Grief Is for People

Image of Grief Is for People
Release Date: 
February 27, 2024
Reviewed by: 

Grief Is for People is an eloquent, pensive, and deeply moving paean to a best friend.”

Grief Is for People, acclaimed writer Sloane Crosley's first memoir, is a meditation on two chronologically juxtaposed losses: the loss of jewelry (and sense of safety) when her apartment is burglarized, and a month later, the death by suicide of her best friend and mentor, Russell. The meditations in this book intertwine these two events, one far more serious but both compelling as significant life-changing events.

The stories here are loosely structured in sections based on psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' now well-known schematic of grief, with five stages: Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression, and the final section, which Crossley calls Afterward, stands in for Acceptance. While grief counselors and psychologists understand that these stages don't occur in such linear fashion, nevertheless the schematic works for Crosley's collection as it provides a framework for seeking to understand the chaos if her friend's sudden, unexpected, and violent death.

There is nothing Crosley can do about the loss of her friend except to work through the passages of grief, but the theft of jewelry provides an occasion to claw back loss. Her effort to find the perpetrator and reclaim her jewelry—some family heirlooms, some flea market pieces she purchased with Russell, who was a collector—stands in as proxy for the bargaining stage of grief, with a sort of magical thinking underlying her obsessive quest to find a necklace.

She combs eBay listings and mails photographs of the jewelry to pawn shops, a quest suggesting that bringing back the jewelry will somehow mean she'll be able to bring back her friend, or at least restore some sense of order that has been lost. Crosley writes of the Bargaining stage, "It's unpredictable, this stage of grief. Just when you think you have a handle on it, a crack opens up where the crazy gets in."

Quoting a member of her grief group, Crosley poses a query: "Can we ever get back what's lost?" In some ways, this collection is an attempt to do just that: to retrieve what she can of her friend's life through memory, through portraiture of him by way of charming anecdotes, and through homage to who Russell was and the life he lived.

Russell surfaces vividly throughout the narrative, as if he were popping in on his friend to see how she's faring in her grief, the way he used to stop in her office at the publishing house where they both worked, to gossip. The effect of Russell's appearances in the book is that it seems sometimes that he is not yet gone. "To mourn the death of a friend is to feel as if you are walking around with a vase," Crosley writes, "knowing you have to set it down but nowhere is obvious." In these pages, we can feel the weight of this vase Crosley carries.

Sloane is reflective, thinking deeply about what her raw experience means, trying to understand it; often the reward is an uncovered truth, or sharp insight. "The miracle of life is not that we have it," she writes, but that "most of us wake up every day and agree to fight for it, to hold it in our arms even when it squirms to get away."

Crosley is an extraordinary writer, gifted with figurative language, which lends elegance to her meditations. "Suicide is a tax on human consciousness," she writes. Only rarely do Crosley's clear-eyed insights slip into abstraction, like this line that reads like a koan but doesn't bear up under scrutiny: "Everything you learn, you already knew, everything you know you have yet to learn."

In Afterward, the final section of the book, Crosley addresses Russell directly: "How do I keep you buried and keep you with me at the same time?" This is the challenge of grieving, "not to forget but to learn to live without." Crosley tenderly memorializes Russell for herself, but readers, too, will be charmed by the person Russell was, and thus saddened by his death. Grief Is for People is an eloquent, pensive, and deeply moving paean to a best friend.