Terrible, Thanks for Asking


4/5/19 - Have you experienced a big loss? The death of a family member or friend, illness, even a breakup or losing a job can be devastating. Help and support pour in for a day, a week. And then what? We're supposed to just be fine and pretend like it never happened? We realtalk grief and suffering with Nora McInerny, host of the podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking, and author of funny-sad books like her latest, No Happy Endings.

Transcript below.

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Producer: Gina Delvac

Hosts: Aminatou Sow & Ann Friedman

Theme song: Call Your Girlfriend by Robyn

Composer: Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs.

Associate Producer: Jordan Bailey

Visual Creative Director: Kenesha Sneed

Merch Director: Caroline Knowles

Editorial Assistant: Laura Bertocci

Design Assistant: Brijae Morris

Ad sales: Midroll


No Happy Endings by Nora McInerny

Nora’s podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking

The obituary that Nora and her husband co-wrote before his death

Nora on Instagram and Twitter




Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.

Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.

Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.

Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman.

Aminatou: Hey Ann Friedman!

Ann: Love that I just quickly swallowed a mouthful of popcorn in order to do this intro.

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Ann: So you know we've really gotten casual about podcasting.

Aminatou: I know. There's popcorn, water around the table.

Ann: There's snacks, yeah.

Aminatou: There's snacks. It's cool. I'm excited about today's show.

Ann: Tell me.

Aminatou: I spoke to Nora McInerny, the author of No Happy Endings and the host of Terrible, Thanks for Asking, a podcast that I really, really, really love. She's on this week to talk about a lot of things that are central to her work, so mostly grief, dealing with grief and being a resilient person and moving on and just living in a world where everything is really fucking hard. Like truly, truly, truly one of my favorite conversations and I've been thinking a lot about, you know, how joy and tragedy are -- they're just like a part of life. You'll be so lucky to be joyful in your life but you will 100% experience tragedy.

Ann: Ugh, Zen Master Aminatou Sow.


Aminatou: Let me tell you. And just like, you know, it's like life is really hard these days, or at least for me it is. So having somebody who thinks about these things a lot and has been really generous about talking about their own grief and their own experience with losing people that are close to them and still having to put one foot in front of the other every day, that's something I really appreciate. And making some space to actually talk about grief. It really confounds me how little we talk about it when tragedy is literally -- like it's happening right now. So . . . 

Ann: Right. Every day is the worst day of someone's life.

Aminatou: You know what, Ann? You should write that book. I love it. [Laughs] But it's true, and it is truly shocking that we don't talk about it enough. And then the people who do talk about it then kind of become avatars for always talking about hard -- like they don't get to be three-dimensional people.

[Theme Song]


Aminatou: I think you're going to enjoy it.

Ann: I can't wait. Another Midwest diva.

Aminatou: You know, another Midwest diva with great hair so here's Nora.

[Interview Starts]

Nora: I'm Nora McInerny. I am a podcast host which is like the 2019 version of saying you're a blogger. [Laughs]

Aminatou: Rude. Rude Nora.

Nora: Who isn't a podcaster? Sorry. I'm Nora McInerny. I'm severely depressed right now but I'm on my way up. I can tell I'm like hitting whatever the opposite of a crest is where you're like okay, now I know. Now I know I'm on the upswing, but still I'm a podcaster. I also have a podcast with American Public Media called Terrible, Thanks for Asking and I'm the author of some funny sad books that basically all come down to the fact that I am a widow. I was widowed at 31 and that is kind of a strangely central part of my identity even though I would've preferred to just be known as like Nora's really tall.


Aminatou: You are very tall Nora. You're very tall.

Nora: I'm very tall.

Aminatou: And your hair is beautiful. I wish those were the things you're known for.

Nora: Thank you, same. But I like -- you know, this is my new version so . . .

Aminatou: Well I have so many questions. Talk to me about being depressed today. How's that going?

Nora: God, uh, I mean it's been kind of a while and I'm learning to sort of just -- okay, basically what I think it all . . . the root of it currently is just a lot of anxiety about making things. I don't know if you are familiar with being a woman who makes things, you know?

Aminatou: No. Never heard of that condition.

Nora: Never heard . . .

Aminatou: Never heard of that condition.

Nora: It's a very -- it's rare but when you are a woman who makes things that are important to you and then you put them out into the world it does come with a certain amount of anxiety that I think mostly I can kind of compartmentalize. But often I can't because it's sort of all tied in with -- the thing you're making is tied in with your income and tied in with your identity. And in obvious ways that I've seen you address on social media also sort of tied in with your likability. And the Internet giveth us a platform and it taketh away some really basic parts of our humanity which is just basically letting people kind of live and let live and not being subjected to everybody's opinion about your life.


And sometimes -- currently right before you called I was on Craigslist looking up campers and wondering if I could relocate a family of six to a forest and live in a camper. It's not looking great but that's just where I am mentally.

Aminatou: Yeah, you need a lot of space. I'm going to say this. I imagine that campers add like 50% to anxiety and depression so I'm just going to say . . . I'm not a medical doctor but I'm going to say that this is not a great idea.

Nora: It's not a great idea? But just looking I think kind of helps. Just looking at a different version of your life is kind of a form of therapy for me. And so right now I just also feel depressed that I'm not grateful enough or appreciative enough of the things that I'm able to do. If you would've told me five years ago "Oh, you'll have written three books and you'll have four kids," I would've been like oh, yes, then I'll be happy. But there is a kind of central conflict in this story which is the way that I got here which is really hard. And it's really hard to live with that sort of both/and -- thinking, therapy words for you -- where I do have this . . . I have work that I really love doing and I have a family I love. And also to get here I lost my husband Aaron and I lost the second baby that we were hoping to have and I lost my dad all at once and now I'm here.

And it wasn't a trade, one for the other, or three for four, but I am here in this really happy place but it was a complicated way to get here. And that's really hard to I think sometimes manage day-to-day.

Aminatou: Will you tell me about your new book No Happy Endings? What is it about? Why did you write it? Why is it so good?


Nora: I wrote this book . . . okay, so the first book . . . god, I'm so good at elevator pitches if you want to ride the Willie Wonka elevator for nine years.

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Nora: So I wrote this book in the aftermath of losing my first husband which is also what my first book is about. My first book was written in the six months after Aaron died and when I say that now it sounds absolutely bonkers but I'm so glad I wrote it because being close to something is a perspective and being in something is a perspective. And it is -- that is a chaotic book and one that I will always love because I could've written it from a nice, safe distance. I could've written it ten years later and had a really good sense of what it all meant but I didn't. And I still don't have a sense of what it all meant.

But since Aaron died I did meet another man and I got pregnant and fell in love and we got married in that order. The perception that I get and that I've gotten ever since that first book came out and as people have followed me on Instagram or come to book events is "I wish that I was doing better with this hard thing I went through. I wish I was doing more like you." And that is so devastating to me because am I doing well and what does it mean to do well and why do we think that these formative life events, these really, really difficult things are things that we are meant to move on from and not move forward with?

When I met Matthew the overwhelming response from people was essentially "Oh my god, thank god we don't have to worry about her anymore. Like what a happy ending. He's divorced and has two kids. She's a widow and has one kid. Now they're going to have another baby. They've got a house out in the suburbs. What could be better?"


Well the fact is I do have a pretty amazing family. Honestly all the kids are the best. They're all healthy and kind and Matthew is a wonderful human and he's so different from Aaron but they're sort of complementary forces in my life. But I'm not done with Aaron just because I met Matthew and the fact is that all of these children have come from a broken place. And so it's not an ending. It's not an ending for any of us. Matthew's first wife lives close to us, like we see her at soccer games, and Aaron and his family are still a part of our life. These are all experiences that we carry with us forever. So I don't want people to look at my life and see it as a destination.

Aminatou: Right, it's like people just think that, you know, it's like you close one chapter, you move on to the next, and that's not how grief works you know? [Laughs]

Nora: No, it's not how life works.

Aminatou: It is just not how it works.

Nora: No, Amina, you -- right, you beat cancer. Good thing you never think about cancer ever again because you beat it.

Aminatou: Never.

Nora: Because you're a champ. Because you're a warrior.

Aminatou: I didn't wake up crying about it this morning at all. That's not what happened.

Nora: No, it's so over. In the words of Hilary Duff it's so yesterday and you have not even thought about it. Anybody who has actually experienced something in life knows that, knows that that is a part of you and  that they have been made to feel as if it shouldn't be and as if they should have left it behind them. And that is a huge tension. It is a huge thing that everybody explores in therapy because it isn't true.

And so this is a book with all of those contradictions in it. It is a book about me being really happy and grateful and also deeply, deeply grief-stricken. Especially in a time when I felt truly like legally obligated to be nothing but happy and nothing but grateful, you know? Any time you try to act a way that you think other people think that you should feel is a real recipe for success I have to tell you.

Aminatou: [Laughs] Yeah.


Nora: Any mental health professional will be like "Ask everyone else how you should feel and then feel that way."

Aminatou: I know. My therapist is screaming. What helped you get out -- like really shake that feeling off though? Because I think there are so few models for how you are supposed to experience grief. Like I remember when my mom died, like I didn't understand why the whole world didn't stop to cater to me, you know? At some point I still kind of don't understand it in regards to that.

Nora: 100%.

Aminatou: To that specific thing. But I really think that the thing that probably messed me up more than anything else is we don't talk about loss and grief as a thing that you are continuously supposed to experience, right? It's like every culture has their own grieving ritual and then you're supposed to come back into the real world.

Nora: Right.

Aminatou: It's like you're a leper for a while and then you come back into the real world and then now your life is fine. And so I'm wondering how you shake those feelings away.

Nora: Well an American culture which I don't even know if you can call it that, but it's like the funeral-industrial complex has boiled that down to a five-day window where someone dies and then you're really busy planning a funeral, like this is a non-denominational, areligious sort of variety. And then everybody comes to maybe a wake and a funeral and then it's over. And even if you belong to a faith system or a culture that has a longer grief support or grief ritual you still are forced to fit that into your company's HR policy which I hope every listener reviews because it's garbage.


Legally I'm pretty sure that when Aaron died I had like three days of leave for a spouse. And I mean I obviously took more than that. Well I quit my job but -- I was like I'll take all the days.

Aminatou: [Laughs] You're like I'm going to take every single day that is available to me which is every day.

Nora: Yeah, but it's . . . it's so hard. It's hard to shake that if truly the rest of the world, and anyone who's . . . have you ever, the last time you were at a funeral and you're in this really intense moment and then you leave and you're in a car or you're on the train and you look around you like "How are all these people just living their lives? How do they not know what just happened?" And I don't know that I've shaken that feeling. I am still currently shaking that feeling. And therapy helped and writing the book helped and this job of mine, these jobs of mine where I have Terrible, Thanks for Asking and I have Still Kicking which is a non-profit I started when Aaron died and we just give no-strings-attached financial grants to people who are going through something hard. I really have surrounded myself all day with people who are going through something difficult so I am reminded every day it's not over for them. It's not over for me. And we are all walking around wounded and trying to hide it.

Aminatou: I mean I think the thing that I appreciate about you so much, and the many, many, many, many people who listen to you, is that you are so real about, you know, talking about all sorts of emotional catastrophes. And really being -- you know, not sugarcoating any of it and feeling all of your feelings and really talking about the fact that painful experiences are inevitable, right? It's just a thing that everybody will face even though it seems like some people's lives are very charmed. I will say you and I are not people with charmed lives. [Laughs] So it seems to me that, you know, part of the answer and part of just working through all of this is talking about it more.


Nora: Oh, absolutely. And I do think -- you know, pain and suffering are universal and also so individual. So anybody that you think has a charmed life could tell you a story that you have no idea about. I think if somebody follows you immediately on Instagram they think "Oh, wow, look at this. This lady has it all. Look at all these followers and this popular podcast and she's got a book deal." I get that too. And I'm like "But wait, there's more." And there's always more. You and I have not filled up our punch cards nor has anybody else. It's just this is life doing what life does which is force us to suffer and then in-between these really tragic moments is the good stuff which is really any time something is not actively falling apart I have learned to acknowledge that is actually kind of the best part of life.

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Nora: Is when things are like if I can live at a five, a five to a six, then I'm actually having a pretty good life.

Aminatou: Oh my god.

Nora: I do not need exquisite happiness. I need for things to just not be awful.

Aminatou: I mean that is my exquisite happiness if I'm honest.

Nora: Yeah.

Aminatou: I really want to go back to this thing though that you talked about, you know, like people peering into your social media or into your life and feeling that everything is okay. Doesn't that drive you a little bit up the wall though? Because the line -- the tension is there, right? It's like it's the people peer in because they want to see how you are living but also if you are constantly falling apart in front of them very publicly that's not something that keeps them around.


Nora: Right, that's not palatable. That's not palatable at all. And I think the strange thing too that I've witnessed is that I did not set -- and I have a modest what I consider because, you know, Internet fame has several levels right? So I'm a person who has like maybe 50,000 Instagram followers which to some people is a lot and to some people is like "Huh, call me when you have a million."

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Nora: But that was never -- like that's not a goal of mine. I really, really sort of struggle with this because it is in some ways . . . it's been such a cool thing and such a cool way to connect with people, and in some ways I can see it is an absolute poison for our society and particularly for women. And there's so much that is encouraging/really pressuring women and it comes from other women who this is their business model is to make you feel like you should be doing more and that they can show you how to do it. And why am I begrudging women what men have been doing forever which is basically scamming?

Aminatou: Basically.

Nora: But it really is, and I'm like I guess I shouldn't begrudge you except that you are then perpetuating this feeling among women that it's not enough to just have a job and have friends and be reasonably happy and do your own thing. No, you have to hustle. You have to have a side hustle. You have a night hustle. And in-between hustle. You have to do more and be more. And honestly you don't. Like you don't have to write a book to be a writer. You don't have to have a podcast to have something to say. And you don't have to have a side hustle. Like whatever you are doing is probably enough. And if you want to do something else you can do it just for you and not for Instagram.

Aminatou: Well that's a word if I've ever heard one.



Aminatou: What does the world look like if we make room and space for the fact it is complicated and that it is -- you know, that you can have both big and small devastations every single day?

Nora: Yeah, and that it's not . . . it's not limited to . . . I kind of almost set aside days where I was like oh, I will definitely be sad on Aaron's birthday. I will definitely be sad on Aaron's deathaversary. There's no way for me to set aside the kind of moments where I see somebody who I swear it's Aaron and I'm driving down the street and I see him and he's walking down the street. And he's like -- he's still 35 and he's riding a scooter and it's him. And I just think like oh, there he is. Like how great. I don't think like oh, no -- and then the realization hits then I realize oh, no, that's not him; that's just somebody else who looks a lot like him. Like there's no way to plan for those things. There's no way to plan for watching people that he worked with get promotions that maybe he would've gotten if he would've lived. And there's no way of planning for . . .  I mean this man was -- truly Aaron was so funny and so into celebrity gossip. I went to Who Weekly Live -- shout-out to all our fellow Wholigans.

Aminatou: Love it.

Nora: And I brought Matthew and Matthew's never heard of a celebrity but he laughed a lot because Bobby and Lindsey are so funny. But I kept thinking like Aaron would've made a podcast like this. He was so funny and he reminds me of a straight Bobby Finger.

Aminatou: Wow, what a world. [Laughs]


Nora: What a world. And there's no way to plan for those kinds of things, right? To be like . . . or you see something and you're like oh my god, this woman is being my mom right now.

Aminatou: Yeah, it just -- yeah, you're right. You cannot . . . you can't plan it. For me I never . . . the deathaversaries are not that big a deal anymore I think. It's been 12 years, 13 years. Like that's how much -- that's how long it's been that I don't quit remember the year anymore.

Nora: Yeah.

Aminatou: And so the things that used to be triggers are no longer triggers. That's fine. But yeah, it's like something wild will happen in the news and I'll be like well, you know, wish we could've shared that. Or one of my friends will be a complete see you next Tuesday to their mom and all I know is that now I'm always on the side of the moms. That's the friend that I've turned into. If you are having a conflict with your mother I am squarely on your mother's side every single time. [Laughs]

Nora: Mag appreciates that.

Aminatou: It's just dumb stuff like that. And obviously time makes it more complicated and longer and so much of how we deal with people that are grieving is to provide them support in the first 96 hours. And the truth is that's actually not when you need people the most and it's not when you need your pain acknowledged the most. But I also think that people . . . like you surprise yourself. Like it was interesting to hear you say that you are -- you know, widow is your primary identity. I'm like, you know, my mom died is my number one identity. And I think sometimes it makes people really uncomfortable how much I talk about it but I secretly love talking about it.

Nora: Good.

Aminatou: I secretly love talking about it and making them very uncomfortable so it's also fine.

Nora: Yeah. And also because one day that will be their identifier.

Aminatou: Oh, are you kidding? Ugh. This is so morbid but it's actually like that's the best part.

Nora: Yeah, and honestly it's like you are giving them a kindness that they may not recognize yet but I think about that all the time. I'm like hey, I'm just showing you that -- I'm basically giving you an instruction manual for when it happens to you because it will.


Aminatou: [Sighs] Like what a . . . it's so funny though. It's so funny because obviously everybody copes with their loss differently and we obviously cope with it by telling very morbid stories and the gallows humor is real. I don't know how you teach that to people at scale. Like hey, your life is going to be hard. You might as well have one good last laugh about it because everything is going to fall apart someday.

Nora: We've got to figure out how to scale it and monetize it, okay?

Aminatou: Right, scale it, monetize it. That'll be the Instagram. It's like hello? Big disasters Instagram. Please follow us.

Nora: Please. I don't know either because I grew up Catholic sort of and they didn't teach me anything. They taught me nothing. No offense mom and any Catholics who are listening but that . . .

Aminatou: I'm on your mom's side! They taught you everything okay? You just were not paying attention. [Laughs]

Nora: I honestly -- to be honest I said to one of my friends who went to grade school with me, I was like "I mean I don't even think we opened a Bible in school." And she was like "Yes we did, idiot. You just weren't paying attention."

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Nora: I'm like oh, well I never opened a Bible.

Aminatou: Yeah, I'm on your mom's side here.

Nora: I guess I was sick that day.

Aminatou: Catholics are very good about teaching suffering, okay? You were not paying attention.

Nora: Yeah, I think I just wasn't paying attention. I just wasn't paying attention. But there is a huge part of this. I mentioned earlier, you know, what your HR policy is. And that obviously only applies if you are a salaried employee. But I mean what happens if you are self-employed or if you're hourly or . . . there's so many repercussions. And my friend who started the Hot Young Widows Club with me which is a different thing that I do.

Aminatou: Love it.


Nora: I've got a lot of stuff -- a lot of stuff that doesn't make me money going on. But we have this group called the Hot Young Widows Club and Mo is -- like she does hair and her husband died by suicide and two days later she was cutting hair because if she doesn't cut hair she doesn't get paid. And if she doesn't get paid who pays the mortgage? And that is the reality of grief is so many people are walking around traumatized and without a way to process it and without access to mental healthcare. And even if it were affordable when would you go? When would you go if you are an only parent and your work schedule is grueling and you can't get in for an appointment at 11 a.m. across town?

So it's so complicated and the more you experience it the more you realize like oh, there are so many reasons why so many of us are so hurt for so long. And it's not just that we have not washed our face and pulled our bootstraps up and gotten over it. It's that there are big, big barriers to this and we do not have any more like a real sort of sense of a real community that will really, really, really hold you up. Like that is a very, very, very rare thing. And this is coming from a middle-class white lady in the Midwest who I got to move back in with my mom. That was made available to me and that is not available to everybody.

So basically I did have another grown-up to help me but my mom was also grief-stricken. And I love her so much and there was only so much she could do too. It's just a lot. And so if you are a person who has gone through something really difficult and you're like "Ugh, why am I not doing better at this?" Because it's hard. Because it's hard and sometimes hard things are just hard and maybe there's a silver lining but it's not your job to find it. That's not your number one priority right now is to get to the sunny side of the street. It's to just hold on through this monsoon. Like grab onto something solid, whatever you can, and get through it. And if you are a person who is adjacent to a person who has gone through something really difficult hold on too because it is going to be a while. And they are not fine.


Aminatou: Oh, it's going to be a while. It's probably going to be your whole life.

Nora: Yeah.

Aminatou: I think there's just this idea, and I think in America it's so specific, this way that you're just supposed to get over stuff really quickly and when you get over it it's supposed to be you're supposed to always find a silver lining. There's some sort of victorious narrative that you give. You know, you beat cancer. You get over your grief. We're always just warriors for something.

Nora: You remarry. Like ugh, so great.

Aminatou: It's awful. It's just it's so awful. It's like maybe we should learn to sit with suffering a little bit. You should learn to sit with it. A lot of us are -- it's like if you're listening to this on a podcast you probably have a lot more privilege than other people who are suffering around the world. You know, not to make this some sort of privilege Olympics. But I do think that suffering gives you . . .

Nora: But I win. I do win. I get the gold.

Aminatou: I don't know how to tell you this, I win. I win if we're playing this game. Or rather I lose so you win. You're right.

Nora: [Laughs]

Aminatou: But you know what I mean? It's like sitting with suffering is . . . I'm not saying that it's good but it gives you a little bit of perspective about what is going on in your world and what is going on in the world. I wish that that's something that was a value and a virtue that we were taught, you know? It should just be like okay, things are really hard and you're going to have to learn to be a resilient person. You're going to have to learn to be somebody who understands suffering, who is empathetic to it. And instead all we're taught is to shut down the terrible feeling as soon as it happens. You're supposed to move on very quickly.

Nora: Oh yeah.


Aminatou: And that's its own sickness and that also contributes to this just general unease about everything.

Nora: Mm-hmm, and that you should try to -- have you read Bright-sided by Barbara Ehrenreich?

Aminatou: No, should I? Should I add another book to the pile?

Nora: Oh god, you should. You should. It's so good, and she wrote it after he breast cancer diagnosis when she's basically inundated with positive thinking and all of that language that is definitely very, very tied to a cancer diagnosis. But as people our reflex is to try to fix it for somebody and not everything is fixable and it is also not in your ability to fix everything. And so sitting with someone else's discomfort is usually sitting with your own discomfort and trying to override that reflex to say "I know what you mean" or to say "Have you done this?" or to sort of rush to fill a silence. And I know our Jewish brothers and sisters have a brief tradition called shiva and you sit quietly with the berieved and they talk if they want to talk and you talk about whatever they want to talk about, and I'm sure I'm oversimplifying it.

But the idea of just being present for somebody and letting them set the tone for it is really powerful and it does not have to just be limited to somebody's death but to -- I mean to a friend who is going through a divorce. To a friend who is struggling to conceive. There are so many ways for life to kick you in the neck. You would be surprised -- you won't be surprised, it will never stop. But what you need is not for somebody to try to fix it for you but you need somebody there in the suffering with you.


Anybody can be with you in your happiness. That is a very light lift as far as friendship goes. So I have a social circle that looks way different now than it did when Aaron was alive, like very different, and that hurt me for a long time. And I now see a part of that was me. A part of that was I just could not say to people how much it hurt and what I needed from them because I really didn't know and I didn't know how to not be okay because I was a person who could get through anything. And I had spent three years of Aaron being sick just taking care of it and taking care of him and trying not to be somebody's sad story. Nobody wants your pity and if you've gotten pity you know it's gross. It is gross. Like pity is the opposite of empathy and it is very easy to feel bad for somebody and it's harder to feel with somebody.

Aminatou: I mean whew, this is making me feel a lot of things. You know, I think that you're right. The central tension I think that is there, especially for friends that are going through this kind of stuff especially when we're all young and dumb . . . 

Nora: Ugh. True, yes.

Aminatou: Because that's also -- you know, that's also part of our stories is that we're 20-something and 30-something and the thing with friends is so real because a lot of people just want to fix things. The minute that you voice some sort of discomfort or you're unhappy the tendency is to fix things. And the thing -- you know, when somebody dies there's nothing to fix. We're just going to have to sit here and be very uncomfortable and be very upset about it. There is truly nothing to fix, like the worst has happened.

And, you know, also just to go back to that thing that you were talking about with the Bright-sided book which I'm going to put on my list, but it really made me think about part of what is so gross about this positive thinking narrative is the underbelly of it is saying that whenever anything bad happens to you it's your fault.

Nora: Ding, ding, ding.

Aminatou: It's like if you can't think your way out of all of it. And that is -- you know, I was like talk about just bullshit. And that adds more to the pity that you feel from other people. It adds more to your inadequacy about voicing your own needs and your wants when you are going through something uncomfortable and it's all so gross. It's so gross. It is so gross to tell people that, you know, someone dying or their being ill or even a relationship failing, it's like it's not your fault. Life happens.


Nora: Yeah, exactly. And these are not exceptions to the rule. Like these are the rule which is that every single person you know is going to die and every single person you know is going to suffer and so will you and we do not get to choose when it happens or how it happens otherwise I would've chosen much lighter things for sure.

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Nora: I'm lazy. I would've been like "Um, I guess I would lose maybe a finger?"

Aminatou: You're like that's what I can contribute to the cause. Really, a finger?

Nora: Yeah.

Aminatou: I don't know. I'm too vain to lose a finger I think.

Nora: Yeah, maybe not. Maybe not even a finger. Maybe part of an ear because I could wear my hair down.

Aminatou: Not even. Not even. I would do like a tiny bald spot maybe that I could cover up. Maybe.

Nora: I can't afford a bald spot. I can't.

Aminatou: Maybe. Maybe.

Nora: I've got real fine baby hair. A bald spot would basically be my whole head so . . .

Aminatou: You could wear a wig. You could wear a wig.

Nora: That's true. They've gotten so good.

Aminatou: Everybody has their own suffering. How much of your brain do you think -- brainpower is spent thinking about death?

Nora: I mean it's kind of always there in the background but honestly not in a morbid way. I do think that to explore some cliches here that . . .

Aminatou: Love a clich, tell me. Love a clich.


Nora: Yeah. Like my fear of death is really -- is gone. I do not fear dying at all. I watched my dad die. I watched Aaron die and I just had real realization moments where if it were a movie you would zoom in on my pupil and inside would be the whole universe.

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Nora: And I just get it. I'm like oh my god, it all makes sense. And then schoop, it's over. That's how fast it happened and how intense it was. And I was like oh, I'm okay. He's okay. We're okay. And then obviously the shock wears off and then you do feel pain for a long time. But for that brief moment I was like I get it. I get it and I'm no longer afraid of dying. I'm no longer afraid of it. And I was born afraid of dying. I was just . . .

Aminatou: Oh my god, me too. It's all I thought about as a kid.

Nora: Oh, yes.

Aminatou: My every action was driven by how afraid I was of dying and now I'm like I don't care.

Nora: Yeah. Now I'm like you know what? It'll be fine. I'm still afraid of suffering I have to say. You know, watching Aaron die slowly of brain cancer I thought if I have brain cancer I will move to a state that has right to die legislation and I will decide when I'm done doing this. Because it's not a good death. It's not a peaceful death. It's a violent, horrible death. And that is something that I think about all the time. A part of me is always aware of that, of the potential for suffering among the people that I love. But I'm not afraid of my own death. I know that really death is hard for the people who survive it. That's who it's hard on. And I do want to raise kids who are not afraid of what will become of them without me or without their dad. And I have one kid who has a dead dad and that is something that we -- honestly we talk about Aaron every day.


And so I do think that that's helpful for all of the kids. You know, the big kids, they never met Aaron obviously. But they know him. They know stories about him from high school that I've told. They know his favorite color. They can tell you the ways that he used to make fun of me that I really miss and now they do. And so I hope that that is a comfort to them in some way that talking about somebody's death does not need to be morose and does not need to be . . . or talking about a dead person I should say.

Because the person you love who is dead is so much more than their death, is so much more than the way that they died. And I want to be able to tell you that Aaron would've started Who Weekly, no offense Bobby and Lindsey. I want to be able to tell you about our wedding without you being like "Oh god, I'm so sorry. Oh, when will she stop talking about this?" I want to be able to hear about your mom. That's the kind of . . . that's the kind of world I want and that's the kind of kids I want to raise. I want Ralph to be able to say "Oh yeah, one of my dads is dead. One of my dads is shorter than his driver's license says."

Aminatou: [Laughs] No need to air out family business on this podcast Nora. Do you have an ideal scenario for what you want your funeral to be?

Nora: Oh, okay, so first of all I do . . . oh, I have another book recommendation for the audience. Have you read From Here to Eternity?

Aminatou: No. Thank you for telling the entire audience that I don't read books. Thank you for coming on the show and making me sound like an illiterate person. [Laughs]

Nora: You are the most . . . you are the most well-read person that I've ever met, truly, besides my dead dad. But he only read dead white people so was he even that well-read? I don't know. More family drama on the next episode of Talking Shit About Dead People.

Aminatou: [Laughs]


Nora: But it's a book by Caitlin Doughty who's a mortician in L.A. and advocates for natural burial and against all of the sort of death industry stuff. And it was really beautiful and I was like oh my god, there's just so much beautiful ritual around the world. I do want to be cremated. I would like life-size cutouts of myself from various life phases that can be around for people to pose with/keep in their homes afterward. That was an idea that was actually Aaron's but we couldn't pull it off which I feel bad about. Sorry Aaron. And I loved Aaron's funeral and we had his favorite desserts and we had too much alcohol I will say. And it was at night. It was an evening event and we had music and we had people talk. That's what I want. I want there to be some ritual although nothing . . . there's really nothing from the Christian tradition that really resonates with me funeral-wise. I still have some funeral planning to do so that's a good reminder.

Aminatou: Okay, let's work on our funeral planning.

Nora: Yeah.

Aminatou: It's all I think about. I don't . . . I'm not big into my birthday and I don't like -- like my nightmare . . .

Nora: I hate my birthday.

Aminatou: My actual nightmare is somebody throwing me a surprise birthday party. Like that's my nightmare.

Nora: Oh my god, yes.

Aminatou: One time it almost happened, like this person almost threw a party and then my very close friends were like you're . . . Amina will hate this. She didn't get it. She was a newish friend. She didn't get it. And then finally they had to tell me so I would break it to her. I was like "Listen, you cannot throw this party for me." All of this to say is my dream is a surprise funeral when I'm alive because . . . [Laughs] I'm saying it now so that my friends who are listening will really take this to heart.

Nora: Yes.


Aminatou: Sometime in the next three decades I would really appreciate this party because the thing . . .

Nora: Oh, I love that.

Aminatou: I brag all the time on this show about how I don't have FOMO and the truth is the only thing I will ever have FOMO about is my own funeral because that sounds like my -- it's like my nightmare scenario of a party. All of my friends from all of the parts of my life meeting unsupervised and talking about me? I don't think so. That's bananas.

Nora: [Laughs]

Aminatou: So I think all of my obsession with funeral planning is really that. I was like you're an anal retentive asshole like me and you plan out every single part of this. Then it's almost like you're there.

Nora: Yeah, that's so smart. It's so smart. I knew of a person who did -- like they had a pre-funeral that they attended and I thought that was really sweet. God, that's such a good idea. That's a really good idea. Yeah, you don't get to attend your own funeral. And honestly, you know, a lot of the stuff that happens if you've ever planned a funeral with a family, you're like is this what the person wanted? I hope it is. Uh, I don't know. Then you're doing things that you're like I think they would really hate this. But so much of it is for the living people and that's kind of BS.

Aminatou: I know. Funerals for the living people, and also I have not had a wedding so I don't know what it's like to just have people buy you gifts and toast you. So I think the closest I will get to that is my own amazing funeral. And I'd like to know what the speeches are.

Nora: Oh, yes. Oh, I agree. I also do think that we as a society should probably more embrace registries for things beyond just a wedding especially because so many people are getting married when they already have the resources to buy their own GD dishes, okay?

Aminatou: I know. I know. I was invited to a very -- like to somebody who was getting remarried, also who was very wealthy, and I couldn't believe that they had ice cream dishes on their registry and I let them know about it. It's like I'm sorry, you're not allowed to ask for this. This is ridiculous. This is a second wedding. You have a lot of money.


Nora: Yeah. I didn't have a wedding registry. I think the first time Aaron and I had one on Amazon and he put video games on it and snow shoes.

Aminatou: That's genius. That's genius. That's actually genius. You should ask for what you want. But I do agree with you that a small part of this, figuring out this puzzle, is celebrating things that are not just like the dumb accomplishments that you're supposed to have like weddings. I always say that getting married is not an accomplishment.

Nora: It is not an accomplishment. Neither is getting engaged.

Aminatou: No, and that's very nice.

Nora: Completely agree.

Aminatou: It's very nice but I think that if we made it a normal part of life to celebrate and grieve big and small things and to put everything into context, you know . . . I want to see wedding energy go into funerals and go into, you know, like helping your friends who are ill or dealing with people who are facing a really bad diagnosis or people who are going through divorces. Let's keep that same energy throughout all of these life milestones and then we don't make people feel like shit when life actually happens.

Nora: Yes. Yes.

Aminatou: Death is a normal part of life. Divorce is a normal part of life. This is all normal and, you know, not to conflate . . .

Nora: Yes, losing a job. Do you know how many people message me and they're like "I lost a job and I feel like a loser. My life is over." I'm like no, no, no, welcome . . .

Aminatou: Talk about a registry. That's who we should have registries for, like people getting laid off from jobs. Are you serious?

Nora: Exactly. Exactly. Okay, this is also a good idea so let's bookmark all of these great ideas.

Aminatou: Yes, let's monetize all of this in the future. It all sounds so scary and terrifying but isn't this what life is made of? People were doing this before us, just like having kids and then figuring it out later.

Nora: Yes, exactly. And also my dad was a huge advocate for not trying to plan out your life. And he was very much annoyed by people saying things like "Oh, we're just not quite at that stage yet." He's like "When do you think you'll be at a stage when you're ready to do anything? You just have to do stuff." He also coined the very uplifting phrase "Nobody gives a shit about what you were going to do so stop talking and do it."


Aminatou: Oh my god. [Laughs] That cured my depression this morning.

Nora: All right, it's like no one gives a shit. Like oh, you were going to do something? No, just do the thing. I do think that did come in handy. I married Aaron when he had a brain tumor. A month after his brain surgery we were married. Like the scar was still crusty and we got married. And I accidentally got pregnant with Matthew -- sorry kids, as we listen to this episode as a family. You know, was it time to have a baby? Turns out who cares? [Laughs] That is -- it all works out or it doesn't. I don't know.

Aminatou: Just live your life. Just live your life.

Nora: Just stay tuned for more inspirational . . .

Aminatou: Just live your life.

Nora: Yeah, you literally cannot plan it and I would never in a million years have found Matthew on the Internet with what I thought I wanted out of another relationship. I would not have found Aaron either. I was like I don't want to date any guy who works in advertising. I work in advertising. Ugh, gross. All the guys who work in advertising are not for me. If I would've gone according to some arbitrary plan that was obviously created before I'd experienced any of these things who knows where I would be? And I'd still be thinking like oh, what if? What if?

Aminatou: Well, you know what? Good thing we don't have to ask ourselves what if because you did the damn thing.

Nora: And the other thing too is nothing we are doing is permanent, right? So you start Call Your Girlfriend. That's wonderful. At any point you, Ann, and Gina can be like eh, we can stop. Like it's not as if this is now you have signed on to always have a small business always. Like now you are small business people, period. That is it. You are never allowed to do anything else. So there's all this pressure that something has to be everything to you and be everything to you forever and most of the things that we are doing are not that high-stakes. Does that make sense?

Aminatou: That makes so much sense! You can always lower the stakes for everything in life.

Nora: You can. Like you can. When I started Still Kicking it was an LLC because that was the easiest form I could find on the Internet. Then I gave the money away and my accountant was like "Oh, tax time. Where's the money?" And I was like "Oh, I gave it away. Do you even read?" And that's not a good business. That's a non-profit, idiot.

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Nora: So quick pivot, um . . .

Aminatou: Love it.

Nora: Quick pivot and a lot of money later but we figured it out. You can grow and change with the thing you are doing, with your life. Like life is growing and changing and not just waiting until you know everything to start something because then you'll never do anything.

Aminatou: Ugh, what a note to end on. No Happy Endings is out and even though I've read no other books Nora has talked about today I have read No Happy Endings and it is delightful.

Nora: Thank you! Ugh, that means a lot to me.

[Interview Ends]

Ann: Ugh, she's the best.

Aminatou: See you on the Internet, boo-boo.

Ann: See you on the Internet.

Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com, you can download the show anywhere you listen to your favs, or on Apple Podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can email us at callyrgf@gmail.com. We're on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn, original music is composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs, our logos are by Kenesha Sneed, our associate producer is Destry Maria Sibley. This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.