We all know by now that life doesn’t dole out pain in an equitable fashion. Tragedies happen, whether or not we deserve them and whether or not it seems like we can handle them. Author Nora McInerny Purmort knows this well: Her new memoir, It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too), reflects on losing her unborn child, her father, and her husband, all in the span of just weeks in 2014.
Writing candidly about her own experiences, Purmort reveals what it was like for her to carry on after being blindsided by tragic news, and then to continue even after the worst had happened. She manages to keep her sense of humor throughout as she opens up about everything from how she met her late husband, Aaron, to trying out Tinder as a widow. Her memoir is heartbreaking, beautiful, and hilarious, sprinkled with wry commentary and pop culture references that will make you smile — sometimes through tears.
Although Purmort’s objective isn’t strictly to provide advice on how to move on after a loss, her work is full of compelling wisdom. Below are 10 lessons for dealing with the challenges life throws your way, based on It’s Okay to Laugh.
1. Be Present
Even at the best of times, it can be hard to focus on what’s happening in your life now. Purmort quickly realized that she had to, though, for her own sake and for Aaron’s. “I fought the urge to try to feel things before they happened and instead tried to feel what was actually happening,” she writes.
2. Do What Needs To Be Done
A lesson Purmort’s father taught her throughout her life has come in handy as she continues to cope with the onslaught of hardships: No matter what, she has to “take the message to Garcia.” That was his way of saying that “when something needs to be done, you goddamn do it.”
3. It’s OK If You Don’t Know What You’re Doing
Heartbreaking situations don’t come with a guidebook, so you don’t have to feel bad if you don’t know what to do; the important thing is to do something. “I know that I will never be ready to be an adult, that nobody will ever give me the proper instructions,” writes Purmort. “Being an adult is doing everything before you are ready.”
4. Happiness Takes Work
Some people are innately happy, but many of us have to work at it. Purmort acknowledges that it’s not always simple, and for some people, their problems are, of course, extremely serious. “Mine is a choice that I make, a garden that I tend to every single day,” she writes.
5. Break Something If You Need To
Grieving and coping with suffering is hard, and you should do what you need to do. If that means punching a pillow, crying, or breaking something, so be it.
They say laughter is the best medicine, and while it unfortunately isn’t a miracle cure, it can help. The day Purmort discovered she’d miscarried — at a time when Aaron’s health had seriously deteriorated — she managed to find humor in the fact that their car had run out of gas in the doctor’s office parking lot.
7. Remember That You’re Doing A Good Job
Sometimes, you need to remind yourself that you’re doing a good job, even if it doesn’t feel like it. “Being alive is really hard sometimes, and all we want is a little bit of credit,” writes Purmort.
8. Know You’re Strong Enough
Life can heap on heart-wrenching situations, as it did to Purmort. In those cases, you may be surprised by your resilience. She argues that staying strong in the face of it anguish is “the most human thing of all.”
9. Remember That Others Have It Hard, Too
It’s cold comfort, but no one has it easy. Purmort reminds us that life is harder than it looks for most. “My life is hard, but just being alive can be hard,” she writes.
10. You Don’t Always Have To Say The Right Thing
When we’re suffering or those we know are, it’s often impossible to know what to say. The thing is, though, you don’t have to have the perfect words. “Don’t worry too much about what you say, just say something,” Purmort advises.