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.


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