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Nora McInerny On 'No Happy Endings'


I guess I shouldn't begin by asking, how are you?

NORA MCINERNY: I would not advise it, no.

SIMON: Nora McInerny is the host of "Terrible, Thanks For Asking," an American Public Media podcast, and author of a previous memoir of how she lived through - and note that we don't say overcame - astonishing, almost simultaneous tragedies - a miscarriage and the death of her husband, Aaron, who was just 34 and then her father who was just 64 - making Nora McInerny almost in a single instant a widow, a single mother of her young son Ralph and a grieving daughter. She has a new book "No Happy Endings," which picks up her life. She has remarried and now has a family with four children. How do you be happy without worry that this means forgetting those you've loved and lost? Nora McInerny joins us now from Minnesota Public Radio.

Thanks so much for being with us.

MCINERNY: It is a pleasure.

SIMON: So do people come up to you in public and say wow, I'm sorry for all you've been through?

MCINERNY: Typically, people come up to me and they say, oh, my gosh I have to tell you what happened to me (laughter). And I'm like, OK, first of all, this is Target so we should keep our voices down. And also, yes, I will listen to this tragic story while I try to select some kale for my family. So typically people, when they see me, are most likely to want to tell me what they have been through.

SIMON: A lot of this book is about you getting out there and meeting new people in a way that leaves you open to romance, I'll put it that way.

MCINERNY: It - not - OK. Dating was never my strong suit. I was never particularly good at dating, but I would say that when you're 31 and your husband has died - actually, I don't even really care how old you are when this happens - you're still a person. And people have physical needs beyond just food and water and sleep. And also grief is so exhausting. And you know what? I really just wanted to have any physical touch that was not a needy toddler, preferably with an adult male who I'd met on the internet who didn't want anything from me but also wanted to, like, adore me and kill spiders and play with my hair but also not spend the night. I was maybe unappealing for that reason. That's kind of a pretty tall order to fill.

SIMON: You met Matthew, the man to whom you're now married, kind of the old fashioned way, right (laughter)? That's how we refer to it not being on the internet, I guess, these days.

MCINERNY: Yeah, I met him in real life first through my friend Moe who is also a widow, and she'd invited me over to her backyard and - to burn things, which is a huge passion of mine. I love fire and burning stuff. And so I came over with, like, a big bag of medical bills from Aaron's time in the hospital and, you know, a book of matches. And I was just ready to enjoy a fire. And then this guy shows up. And he joins us around the fire. He sits in a potentially faulty, plastic Adirondack chair, and it collapses underneath him. And his feet fly through the air. And this is like a year after my husband is dead. My body is so tense. I haven't, like, laughed in so long, and I laughed so hard I almost threw up. So he is clearly a man of taste and sophistication in that he (laughter) wanted to be - he definitely wanted to spend more time with a woman who had pointed and laughed at his misfortune, which I've been doing ever since.

SIMON: I do get the impression reading the book, though, that you and Matthew were in a kind of a careful, deliberate glide path to eventual marriage when your plan sort of got hastened by a child.

MCINERNY: They did, and they didn't. I mean (laughter) our cohabitation was sped up by the arrival of our son, but we waited. He was, I think - I don't - I'm looking at my producer now. How old was the baby when we got married? Do you have any idea? Is a year, maybe?

SIMON: Excuse me, you have to ask your producer how old your child was when you got married.

MCINERNY: I don't know. Wait. Eight months. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

SIMON: Oh, hold on.


SIMON: Let me turn to my producer. Dana...

MCINERNY: Yeah (laughter).

SIMON: ...How old was I when my wife and I had our first daughter? Yeah, she - Dana has no idea about me. How come - yeah.

MCINERNY: Like the - but this baby was born at the same time as the podcast. And so it's sort of, like, hard for me to remember. And we did get married later so I would say that we got married after the baby was born, for sure. But we lived together right before he was born. And honestly, you know, we didn't - we didn't necessarily have to get married except for health insurance and the fact that it was really important to the kids.

SIMON: Well, explain that.

MCINERNY: Yeah, I think that there is something. There's sort of like the language of relationships or of an average family. Like, there's no average family structure anymore. I read some, you know, a summary of a Pew study - I didn't read the whole study. Like, who am I? But I read a summary that - I mean, there is no dominant family structure anymore, but there also isn't language that reflects these families, too. So when you say it's my dad's girlfriend, that sounds pretty temporary. The big kids had come from - they had seen a marriage end, they had seen a marriage at its worst and they had seen this relationship come together. And they wanted to feel that solidity. And so did Ralph. He was only four, but he would, you know, - he'd, are you married? Like, first of all, who - that sounds a little judgmental from your own child, but he was going to a Lutheran preschool so who knows what he was learning there. But, yeah, it was important to the kids that we got married. They were our only bridal party in our backyard wedding. And Sophie drew the invitation on a piece of computer paper. And we photocopied it. And that was it. We just had doughnuts and orange juice and coffee and champagne in our backyard one day in June. It was a little surprise for everyone who came.

SIMON: I'm going to try this question one more time. How are you?

MCINERNY: (Laughter) Today, I'm pretty good, I got to tell you. The sun is shining in Minnesota. It happens, like, five days a year so that feels good. The snow is melting, and I'm pretty good today.

SIMON: Nora McInerny, she's the host of "Terrible, Thanks For Asking," her book "No Happy Endings." Good day for us, too. Thanks so much for being with us.

MCINERNY: Thank you. This is truly a dream, so I'm very, very glad to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.