Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Joan Effect

I am crying tonight, because Joan Rivers has died.
I did not know her. I have never met her. She was not my friend.

But something, many things actually, about her, resonated with me - and so I felt this unspoken kinship with her. Female. Comedian. Widow. Those are all me. Those are all Joan. As a woman, I identified with and respected like hell her ability to be such a fierce lioness in the world of Hollywood and comedy, and her almost insane discipline and work ethic. She was probably the hardest working woman, or maybe even person, in show business. As a comedian, I identified with her courageous and edgy material, and her natural way of taking something tragic or horrible, and somehow using the darkness to find the funny. As a widow from sudden death, I understood the way that losing someone in a flash, changes every cell inside you, forever. In Joan's case, her husband Edgar, ended his own life. Somehow, incredibly, Joan was able to simultaneously make dark and thought-provoking jokes about the suicide (always putting herself as the punchline), and also be a voice and an advocate over the years for those who have lost all hope. I found this quote from her tonight, and it stuck with me for so many reasons:

"Edgar was gone. Melissa wasn’t talking to me, my career was in the toilet, I’d lost my Vegas contracts, I’d been fired from Fox. Carson and NBC had put out such bad publicity about me. I was a pariah. I wasn’t invited anywhere. I was a non-person. At one point, I thought, 'What's the point? This is stupid.'
What saved me, was my dog jumped into my lap. I thought, 'No one will take care of him.' I had the gun in my lap, and the dog sat on the gun. I lecture on suicide because things turn around. I tell people this is a horrible, awful dark moment, but it will change and you must know it’s going to change and you push forward. I look back and think, 'Life is great, life goes on. It changes.'"

How ironic that her husband found himself in that dark moment, and then years later, she was there too. How sad that at age 81 and perfectly healthy, she went in for a minor throat procedure, and went into cardiac arrest. How scary that death can and WILL happen to each and every one of us, and you never can quite predict how or when. There is never a way to be prepared for it, even when you think you may be prepared for it. 

There is this weird thing that happens now, since my husband's death, whenever a famous person that he liked or admired dies. Two back to back thoughts immediately go through my mind. One: "Oh My God! So-and-so died!!! I HAVE TO TELL DON!" Two: "Oh My God! I can't tell Don! HE'S DEAD TOO!" 

What a strange feeling to have, to want your husband to be alive, so that you can tell him someone else is dead. What an odd thing to think: I wish he was here so we could remember seeing Joan Rivers together in NYC in 2010, and how unbelievably funny she was. So funny, that my husband's eyes kept watering, and his contact lense kept falling out over and over. What a bizarre place to be in, as the widow left behind, to deal with all of the inevitable deaths that are just going to keep on piling up. He never has to see anyone else die. I have to go through this an endless amount of times, and not only that, I have to go through it each time - WITHOUT HIM!!! 

More iconic people will die. More people in my life, in my family, in my world, will die. Each time that happens, I will need to lean on myself and the others around me in order to get through it. The fact that my husband won't ever be around to help me get through the death of others, because he himself is dead forever, is simply not okay with me. It just isn't working for me. 

I keep thinking about Joan's daughter, Melissa, having to make that unthinkable decision to take her mom off of life-support. Then I think about the sudden impact of Don's death, and how I didn't get to make ANY decisions of any kind, because I woke up to a new world in which he was already dead. I wonder which is worse and which is more horrific, and then I quickly remember there is never an answer to that question, and that they are both hell - just a different kind of hell. 

I think about how someone like Joan Rivers would probably appreciate a good comedy "roast" type of thing instead of a funeral. And as Im thinking that, I read these words from her, and now my crying has turned into fits of laughter, because that is the beautiful gift she has left us:

"When I die, (and yes, Melissa, that day will come; and yes, Melissa, everything is in your name) I want my funeral to be a huge showbiz affair with lights, cameras, action. I want Craft services. I want paparazzi and I want publicists making a scene. I want it to be Hollywood all the way. I don't want some Rabbi rambling on; I want Meryl Streep crying, in five different accents. I don't want a eulogy; I want Bobby Vinton to pick up my head and sing: "Mr. Lonely." I want to look gorgeous, better dead than I do alive. I want to be buried in a Valentino gown and I want Harry Winston to make me a toe tag. And I want a wind machine, so that even in the casket, my hair is blowing around just like Beyonce's."  - Joan Rivers. 1933 - 2014. 

Do me a favor, Joan. If you see my husband, tell him for me, that you died. Thanks. 


  1. thank you for making it so i'm not the only one who lost it when joan rivers died. i read all the news reports about her being in the coma, and her family and friends being with her, and someone doing her hair and painting her nails, and the support her daughter was able to have in that moment. and i was jealous. jealous because when my husband died suddenly i was alone with him, we had only lived in our little town 8 months, so i hardly knew anyone, and while my children and my sister came to be with me, we spent those 5 days snowed in with my husband's crazy sister while his shit brother declined to come. those 5 days before his funeral were not about my children and me and helping us cope---those 5 days were about fending off his sister. so i was jealous of what i imagined to be wonderful incredible loving support for melissa rivers. man, did this column hit home for me. talk about comparing my insides to somebody else's outsides. thanks for writing this. thanks for letting me say what i feel without fear of contradiction or condemnation.

  2. "...Do me a favor, Joan. If you see my husband (Rich), tell him for me that.." I love him, I will always love him; I miss him so much; and I will love him for Eternity. Karen

  3. What she said, only it's" Kent". Marianne

  4. Dear Kelley Lynn,
    It's a Friday. I got up, went to the computer, checked some email, and then thought, "Let's check to see if KL wrote something for Widow's Voice. It's her day." And yes, there was a new piece, but the date said Thursday and that threw me off. But as I scanned the first paragraph, I said that it must be from Kelley Lynn! So glad you did not "forget" to write something for today. A special something that describes how and perhaps why we care so much nowadays when icons die. Thank you once again for a post that hits home in so many ways.
    Carol M.

  5. My husband also died several days after going into cardiac arrest and like Joan, went through the cooling protocol and induced coma as we hoped for the best and eventually learned the worst. The hospital experience was a tramautizing roller coaster but it was somewhat of a cushion to get to be at his bedside and have a few days of hope. But you are right, the death of our spouse is horrific, no matter the circumstances. Take gentle care.

  6. Carol - Im a scatterbrain lol Either I forget to write completely, or I write the post very early Thursday night, like I did last night, and then accidentally click to submit it immediately, instead of for midnight pacific time / Friday. So thats why it says Thursday. Oops. At least its up, right? lol.

  7. My mother committed suicide. I've come to believe that the only way to survive the deaths of our loved ones and our own inevitable death is full acceptance. All the resistance and grief won't stop death. Death is coming for all of us, sooner or later. We have to let that be okay. Death has to be okay. Otherwise we spend our entire lives grieving and fearing the inevitable. Our culture must evolve to transform death grief into acceptance and peace. The longer we stay stuck in our grief, the more we waste/ruin whatever time we have left here on earth. Living in the present will full acceptance is the only way to get through all this pain. Suffering for the rest of our lives is no life at all. xoxoxo

    1. Hello, wow I feel your post. It is about acceptance.. Whether we want it or not , u speak volumes w that..who in right mind wants to suffer life they have left..just couple weeks ago I decided to take my life back..whatever that is.. My one sister said to me abt yr after accident, you were your own person before you ever met!! Did I just get that??? I guess??our culture does not do death well at all..Ty to all widows here today great words in every post, true.. Hug fr one widow to another

    2. to 1974- xoxoxoxoxox i have not lost a husband but my mom shot herself in the head when i was 28 and she was 50. i am now 52. the first 2-3 years of her suicide were full of shock, nightmares, questions, guilt, etc.... outliving my mom's "death age" was a sisters and i have made a full recovery just by accepting her choice. all the pain plus wouldda/couldda/shouldda's don't help. it just IS. letting go of that disbelief is the key to making a semblance of a new life, even if it starts out as just a shred of a new life. our deceased loved ones would not want us to stay in grief forever. they would beg us to settle into to acceptance and start over, to feel blessed for the time we shared. they wouldn't want us to wallow in misery for 5 or 10 years. we all know there is no timeline for grief and grief can be endless but life is so fleeting for all of us. nobody is guaranteed tomorrow. today, i have a roof over my head, a warm bed, food in the fridge, water...for today... yes, i lost a person i love in a tragic and horrific way but we all could have been born into a hell realm like Sudan or Afghanistan and been surrounded by genocide on a daily basis for decades.... if we're online, we are better off than the majority of humans on the planet, grieving or not. we have our grief but we also have these amazing blessings. what are yours today ???? today i fully accept that my mom killed herself with a bullet to the brain and i have chosen to still be okay. it's the struggle that keeps us in misery. love to you all.
      xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox (correcting yesterday's pre-coffee typo here: "Living in the present WITH full acceptance is the only way to get through all this pain."

  8. I love your post Kelley. You have such a way with words. Thanks for keeping a smile on our faces.

  9. Kelley, I thought of you as soon as I heard about Joan. I agree, this death thing doesn't work for me either. Think we could boycott it? LOL I wonder how that would work...
    I had time with my husband, before...3 days of semi-coma. It doesn't really make it easier. I know there was nothing left unsaid, but still, every day I have things I want to say to him. Sucks, right?
    Hang in there.

  10. For me it was Robin Williams.... I shared so many happy memories of watching his movies with my husband. My family thought my tears were odd. You seem to understand that although I felt terrible for his pain and his family ..... I was crying because those memories I shared with my husband were now only mine.... no longer shared.