How this woman dealt with grief after losing her dad, husband and baby in six weeks
At 31, Nora McInerny was happily married to a man she loved, with a toddler named Ralph, a nice home in Minneapolis and a career in advertising. But within six brutal weeks of 2014, she miscarried her second child, lost her father to lymphoma and lost her 35-year-old husband, Aaron, to brain cancer.
Through that harrowing experience, she realized how terrible we, as a culture, are at grieving. With her new book, “The Hot Young Widows Club: Lessons on Survival From the Front Lines” (TED), out April 30, she is doing her part to help that. After all, everyone has a 100 percent chance they’ll face grief one day.
“I was completely destroyed and didn’t want anyone to know. I was scared for people to see how awful I felt,” McInerny told The Post. “So I wrote the book that would have been very useful for me to have at that time.”
On her first date with Aaron Purmort in 2010, the two discussed how many kids they would have (he said two, she said four, they settled on three). They fell asleep at night telling each other stories about their pasts — like the time she started smoking so a boy would like her or the time he planned to live in his friends’ bathrooms after his parents divorced.
A year after they began dating, he had his first seizure and was diagnosed with brain cancer. That night, in the hospital bed, she asked him to marry her.
“If it gets worse,” she told him, “I don’t want to be anything but your wife.”
Two weeks after he had brain surgery, on Dec. 3, 2011, they married. Their son, Ralph, was born four weeks after Aaron’s second brain surgery, in January 2013.
They tried to stay positive. They knew Aaron’s brain cancer was incurable, but they thought they might be the exception. A year later, the prognosis had not improved but they conceived again.
“He really wanted to be a dad,” said McInerny of her husband. “And I think more good people in the world should have kids.”
Around the same time, her father developed a terrible cough. He was perfectly healthy — he worked out every day, never drank. But in May 2014 he sat her down and told her he had lymphoma. “It seemed like a joke,” McInerny said. “I was in complete denial.”
On Oct. 3, 2014, she miscarried her baby. Five days later, her father died. “I was in shock,” she said. Meanwhile, Aaron had gotten far worse, and all McInerny could think about when she miscarried was how her health would affect her husband’s.
“I was so focused on making sure that whatever life he had left was enjoyable. There was so much to grieve at once, I could only let a little bit of it in, or I would die,” she said.
When Aaron’s doctors told him there was nothing else they could do, the couple went home, got in bed and wrote his obit together. Aaron had a great sense of humor, so the two decided to make his obit funny. She typed while he talked, and together the two of them laughed their way through the grim ordeal.
The obit began:
Aaron Joseph Purmort died peacefully at home after complications from a radioactive spider bite that led to years of crime-fighting and a years-long battle with a nefarious criminal named Cancer. Civilians will recognize him best as Spider-Man and thank him for his many years of service protecting our city.
When Aaron died in McInerny’s arms, on Nov. 25, 2014, the obit ran in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and quickly went viral online.
Six months after Aaron’s death, McInerny moved into her mother’s house and started drinking too much, while binge-watching “Real Housewives” and shopping online.
People kept telling her what she should do — sell the house, wait a year before dating, meet new people. They told her to ask for whatever she needed and then not show up when she did. She became silently resentful and began cutting people out of her life. “I was angry. I was lonely. I burned a lot of bridges.”
She always kept a journal. Eight months after Aaron died, she turned her journals into a memoir, “It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too).” In the meantime, she co-founded the Hot Young Widows Club, a private, 2,000-strong online support group for anyone in mourning (men, women, gay, straight) to talk about anything at all.
In her new book, she offers many tips for those trying to help someone through a loss, including the most important one: “Just listen … We can not keep each other from suffering, but we can listen, and that’s a start.”
Now remarried with a blended family of four children, McInerny is at peace, but she says she is also still grieving her first husband, and she will be forever.
“My grief over him is marbled into me, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I have not moved on from Aaron,” she said. “I have moved forward with him.”
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