a nasty thing. It gets in my face, it never showers, and its stinky B.O. alone is enough to bring me to tears.

Lately, though, I’ve switched metaphors. I’ve moved on to something a little smaller and fluffier, with better hygiene. Though, I must stress, it is a being no less annoying. And no less insistent. And possessed of no less spectacularly awful timing. Why, just last week it appeared — uninvited! how rude! — for no apparent reason except I guess I still miss my mom as much as I did 20 years ago, though the grief hadn’t visited in quite some time.

It’s an odd duck, and a pushy one. You’re familiar with its M.O., I’m sure. There you are, in the middle of life or work or vacuuming, when it waddles through the front door without knocking (not sure how it finds the key) and quacks obnoxiously for your attention. You have no choice but to drop your aforementioned life or work or vaccuuming and sit with this unwanted, awkward, splay-footed creature. You must tolerate its presence, entertain its eccentricities, listen to its painful, pissy business and cry as you pour it a cup of Earl Grey tea. You do this for as long as it decides to stay, then send it on its way until it barges in again uninvited at the next worst possible time.

At first, in the early days of loss, these visits occur several times a day. Then a few times a day. Then daily, weekly, a few times a month. And over time, as the visits become rarer and rarer and briefer and briefer and less and less sloppy with crying, you begin to hope that the damn duck is done with you forever — that finally, after all those unanticipated, difficult visits with all that tea, it will somehow lose interest in you and move on.

So it does. Until it doesn’t. When it does again. And one day, years after its first, knockless, arrival at your door, you’re picking your nose at a traffic light on the way to work when that same fool fowl whips open the passenger-side door and hops right in. It sits there, dangling its floppy little feet six inches above the floor mat, quacking away about the familiar painful business, the what-ifs, the what-nexts, the you-should’ves and why-didn’t-yous. All you can do is listen quietly and wipe the salty discharge off your face. And you don’t even have any Early Grey tea.

But if you give it its due, it’ll leave. It’ll scramble its feathery butt up the door and bail beak-first through the window, and it’ll do this speedy-quick if you flip on the radio and start blasting insipid upbeat pop. Colbie Caillat: that’ll do it. That usually sends the grief bird packing. And if it doesn’t, you can always lean over and give that odd duck the boot at the next traffic light, hoping that it waddles away for good, knowing that it probably never will. Bye bye, birdie. You’ll be back.

weirder than this guy

way weirder than this public domain little fellow