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Beowulf Sheehan

Sloane Crosley wrote her new memoir as a 'tribute' to her friend who died by suicide

The book, out Feb. 27, is a meditation on grief.

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org.

In June 2019, the author Sloane Crosley opened the door to her apartment and noticed that things weren’t quite as she had left them. Several drawers had been smashed against her floor. Shattered ceramic pieces created a trail that led to an open window.

She realized she had been burglarized. Dozens of pieces of jewelry were missing, including several treasured heirlooms that were her grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s. (She’s quick to note that she treasured the jewelry, not her grandmother, who she says was abusive.)

This material loss is the first form of grief that Crosley writes about in her new memoir, “Grief Is for People,” though the book's main subject is a darker one — the loss of her dear friend and colleague, Russell Perreault, to suicide.

“It’s impossible to predict how much you’ll miss something when it’s gone, to game grief in advance,” Crosley writes in the book.

“I started to write it as a tribute to my friend and a recognition that this story was both universal and incredibly unusual."

Sloane Crosley

When I chat with Crosley about the process of writing this memoir, I start by telling her that I am deeply sorry for her loss and am selfishly excited to have a new book of hers to read.

“Grief Is for People,” which she calls the “most obvious, most blunt title there ever was,” is Crosley’s sixth book and first memoir. Even for someone who has written dozens of deeply personal essays, this one is strikingly vulnerable. “I started to write it as a tribute to my friend and a recognition that this story was both universal and incredibly unusual,” Crosley tells TODAY.com in an exclusive interview. “I wanted something that felt like it captured the ridiculousness of mourning without being glib or mocking it.”

Crosley, 45, who was born in White Plains, New York, met Perreault at Vintage Books, the paperback division of Knopf, where they both worked as publicists. She dedicated her third collection of essays, “Look Alive Out There,” to Perreault before his death; the irony of the title is not lost on her. “You can’t make it up,” she says, laughing.

“Grief Is for People” is divided into five parts that mimic the five stages of grief coined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. But in Crosley’s memoir, bargaining comes before anger and “acceptance” is renamed “afterward.”

“It’s just what came,” Crosley says. “I am in that section of the book, both hoping that it’s not true (and) sort of coming out of denial. Instead of being angry or depressed, I immediately start thinking, ‘Maybe I can get Russell back.’”

This is exactly what sets “Grief Is for People” apart from Crosley’s past works, mostly humorous looks on everyday experiences. It’s a reminder for anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide that there is no right way to grieve. It is, after all, for people.

“I think the whole world has agreed that the stages are not supposed to be perfectly linear. If you move through them and then you’re fine, that sounds wonderful. Most people don’t experience that,” Crosley says.

Still, Crosley finds a way to knit her signature cheeky humor into the fibers of the book. She experiences depression at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which she includes in the book.

“I almost feel more of a compulsion to tell people or warn people that there’s a small COVID section in the book more than I do that it’s about suicide,” she says. “I think people are less squeamish about reading about death and grief. I think they’re actually hungry for it. They crave it, but nobody wants to hear jack about toilet paper and hand sanitizer. I don’t blame them.”

About 50,000 Americans died by suicide in 2022, with the largest group being white men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s an alarming mental health crisis and one that most people still don’t know how to talk about, says Crosley. “I don’t want to police people who are just trying to be there for their friends and family in mourning, but just trying to give them a little bit of a nudge.”

Even after she wrote a nearly 200-page memoir about loss and grief, I still want to be careful with what I ask Crosley, which awkwardly proves her point that we lack the language to adequately talk about suicide.

She’s quick to say that she is no expert either. So I ask her plainly what she wishes people understood about suicide and those who are grieving, now that she counts herself among one of them.

“What I would want other people to know about a grieving person, is that you have to find the words to sidestep the clichés. Start with declarative statements such as how much you’re sorry, how much you think the other person must have been so wonderful who’s gone — not grilling them with questions,” she says.

“Grief Is for People” is a departure from her previous books, but you’ll still probably find yourself laughing while reading. If you do, she’ll count it as a success.

“We wouldn’t miss the people that we miss if they were one-note people — if they were always melancholy, always brant, always sad, always funny, always gentle, always hilarious. And Russell was all of those things. So the book is there for all of those things,” she says.

“And at the end of the day, I have confidence in what the book is. No matter what, it’s a tribute to my friend and a way of saying, ‘Not so fast.’”