Life was just dandy for Nora McInerny Purmort until she turned 27. Sure, she was jumping from job to job, but she had an amazing boyfriend, who would soon become her fiancé...after he was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. I know--womp, womp, right? But that's the thing--Nora and Aaron didn't let this tragic news get them down. Instead, they proceeded to pack a happy lifetime into the three short years they ended up having together. Ms. Purmort's candid and surprisingly hilarious memoir, It's Okay to Laugh, reminds of how we should embrace our one wild and precious life, despite the lemons it inevitably deals.
The thing about Terrible Things is that they always happen to someone else. They are things that happen to your friend’s friend’s dentist, your roommate’s cousin’s coworker, your mom’s boyfriend’s daughter. Until they happen to you.
I get it, because until I was 27, nothing had happened to me. My life, aside from manageable adult acne and a struggle with finding a pair of skinny jeans to fit my calves, had been pretty easy up until that point.
So I wasn’t exactly prepared when my totally healthy, handsome boyfriend of a year had a seizure that turned out to be a brain tumor that ended up being stage IV brain cancer. This wasn’t my life, wiping crusted blood from the STAPLES in my boyfriend’s head. This wasn’t my life, meeting with an oncologist and nodding along to works like “radiation mask” and “glioblastoma multiforme.” My life was a pretty easy job in advertising, a little house we’d just moved into together, a dumb dog who barked at me if I wore a baseball cap, a boy I planned to marry.
All of this other stuff? It was a rude interruption, and I needed for it to be over.
Nope. As most adults know, life doesn’t actually work that way. And the terrible things are as much a part of your life as the great things.
We know it, cognitively, that life isn’t fair. But we also sort of believe that the rules don’t apply to us, that if we live our lives well, if we’re really good, we can get through life without any interruptions to our regularly scheduled happiness.
But the statistics are against us: our loved ones have a 100% chance of dying. And shit happens every day. The one sure thing in life is that something terrible is going to happen to you.
And I don’t mean that as a bummer. I mean it as a pep talk. Aaron and I had a really, really good life together, even if it was way too short. We had a three-year marriage that was the definition of “better or worse, sickness and health, ‘til death do us part.” We made a beautiful child. We saw Beyonce and Bruce Springsteen in concert. And we also went through two brain surgeries, a miscarriage, a billion chemo and radiation appointments, ambulance rides through rush hour traffic, seizures at the dinner table.
You know what that is? It’s life. All of it. And even though the weddings and babies and Beyonce concerts are way more Instagram-friendly, it’s all worth keeping your eyes open for.
I was lucky to have had 27 years of unremarkable, unremitting pleasantness. But I’m lucky now, too. Because I got to fall in love so deeply. Because I was able to see my person to the edge of this world and into the next. Because the Internet brought me hundreds and hundreds of people who saw my Terrible Thing and said, “it happened to me, too, here is a virtual hug.” Because all of the darkness helped me appreciate the light when I saw it again.
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