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Grief Is Funny with Leslie Gray Streeter

Leslie Gray Streeter tells it like it is. Her husband, Scott, suddenly died one night when he was just 44 years old. Leslie chronicles that heartbreaking experience and the depths of her grief in her book, “Black Widow: A Sad, Funny Journey Through Grief for People Who Normally Avoid Books with Words Like ‘Journey’ in the Title.” We discuss why humor is so essential for navigating grief, how you can’t take anything too seriously, what NOT to say to a grieving person and how she found catharsis in Keanu Reeves movies.


You can find Leslie’s book and more about her work at https://lesliegraystreeter.com/


Transcript:

[00:00:00] Sarah Cavanaugh: Hi, I'm Sarah Cavanaugh, and this is Peaceful Exit. Every episode, we explore death, dying, and grief through stories by authors familiar with the topic. Writers are our translators. They take what is inexpressible, impossible to explain, and they translate it into words on a page. 

[00:00:24] I'm so excited to share my amazing conversation with Leslie Gray Streeter, her heartbreaking and hilarious book is called, “Black Widow: A Sad, Funny Journey Through Grief for People Who Normally Avoid Books with Words Like Journey in the Title.” Leslie is so real. She tells it like it is. Her husband, Scott, suddenly died one night when he was just 44 years old. 

[00:00:50] The sudden loss was shocking, and through Leslie's brilliant writing, you're on the journey with her. An extra layer of complicated was that she and Scott were in the process of adopting their young two-year-old son. Like she says in our conversation, this book is about the middle part of grief, and there's no instruction manual or one way to experience grief. 

[00:01:14] Amidst all the shock, and the rage, and the sadness, Leslie also found humor in the absurd, in the stupidness of it all. 

[00:01:28] Well, hello! Hello. It's lovely to meet you. Welcome to the Peaceful Exit podcast.  

[00:01:34] Leslie Gray Streeter: Thank you for having me.  

[00:01:36] Sarah Cavanaugh: It was such a pleasure to read your book.  

[00:01:38] Leslie Gray Streeter: Thank you.  

[00:01:39] Sarah Cavanaugh: My husband and I went on a vacation. I read it. And I immediately passed it to him. And he devoured it. And both of us were so excited about this podcast that he told me not to talk very much because he wants to hear from you. 

[00:01:56] Leslie Gray Streeter: Oh my goodness. Well, thank you. That's a fun, fun thing to hear.  

[00:02:02] Sarah Cavanaugh: So, why this book? You know, it's unusual for someone to lose their husband suddenly at 44, obviously. So, what, you know, motivated you to, like, sit down and write about it?  

[00:02:14] Leslie Gray Streeter: You know, I just, I had always wanted to write a book. And I would start to write books and go, Ah, I'm bored with it. 

[00:02:21] Three pages out. Three chapters in, whatever. And I have a very good friend who's a writer who said, you will finish the book you have to finish. And I went, okay. So the day that my Scott died, uh, his name is Scott as well. Um, he was in my kitchen and I said, I think this is my book. And he said, I think it is too, kid. 

[00:02:40] I'm sorry. So it became, for so many reasons, a lot of it was like, I had to get it out, you know, I had to get those feelings and emotions out on the page. Like not like I wasn't still going to have them, but they felt like they were just sitting on my chest. Also, a lot of it was business, which sounds not like sweet and whatever, but I was suddenly a single parent and I thought I might need more money. 

[00:03:12] My husband was supposed to have started a job the next week. And I thought, oh, that's not going to happen now, but, um, I wanted to write, and I've said this many times, but it's absolutely true, I wanted to write the book that would have been helpful to me when I was grieving. And I know that because you deal so much with grief, you know that Americans are outrageously uncomfortable with talking about it. 

[00:03:40] Or with acknowledging the experience of it. So, so many of the books that I saw were written from the other side of it. They were written from It's basically like, here's 10 steps to the stages of this and the steps of that. And it's like a manual, almost, or that's how some people take them. And I think how sometimes they're written that says, if you do these things, you will feel better. 

[00:04:05] And there's nothing about the middle. And the middle was where I was. I mean, it was at the beginning. I started jotting things down a couple, not long after Scott died. I mean, it was maybe weeks. And I wanted it to be fresh as a journalist, you know, something happens, you write it down. So I started writing like the first chapter about being in the, um, in the cemetery, it was like all of these details. 

[00:04:29] I'm going to miss them. I'm going to forget them if I don't write them down. It was painful, man. And having to read that again and again. So that chapter is very raw. It just throws you into the, right into the pool there. And after a while, you know, this editor reads it, that editor reads it, whatever. I have a friend named Sam who is married to my best friend who was widowed. 

[00:04:54] His first wife passed away. He'd read parts of the book and loved that chapter. So I sent him the revised version. He goes, Whoa, what's this? And I go, what do you mean? He goes, it's not raw anymore. It's too neat. It's too manicured. It's the whole point of this is that it's supposed to feel like this feels. 

[00:05:12] That's not what this feels like. And I went, you know what? You're absolutely right. And I went back to him and said, I'm changing it back. And I'm like, Oh, okay. And I get so many compliments and comments about that scene specifically. People have said that this isn't like the other grief books that I've read. 

[00:05:30] This isn't like the, it's all going to be okay. Cause I was like, probably, maybe, is it though? Yeah.  

[00:05:38] Sarah Cavanaugh: Well, I was right there with you and also loved the fact that grief is like this experience where you feel all of these other emotions, including complete laughter and the absurdity of what has happened to you. 

[00:05:53] Leslie Gray Streeter: It's the dumbest thing. I remember saying to my mother, this is stupid. And she goes, yeah, it's stupid. My cousin called me the day after we were driving to the, I think that's when we were driving to the cemetery. My mother puts the phone in my ear and my cousin goes, this sucks. And that's what I wanted to hear. 

[00:06:12] I didn't want to hear life is a series of rivers and not like garbage. I want to hear that stuff. I want to hear an acknowledgement of how terrible this was and absurd it was and stupid it was. I wanted people to talk about that and to, no one wants to stay. I mean, you can't stay in that moment. But no one even wants to go near that moment. 

[00:06:33] They want to get to the, that's what the, I wrote in the book about the woman writing, Scott has completed his cycle around the shirt. They want to go back right to the part where it makes sense and it doesn't make any sense or where there's some good you can, it's like it happened yesterday. We're not there yet. 

[00:06:52] Sarah Cavanaugh: Understood. Understood the absurdity and the humor. And I gather you got some feedback, sort of pushback against, you know, being funny and…  

[00:07:04] Leslie Gray Streeter: I think people were very confused. Uh, my first agent, Rick Pesticello, who's amazing, got it. And when I was pitching it Rick was like, everyone's not going to get it. 

[00:07:17] Because once again, that's where we are with grief because they didn't understand why it was funny. They were like, is that disrespectful? Also, some people just didn't want to deal with a grief book. They're like, oh, this is going to be terrible. This is going to be really sad. It is really sad, but it's also very funny. 

[00:07:33] And I've said to people, I've never been to one funeral where something messed up happened that wasn't at least bitterly funny. Literally, I cannot think of one where something stupid didn't happen. And maybe it was an intentionally funny thing. Most of it's like the wrong person came or the wrong person spoke. 

[00:07:52] Um, when my grandfather died. My husband went with me and he was this Jewish white guy. He'd never been to a black Baptist funeral. And my grandfather was a pastor and they had a mime ministry, M I M E. And he was like, mimes? And it's like interpretive dance. I don't know if you've ever seen it. Basically, like, it's a black woman. 

[00:08:13] Beautiful. That, it's like. Dance thing, wearing a leotard, face white, whatever. And Scott goes, do they have mimes at all your funerals? I go, no, sweetie, they don't. He didn't know. That's funny. That's funny. I mean, at the same funeral, the guy was like my. My grandfather's name was Pastor Luster James, and they do the graveside service or all like, you know, wipe in our hands, walk them back to the car. 

[00:08:40] And the guy from the funeral home says solemnly, Thank you so much for celebrating the life of Pastor Jones. We're like, not his name, but it's okay. And we just could not stop laughing. I mean, that's funny. And I think once you say that to people. We're so afraid of getting grief wrong. We're so afraid of offending people. 

[00:08:59] You don't want to say the wrong thing, but I was like, it's my husband and I can joke about it. You know, um, I also explained to people, it wasn't funny in a. farcical way or like somebody slipping on a banana peel into the casket or to the, you know, the grave or whatever. It's just the kind of funny that happens when, I think it's a divine thing, that sometimes ridiculous things are inserted into your life at the worst possible moment. 

[00:09:26] So yeah, there was some pushback by people who just didn't really understand it, but those who got it, got it.  

[00:09:32] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yeah. Yeah. Do you find like, I feel like grief gives us bigger boundaries, like in emotional sense. Yes.  

[00:09:40] Leslie Gray Streeter: Yeah, it does.  

[00:09:40] Sarah Cavanaugh: Like when you feel such deep shock and grief that you've lost your husband, you're also going to find things so joyful and funny and absurd. 

[00:09:50] I mean, it just like, it expands your ability to feel.  

[00:09:54] Leslie Gray Streeter: I think it does. It took me a while at least to sort of regulate that because it's coming all at once, you know, all the feelings. My sister wrote a play called Feeling All the Feels and it's true. It's like everything all at once, it's just kind of like pumped into you. 

[00:10:07] And it's like, It's like a superpower? It sounds weird. It's like in any of the Marvel movies, like Spider Man having to get used to, Oh, okay. That'll be sticky. Okay. I can do this. Oh, I can do that. What else can you do? It's really cool. And grief is not cool, but you learn to regulate, like you have all these big feelings and grief is a combination of all of those things. 

[00:10:31] Like you said, it's grief is sadness. Grief is disappointment. Grief is ludicrously funny. In a weird way. And so I think for me, it was just figuring out what was appropriate. And, you know, you can't always judge what other people are going to find appropriate, or if you say something like, here is a funny book I wrote about my husband dying. 

[00:10:53] And people go, what is that? But I felt so much more sharply, like you said, Oh, that's funny. And also I wrote things where I knew like, Oh, only people who have lost someone is going to find that funny.  

[00:11:05] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yeah.  

[00:11:06] Leslie Gray Streeter: You know? And that's, and all of us sadly have lost someone, we'll lose someone. We may want to be, you know, widowed, but you know, you lose parents. 

[00:11:14] Scott and I had both lost a parent and a grandparent within that short time, within that five and a half years that we were married. And so we'd had occasion to talk about stuff. We'd to talk about, you know, what he might want a funeral or, you know, no mimes. I knew that that was, no  

[00:11:30] Sarah Cavanaugh: mimes. Yeah, no.  

[00:11:32] Leslie Gray Streeter: I don't want them either. 

[00:11:33] So sorry, my ministry. It's not my thing.  

[00:11:37] Sarah Cavanaugh: The funniest funeral I went to was a high school buddy of mine who died young of cancer and he had enough time during his cancer treatment to design his own ceremony.  

[00:11:47] Leslie Gray Streeter: I love it.  

[00:11:48] Sarah Cavanaugh: We all stood up to sing what, what we thought would be a hymn, but it was, it's hard to be humble when you're perfect in every way. 

[00:11:57] Leslie Gray Streeter: Bravo. Bravo. Well, it's like, uh, Scott's cousin playing the Jefferson's theme. And everybody's singing along. He did not choose that, but he would have. He, that's something he would have wanted. That's the kind of thing that he would have done to make people laugh and to say, it's okay to celebrate me. It's okay to celebrate who I was. 

[00:12:17] Like when I write about his friend, Jason saying to me, make this book about Scott. Don't make him just some guy who died. And I thought first of all, Oh God, what a. An amazing responsibility because, let's be honest, people are to you who they are and might not be to other people. If other people had written this book about Scott, or written a book about Scott, he might be a different person in their book. 

[00:12:38] Sarah Cavanaugh: That is so true. So the title of your book, Black Widow, does it have anything to do with spiders, or?  

[00:12:44] Leslie Gray Streeter: No, it's literally Rick, my former agent and I, were looking for a title for the book. And we kept going back and forth, going back and forth. Cause we had to, we were pitching it, we had to call it something. 

[00:12:55] And I go, Black Widow. And he goes, I know you're joking, but that's really good. And I went, oh, come on. He's like, no, cause you know, I'm Black, I'm a widow. Yeah, it was just a brain fart that happened. And although I will say though, people are so weird about race and they're so weird about stuff. I was speaking at a book club online in a part of a big widow organization and I was tagged on Instagram. 

[00:13:23] And this woman who was white said, this is terrible. Everybody loses people. Why do we have to just talk about the grief of, of one type of person? Cause she didn't read the book. So, and I, I wrote, other people said, that's not what it's about. It's not saying this book is just for black people who lost people. 

[00:13:46] It's about a very universal, I said, it's a very universal thing about. Losing people, but from my perspective, anybody writes, if you're Italian, you write about it from your perspective or Jewish or Ugandan or, you know, whatever, but she couldn't see past that. And so she had to decide that it was bad that we talked about it because it was encouraging segregation in the widow community. 

[00:14:11] It's like, there's always been segregation in every community, sweetie, deal with it. But, you know, she did not come, uh, to the book club and that's fine. That's fine.  

[00:14:19] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yeah, she just didn't get it. That reminds me of one particularly great description of grief in the book about not getting it. Um, do you mind if I read it? 

[00:14:31] Oh, please! Grief doesn't break just your heart. It breaks your brain. It dents your body. Hobbles your ability to take full breaths. I ask my sister to make sure I don't lose it on anyone, but remind her that as the widow's hervits, I'm allowed to talk shit about those people when they're not there. Grief. 

[00:14:50] My brain, you know. I have to hold the hands of people who don't know what to say, who want to hug me while my body's physically recoiling from the over hugging when I need to run.  

[00:15:03] Leslie Gray Streeter: Yeah. It's so funny. That was one of the things I remember writing down not long after it was happening because it felt like it was happening to me, but I felt like other people have to feel that way. 

[00:15:16] And it felt like that. When my father died and people not knowing what to say, my father had been ill for a while. It was very clear the last time we took him to church from hospice. He wasn't gonna come back. There was a young woman who went to my parents church in Little Rock. She's sobbing. She's sobbing and it was just so terrible to see him like this and I was like, so I go over. 

[00:15:37] I don't know her. I went over to Introduce myself and a comfort her and say, I'm, I'm his daughter and I'm so sorry, it's obvious you're so close. And she looked at me like, Oh, like she stopped crying. It's like, it hadn't occurred to her that there was a whole other group of people. Who were mourning him and that I think somehow I might have a more of a claim to grief than she did. 

[00:16:09] Cause you know, people get weird about that stuff.  

[00:16:11] Sarah Cavanaugh: They do.  

[00:16:12] Leslie Gray Streeter: And I was like, you know what, this is not mine to do. I was like, I'm going to parse it. Cause I was out of my head and in my head and over everyone's head. And I was like, you know what, it's, it's fine. But I remember that from that moment, not knowing, uh, that was 2012, not knowing three years later, I was going to be. 

[00:16:30] Doing this all again, but up close and personal. But having said that story, I remember the push and pull about physical touch and people talking to you or not saying the right thing or hoping they've said the right thing so they don't have to say anything else to you and knowing that this is not a normal, you can't imagine at that moment that you're ever going to feel any differently, but you hope to God you do, because you can't live like that. 

[00:16:54] You can't live in it. Um, you can't exist. In that moment, in that feeling. And my mother kept saying, when Scott died, she kept saying, it's going to get better. I don't know how to tell you how, but it's going to be better. Trust me. And I went, okay. All right. Because what else could I do? What else could I do? 

[00:17:18] Just hope she was right, you know? You know? Finger Before I say my fingers, you know that I can't see, but yeah. It was, I couldn't remember anything. And now I'm in menopause, so I still can't remember anything, but I couldn't remember who had been in the house. I And people kept saying, it's okay, it's okay. 

[00:17:34] You'll be fine. And I also knew that there was a moment when no one else was gonna be around, and I was going to have to do this on my own. I was like, I don't know how I'm going to do this. Cause I like didn't drive a lot that couple of weeks because everybody was there. So when people left and a couple of my friends came to visit after the funeral. 

[00:17:53] So I was like driving and I was, cause they were visiting and I was like, I don't want to do this. What if I, I seriously thought like, what if I crashed my car? What if I like have a moment where I just go, Oh, brain fog, fart, whatever. And then, yeah, I didn't want to do that. And. Being responsible for this baby, being responsible for, like, having to work, you know, the people at the Palm Beach House gave me a month off, which was amazing, and my editor was like, we would have given you off longer. 

[00:18:20] I couldn't do that. I couldn't sit in that. And then I went the first day and cried and went home. So, um, so much for that, but at least I had someplace to go, you know?  

[00:18:30] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yeah. Well, it's a beautiful description, actually, of your first day at work. You know, you go back and you just cry. You do and then you leave…  

[00:18:39] Leslie Gray Streeter: …and then you leave. 

[00:18:40] I was on Twitter the other day, X, I'm sorry, whatever. And people were talking about like songs that like make you cry. And I was writing about Whitney Houston's. Didn't we almost have it all, which I've always loved. And there was probably maybe a month or two after I'd gone back to work, I was sitting in the parking lot at my office, at the newsroom. 

[00:19:03] And I just had this, I think I caught the end of it on the radio. So I found it on my phone and listened to the whole thing and just sobbed through it because that song is so bittersweet and it's about breaking up with someone not about them dying but that's how it felt to me. But at the end of it, I felt better, because I just, I felt like the scene in, um, Forrest Gump, where Lieutenant Dan is fighting with God, basically, in the water, and at the end the sun comes up and he's on his back, peacefully backstroking and, and, you know, blowing bubbles or whatever. 

[00:19:37] That's how I felt in that moment. It's like, okay. That's gone. I can do this today. I can. And I was in a better mood. And I was like, I didn't even realize I was in a bad mood until I cried it all out and went, okay, thank you, Whitney. And then walked in.  

[00:19:51] Sarah Cavanaugh: I love Whitney Houston. Um, let's go back to your mom for a minute. 

[00:19:56] How much of a miracle is it that she experienced exactly the same thing as you, and then you end up living together and taking care of this beautiful boy?  

[00:20:06] Leslie Gray Streeter: Well, you know, it's so funny because when you, that's the kind of thing you say to people and they don't understand. When you say, what a blessing that someone had to experience. 

[00:20:13] It's not that, it's not a blessing that my father died. It's a blessing that she was around when I needed her. My mother, who's just amazing and now, you know, moved on. She's married and living about 25 to 30 minutes away with her college sweetheart who she dated before she dated my dad. The time that we had together was so, I don't even know how to, I don't even know how to put it into words, which is funny because I find words for everything, but it was miraculous. 

[00:20:50] And I have to remember, like I said, you know, everyone has their own story. She was grieving Scott as well. She was also still grieving my father. She was grieving, I don't know if it's the right word. She made the choice to solo that house that she had owned with my dad and leave that life into our new life. 

[00:21:06] She was doing that anyway. Now it had a completely different spin on it and a different importance, um, in terms of what she would be doing, which was helping me take care of a baby. Um, it's like, hi, I'm a co parent now. I was not expecting that. But I would say things like, this is how I'm feeling right now. 

[00:21:23] Am I crazy? Cause that's all, sometimes all you want to know, right?  

[00:21:27] Sarah Cavanaugh: Is this normal?  

[00:21:28] Leslie Gray Streeter: Am I crazy? Is this normal? And that's how I felt about widowhood. I would say to my mother, is this normal? She goes, yeah, it sucks, but it's normal. This is, this is how you feel. This is how you can feel. This is how it is possible for you to feel. 

[00:21:42] And I was like, well, that sucks. But then, you know, you're not, it's not just you. And it's just, there is so much comfort in, it's not just you. Oh, okay. Cause I thought I was losing my mind and she said, well, maybe you are. I mean, laugh hysterically.  

[00:21:57] Sarah Cavanaugh: Well, the amazing thing is that you're living with someone who had the same experience as you, whereas most widows, I would imagine, end up living alone for a period of time, whether they have children or not. 

[00:22:06] And the fact that you had her there with you at all times, in all moods, in all of the, you know, kaleidoscope of grief, and she was just right there.  

[00:22:15] Leslie Gray Streeter: She's like a grief doula. You know, she was like right there in that moment, just what I write about, you know, in the very first early, uh, stages of being, okay, I've been here enough. 

[00:22:30] I have to get up and leave. And she would understand. I would say, I'm so sorry. I have to go lie down. And she'd go, I get it. Or, you know what? I just don't want to talk about this right now. She'd go, great. I get it. You Nobody, when they ask you how you're feeling and you have to say, do you really want to know? 

[00:22:48] Most of the time they want you to say fine, but sometimes I think if you say fine and they go, are you? It's like, ugh. So you just go, it's been, I've been getting there. Doing alright. Moving along. Something that acknowledges how, how terrible it is, but also, um, doesn't make them sit there and listen to you be sad. 

[00:23:08] Cause nobody wants that. How old is your son now? He's 10. He is 10 years old. It's so funny. And I always think of that because so many people, I mean, the book is, you know, four years old. And people are just meeting us. So they still in their brains, he's a baby and he's not, he's, you know, 10 and hilarious and he's, you know, he's a little boy, so sometimes he's an insolent, stinky miracle, but he's a miracle nonetheless. 

[00:23:39] Sarah Cavanaugh: Are there ways you keep Scott alive in Brooke's life?  

[00:23:43] Leslie Gray Streeter: Oh my gosh, I talk about him all the time. There's pictures, you know, I don't want it to be like a morgue, you know, like a shrine, you know, whatever, but yeah, we talk about him. Um, and it's, at first I was like, I have to always tell these stories. I have to think of stories to tell, but it's very, it's very natural stuff. 

[00:24:02] What Scott would have thought of something. Cause it just comes to mind. Like I'll say like this morning, I forget it was, we were on the way to school and like somebody was driving really stupidly and I said, your father hated when people did whatever that was. And we laughed because it's like, we talk about his love of the Ravens. 

[00:24:21] Cause my husband was a giant, gigantic Ravens fan. And now my son is. Um, but yeah, it's stuff like that. I just, I want him, it's so unfair. It's remains unfair, will remain unfair that he never got to meet my dad and he does not remember Scott, but he knows who he is and we have friends in our life, including, uh, Scott's friend, Jason and my brother in law who are very happy to tell him stories and to that kind of thing. 

[00:24:50] So that really means a lot to me.  

[00:24:53] Sarah Cavanaugh: And his absence is like a presence almost. Yeah.  

[00:24:56] Leslie Gray Streeter: It is. It really is. I think that. It's weird because like, he's never been to this house. He wasn't in this, the house that my mother and I rented for four years. Um, you know, we had the one greenhouse that he died at and then we left not long after and rented a house together. 

[00:25:13] He was never there, but I still feel his presence. I can't look and say, Oh, I remember him sitting there. Or I remember him standing over there eating toast or whatever, but he was a big presence to me and just in general. So yeah, I think he can't help but stay around like that.  

[00:25:31] Sarah Cavanaugh: I remember when my mom died and I would go to her home and I'd just expect her to walk around the corner. 

[00:25:35] Leslie Gray Streeter: Absolutely. That happened during the funeral. I mean, I kept saying he was just here. When Scott's mom died, I remember we were in the living room in Baltimore. And his dad kept looking at the kitchen table and going, she was just here. She was just here. So I would see people walking around the corner, expect Scott to come out of the thing. 

[00:25:57] And every once in a while, if I'm somewhere where the two of us. had been together, I would go, Oh, he'll be coming in. And you never lose him. I think it's good though.  

[00:26:07] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yeah. Yeah.  

[00:26:08] Leslie Gray Streeter: I think it's really good.  

[00:26:09] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yeah. Were you texters? Did you text each other a lot?  

[00:26:12] Leslie Gray Streeter: We did. We did. And I, I think the last text, I haven't looked at it in a while. 

[00:26:16] I think the last text he sent me was, wife, come here. And I don't know what was going on. It was something, but it made me laugh because, you know, sometimes when you're in a fight, With like your partner or somebody and you send like a funny text just to make sure that you're cool. And I can't remember if that's what was happening. 

[00:26:37] I kind of think it was like somebody was salty at somebody else. It was like, Hey, come here. And it was like, okay. We can be in the same room together, whatever. So it was a positive thing. We went out on a positive note. Yes.  

[00:26:47] Sarah Cavanaugh: That's great. That's awesome. What was the reaction of people when you started dating again? 

[00:26:54] How'd you manage that?  

[00:26:57] Leslie Gray Streeter: Oh boy. Depends on who the person was. Scott's cousins were like, don't date too fast. And that's because they didn't want him to be forgotten. And I get that. I think most people were okay with it. Um, the only person, as my mother says, who has to be real okay with it is me. And I, I have dated, I'm kind of hanging out with Sabody right now. 

[00:27:18] We'll see where that goes. He's sane and an adult, so that's always, those two things are really good. Scott and I, I said once to him, you know, in the afterlife, I was like, we were so smug. We would be so smug. We had friends in our forties who were dating like, well, I won't have to do that anymore. Ha ha ha. 

[00:27:34] And then boom. Yes, I did. It's like, well, damn, this sucks. And it does. But in a way dating at 52 is easier than dating at 46 was because I have so little energy for bullshit at this point, I don't even entertain. Like, when I'm on apps, when I've been on apps, you're like, No. No. Used to be, well, I might give that person a shot. 

[00:28:00] And it's like, No. And I would talk to people and go, well, maybe you're just Give a person a chance. Like, why? Why would I? It's like, if they're supposed to be in my life cosmically, they will, I will meet them down the street or whatever.  

[00:28:13] Sarah Cavanaugh: I think as you do get older, your time is more important.  

[00:28:17] Leslie Gray Streeter: Yes.  

[00:28:17] Sarah Cavanaugh: You know, how you spend it. 

[00:28:19] Leslie Gray Streeter: How you spend it, who you spend it with. There's this stupid thing going around. The traditional life thing's always been around, but there's all this, like now all the trad wife people have found like Instagram or whatever. And they're all like milking cows and baking pies and their houses are all immaculate and there's no kids, you know, hanging off the rafters and like, you know, running across their counters and slapping each other. 

[00:28:43] So, um, between that and the guys who go, Oh, you're gonna like wind up, you know, single with five cats alone on a Friday. And most women my age are like, that sounds like a good time. That sounds great. Is in, in this scenario, is there good cable? Do I have access to Uber Eats? I mean, come on with it. Yes.  

[00:29:06] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yes. 

[00:29:07] Yes. I love it.  

[00:29:09] Leslie Gray Streeter: And I don't get a lot of time by myself. So when I have time by myself, like every once in a while, my son will sleep over at a friend's house. And the first time it happened, I thought, Ooh, I should go out. And I went, no, why? Why would I do that? I usually order food. I spend a little more money. 

[00:29:25] It's like, I can spend money here. I got good liquor here. I've got like cable right there. I paid too much for it. Yeah, so I have to have a compelling reason to leave my home.  

[00:29:35] Sarah Cavanaugh: That's wonderful. So I love talking about language and I love talking about the language of of grief and One of the reasons I think we don't have a lot of conversations about death is because we don't have a language for it And if you don't have a language for it, that's easy it becomes invisible. 

[00:29:54] Leslie Gray Streeter: Oh, yeah.  

[00:29:55] Sarah Cavanaugh: In this culture, we don't talk about death. We try and stay young forever. And I so appreciate you're in your 50s and you're embracing that. What are the ways, given your experience, that someone might language, come up to you and, Not say the right thing because there's no right thing to say, but what are some of the your favorite ways that people approached you in that space? 

[00:30:18] Whether they be strangers or family or friends because I want to give people like don't go up and say he's in a better place.  

[00:30:28] Leslie Gray Streeter: That's the worst. I was like, no the better place was him in that Recliner. Sitting there watching Hawaii Five O. That's what I want. I think people who said like, like my cousin saying this sucks, or people saying how are you, but only if they meant it. 

[00:30:43] Only if they wanted me to tell them. And sometimes they didn't want to talk about it. Or people going, I love you. There was a woman that, and I haven't seen her since, I used to be really good friends with her. Um, she was the partner of a friend of mine. I hadn't talked to her since she and that partner had broken up. 

[00:31:00] I'd seen her a couple times, but it wasn't great, whatever. So we had mutual friends and so She came to the funeral. I don't think she'd ever met Scott, but she hugs me and says, I love you. And that's what I needed at that moment. So I haven't talked to her since it's been almost a decade, but that was perfect. 

[00:31:18] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yes.  

[00:31:19] Leslie Gray Streeter: I like when people were humorous about it in appropriate ways. Like, hope your day's going better or some shit like, you know, some things like that. It's funny to me. I appreciate it when people didn't know what to say. They just hugged me. Or when the people didn't know what to say, they just said, I've been thinking about you. 

[00:31:35] Or they, you know, look you in the eye or whatever. It doesn't have to be a long conversation. I'm not telling you everything I just said to my therapist. I just, you acknowledged a thing and I acknowledge it. You're acknowledging it. And that's, that's where we are, you know.  

[00:31:48] Sarah Cavanaugh: I feel like your work gave you a real gift when they said you don't have to talk about it. 

[00:31:53] Leslie Gray Streeter: They did. They did. Sometimes I would just want to sit, right? I would just want to sit and watch TV. Like, my friend Jason came down, we watched John Wick. And he goes, he's a Witter or a True Writer. I'm like, he is, right? And we watched Keanu Reeves beat people up. And that, that was perfect. But we didn't have to talk. 

[00:32:12] We just watched Keanu beat up people. That's good. It was healing. Not for the people, but for me.  

[00:32:18] Sarah Cavanaugh: Not for John Wick's victims.  

[00:32:19] Leslie Gray Streeter: Not for John Wick's victims, no. It was not good for, it did not end well. And, uh, the Denzel remake of The Magnificent Seven. Great movie. Lots of, it's all about justice, man, and kicking people. 

[00:32:34] And, you know, I'm into it. And that's not great that it's violence, but you feel violent. When you're not the one that's exiting, and you're stuck here without that person, it don't feel like peace. It feels like from Steel Magnolias, you know, I just want to hit something hard, you know, hit her! You know, the whole Weeza in the graveyard thing with Sally Field, so amazing. 

[00:32:53] That scene, Was so amazing to me because that's exactly how it feels where she's angry and distraught and violent all at the same time in the same monologue. And that's how grief feels. I remember watching it again after Scott got it and went, Whoa, they got that right. You know, I just want to hit something. 

[00:33:12] I just want to hit something hard. I was like, yeah, man. Yeah.  

[00:33:17] Sarah Cavanaugh: Was there ever a time?  

[00:33:19] Leslie Gray Streeter: Um, no, I never, I, you know, didn't hit anything. I ran hard. I, um, put a lot of it in those, the whole thing with Victor. Uh, Oh my gosh…  

[00:33:30] Sarah Cavanaugh: …that was hilarious. You didn't die.  

[00:33:34] Leslie Gray Streeter: He's like, and I can say this, I don't know if everybody's like, you're not some little rich white girl whose husband left a lot of money and you can just sit around, do whatever you didn't die. 

[00:33:44] You better get your, lots of things were said, but it was hilarious. And he was right. He was right. There was no safety net for me. There was no like staff of people that were going to come and take over my life while I like was sad, looking by the sea or whatever, I just, no, there was not a nanny. My mother was very clear. 

[00:34:06] She was there to help us. She was not the nanny and I feel that and I respected that. I respected it so much. Yeah, I had like melodramatic moments. I can see the recliner which has moved with us from many houses now sitting across from me. I had this melodramatic You know, lifetime moment where, like, I was, you know, screaming at God, literally, why? 

[00:34:29] Sit him back, sit him back. And I crumpled dramatically across the thing. And then I laughed at myself. I'm like, you look like an idiot. Cause I did. That's how I felt at that moment.  

[00:34:39] Sarah Cavanaugh: So when your son's two and you're in that space of just being like overwhelmed with it all, did you talk to him? Did he understand why you were crying or why you were? 

[00:34:51] Leslie Gray Streeter: I think he knew that something was wrong. He knew that dad was not there. He knew that I was sad. He tried to help me not be sad. Like he would like, you know, that gets, you know, he'd cry. Stroke my face or whatever. And I, I didn't want to give him a complex about it. So I was halfway between telling him what was happening as best I could. 

[00:35:10] And as in the book, you know, it took me forever to even say the words dead. I didn't want to say that my cell phone was dead. Dead seemed like a very serious thing to talk about or joke about in that way. It's so funny. I joke about so many other things. I just couldn't wrap my brain around that word. But I think also I did not want to be the person that I spoke of in the beginning of this podcast who avoids death. 

[00:35:30] And so we talk about, now even, at 10, we talk about death. I'm writing a series about single motherhood, and I remember talking to a woman. About when you're a single parent, you're terrified of something happening to you because something happens to you, you're done. You know, your parents, your kids will now have to go live somewhere else. 

[00:35:51] There's not another spare parent around. And I talked about how I don't take NyQuil because I'm so afraid. I live in a three-story house. I'm on the third floor. I'm so afraid that something happens in the house and I'm knocked out on NyQuil, you know, and I won't be able, he won't be able to, to wake me up. 

[00:36:08] And There are times when he gets nervous about stuff, like I got some really nice knives for Christmas a couple years ago for my best friend, Melanie, and I cut my hand twice and had to go to urgent care. Brooks was so upset the first time because I'm bleeding and I was like, it's fine. It's not an artery. 

[00:36:31] It's just really like, and my finger was bleeding and it wouldn't stop. And you want to make them feel good, feel better about things, but you can't, parents die. He knows parents die because one of his parents died. And you know, he understands that people are not forever, but I don't want to go suck it up kid death happens. 

[00:36:52] I wrote a book about it. You know, I don't want to do that either.  

[00:36:56] Sarah Cavanaugh: No, that's fair. That's fair. So you wrote this amazing book and it published a week before the COVID lockdown.  

[00:37:05] Leslie Gray Streeter: Oh, absolutely. Exactly There's a group, Lockdown Literature, it's a group of us whose books all came out that year and we still talked to each other. 

[00:37:17] We bonded over this terrible thing that was happening and that you didn't feel like you could complain about it because people were dying.  

[00:37:25] Sarah Cavanaugh: Right.  

[00:37:26] Leslie Gray Streeter: So it's not the worst thing in the world, but it certainly was terrible. It was certainly, but it was like grieving a book about grief, but don't bump.  

[00:37:34] Sarah Cavanaugh: Well, it's dialectic because you are grieving the loss of your book tour.  

[00:37:38] Leslie Gray Streeter: All of it.  

[00:37:39] Sarah Cavanaugh: …which, it's your first book. 

[00:37:41] Leslie Gray Streeter: Yeah. But you know, I, I'm half hoping, you know, I just sold this book that I'm editing right now. I was like, what terrible thing is going to happen now?  

[00:37:51] Sarah Cavanaugh: Can you share anything about your new book?  

[00:37:53] Leslie Gray Streeter: Basically it's, it's fiction. It's about a woman who's a journalist who also happens to be a widow who I'll just say that, uh, an old story comes back to haunt her. 

[00:38:05] It's set in Baltimore and it's got a lot of journalism. It's got lots of Black people. It's got food, lots of food. It's just, it's fun. There's a little bit of a caper. Um, it's a little wacky. They were like, can you tone down the wacky? I'm like, I don't know. I'm not sure if I can do that. Please don't. 

[00:38:21] Sarah Cavanaugh: Please don't.  

[00:38:22] Leslie Gray Streeter: I'm wacky. It's a thing.  

[00:38:25] Sarah Cavanaugh: So I'll ask you what I ask all of my guests. What does a peaceful exit mean to you?  

[00:38:34] Leslie Gray Streeter: Oh my gosh. Like I said, I guess it's for both the person who's exiting and for the people who are going to be left behind, I guess. But I think for me, a peaceful exit would be where I had said everything I needed to say, where everything was taken care of. 

[00:38:54] I acknowledged the sadness and that people were going to miss me, but I also acknowledged the love that they gave me that I gave to them, and then I just, like, went to sleep. Other than the dying part, not having to worry that everything was going to be okay. People often say to people, it's okay, you can go now. 

[00:39:12] I remember my mother saying that to my father. And not really wanting him to go. Nobody wants to go, but it's like, you don't have to hang on anymore. And I think that I want to be in a place where I know that everyone's going to be okay and then I can go, I don't want to go, but you know,  

[00:39:32] Sarah Cavanaugh: Thank you so much for your time. 

[00:39:34] Leslie Gray Streeter: Oh my God. This was fun. I have not laughed so hard in a grief podcast in my life. It was hilarious. 

[00:39:45] Sarah Cavanaugh: Well, it's such a pleasure. Love your book. Can't wait to read your second book.  

[00:39:48] Leslie Gray Streeter: Thank you.  

[00:39:51] Sarah Cavanaugh: Thank you for listening to Peaceful Exit. I'm your host, Sarah Cavanaugh. You can learn more about this podcast at PeacefulExit.net, and you can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram at A Peaceful Exit. If you enjoyed this episode, please let us know. 

[00:40:09] You can rate and review this show on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. This episode was produced by the amazing team at Larj Media. You can find them at larjmedia.com. The Peaceful Exit team includes my producer, Katy Klein, and editor, Corinne Kuehlthau. Our sound engineer is Shawn Simmons. Tina Nole is our senior producer, and Syd Gladu provides additional production and social media support. 

[00:40:38] Special thanks to Ricardo Russell for the original music throughout this podcast. As always, thanks for listening. I'm Sarah Cavanaugh, and this is Peaceful Exit. 

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