Chelsea Handler has made me gasp in disbelief (“OMG, did she just SAY that out loud?”) and laugh until I cry. But never has anything she’s written or said made me cry cry, as in, real tears of sorrow.
On Monday, Handler was on the NPR show Here and Now promoting her new book, Life Will Be the Death of Me…and you, too! Broadly, it’s a memoir about her psychological journey after the 2016 election, and more specifically, coming to terms with her oldest brother Chet’s death when she was 9 years old.
Handler and Here and Now host Robin Young covered a lot of ground in the eleven-minute interview, and I was … surprised? Is that the word? … by Handler’s serious and thoughtful exploration of her white privilege and the not-so-funny parts of her growing up.
At around minute nine, Young acknowledged that people tuning in to an interview with Chelsea Handler typically expect her to take down, in comedic fashion, the latest societal ridiculousness, but that their interview was pretty serious. Young asked, “Is Chelsea Handler going to be funny still?” Handler answered, “Of course! That muscle is fit and ready to roll. This other stuff is what I needed more of; this seriousness and thoughtfulness and to think about talking before talking.” I was sitting in my car, high-fiving (no one but me) Handler’s honesty and thinking how great it is to face that sh*t head on.
Then came the next question: “Where is Chet now? Where is he now in your life?” Handler broke down, and her answer is so heartfelt that I couldn’t help crying along:
“In my mind, now that I have a deeper understanding of awareness, of mindfulness, of like, you know, that people aren’t really gone, now I believe that he’s like — not that people die and they’re sitting around floating above your body, not that stupid nonsense — I believe that he’ll always be a part of me, and so will my mom…The people that we love are with us, and we should be spending our time honoring them, instead of grieving for so long. We can grieve, because we need to get that out, but we have to honor those people, and the way to honor them is by fixing yourself and getting healthy.”
I’ve written a lot about grief over the years, and countless numbers of readers have shared their experiences with loss, too. We’ve often engaged in what feels like an online support group. I will forever maintain that grief has its place.
To Handler’s other point (and maybe I’m splitting hairs), though, “fix” feels akin to “heal,” and nothing really gets “fixed” in our efforts to deal with or understand loss. When we experience loss, we’re forever changed. But she’s spot on about getting “heal”thy.
Something my pastor said to me in the days after my husband died has stuck with me, and I share it often with others who grieve. He said that time doesn’t heal, it only gives us perspective.
At the moment he said that, I was angry.
“What do you mean time doesn’t heal?” I cried. “It has to! It must! How else am I supposed to feel better and normal ever again if something doesn’t heal me?”
“Time doesn’t have the power to ‘heal,’” he replied. “Healing implies it all goes away. But years from now, you’ll be able to recall this time, and feel everything you feel at this very moment. In time, you will get stronger, you will feel joy again, you will build yourself up, but this comes from inside you, not because a certain amount of time passes.
“It’s a lot of work and you won’t be the same person you were before he died. You can’t be.”
In time, I understood that he was right, and once I accepted that grief is a journey down a long and arduous road, I no longer put a time line on when it “should” end, because it doesn’t.
While “fixed” isn’t my go-to word or believe it should be our desired outcome when we are living with loss, Chelsea Handler is right about healing. We honor those we’ve lost by taking care of ourselves and not living in a rabbit hole of grief. It’s brave and takes a crap-ton of self-awareness to achieve acceptance, and I believe that it’s healthy grieving, even years later, that allows us to do that.