Skip to main content

Grief Is for People


Grief Is for People

When I told my husband, in the midst of a stressful week, that I’d been assigned to review Sloane Crosley’s new book, his reaction was, “Oh, good! I bet you could use a funny book right now.” He might have been right about that, and he’s certainly right that Crosley has made her name primarily as a humorist in essay collections like I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE and HOW DID YOU GET THIS NUMBER. But, as I informed my somewhat abashed husband, Crosley’s latest effort, a memoir, is something else entirely but all the more worthwhile to read.

"GRIEF IS FOR PEOPLE is structured in five parts, roughly mirroring Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief.... Just as Crosley acknowledges that grief is for people, not things, she comes to realize that answers are for things, not people."

It's right there in the title --- GRIEF IS FOR PEOPLE --- which is expanded on in the text: “Grief is for people, not things. Everyone on the planet seems to share this understanding. Almost everyone.” The exceptions, she writes, include herself and her late friend, Russell, who “don’t know where sadness belongs. We tend to scrape up all the lonely, echoing, unknowable parts of ourselves and drop them in drawers or hang them from little wooden shelves, injecting our feelings into objects that won’t judge or abandon us…” This conflation of sadness with things takes on intense significance in the memoir, which opens in the summer of 2019, in the wake of a home invasion burglary. Crosley is devastated not only by the theft of virtually all of her jewelry but also by the destruction of the vintage Dutch spice cabinet she used as a jewelry case.

That case was a find from one of the many flea market junkets that Crosley took with her friend and professional mentor, Russell, who, as has been previously noted, saw the value in finding old, unusual things and making them beloved again. Crosley’s disappointment in the loss of that one-of-a-kind cabinet takes on new pathos exactly one month later, when she learns, via a phone call from Russell’s partner, that Russell has died by suicide at their home in Connecticut. As the summer proceeds into the fall --- and then, of course, into the winter and spring of 2020 and all of the turmoil that brought --- Crosley’s feelings about the loss of her best friend become tied up in the loss of her things. One of them she can look for on eBay and file a police report in search of answers and the responsible party. The other will remain a maddening, unanswerable mystery forever.

GRIEF IS FOR PEOPLE is structured in five parts, roughly mirroring Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief. Perhaps the most affecting section is “Do the Monkeys Miss Us? (Depression),” during which the nadir of Crosley’s sadness coincides with the series of pandemic lockdowns in New York City in 2020. At once, it appears that the world outside echoes her own desolation, seemingly validating and magnifying her profound loss, making it tangible and visible.

Although Crosley clearly adored her friend and valued his contributions to her life both personally and professionally (he was her boss when she worked in book publicity), she was aware of his complexities and imperfections. She admits that he could be a difficult person to work for and in fact fielded complaints about workplace conduct. She also comes to realize the distance Russell and his partner had created between themselves and their one-time circle of friends, no longer inviting them to their home for languid weekend parties.

This distance is part of Crosley’s reckoning, part of what everyone goes through when they lose a loved one to suicide. Could she have bridged that distance? Could she have done something different, changing the course of a life and death? Even meeting new people is tinged with regret: “I find I cannot have an interaction with a new person, a person you would have adored, without wondering if I am meeting the friend you needed. Is this the person for whom you would have lived just a little longer? Is this the person who would have shown you how to keep going?”

Just as Crosley acknowledges that grief is for people, not things, she comes to realize that answers are for things, not people. She will never know what drove Russell beyond the brink of despair. In fact, she can only fully “learn to be on the side of the living” once she accepts that she can and must move forward without all the answers --- and without her friend.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 1, 2024

Grief Is for People
by Sloane Crosley

  • Publication Date: February 27, 2024
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: MCD
  • ISBN-10: 0374609845
  • ISBN-13: 9780374609849