Monday, July 11, 2022

Interview with Laurie Burrows Grad - Sharing Grief with Humor


Laurie Burrows Grad is in an author, blogger and fundraiser. Her family ties run deep in the annals of entertainment industry history. Her father Abe Burrows was a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner (Guys and Dolls, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying). Her brother James co-created the iconic series Cheers; and her son Nick is the President of Original Programming at FX. She has authored  several books; and her most recent book is The Joke's Over, You Can Come Back Now: How This Widow Plowed Through Grief and Survived. Since her husband Peter Grad passed in 2015, she has written extensively on grief. Laurie and Peter were married for 47 years. Laurie has said that "one minute he was laughing and the next minute he was gone."  

She was the overseer of the annual A Night At Sardi's which served as a high-profile fundraising event for the Los Angeles chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. Several years back I wanted to get involved and have purpose with an organization that was serving to benefit the life ravaging disease of Alzheimer's. My father had been diagnosed with the disease and Laurie's father died from the disease. Little did I know that doing some volunteer work would lead to an off and on and back and forth with Laurie all of these successive years.  

Laurie is one of the most elegant, engaging, caring and compassionate people I have had the fine pleasure of encountering in life. In an industry that often relegates relationships to the "what can you do for me" arena, Laurie defies that way of thinking. She's gracious, completely unflustered and genuinely concerned. When she first met my parents I watched her with them and it was as though she had known them for decades. Having gone through watching her own dad's debilitating period with Alzheimer's she instinctively knew how to chat with my beloved dad.       

Albert Camus once wrote "There are two or three great love stories in a century. Everything else is vanity or boredom." Since my mom and dad had one of those love stories and Laurie and Peter Grad had one - there is another great love story out there. Claim it as your own! 

JT: Laurie, your book The Joke's Over, You Can Come Back Now - How This Widow Plowed Through Grief and Survived was about your coping and surviving after your husband Peter's death. I knew you and Peter shared a consequential love story. My parents had a great love story, so I am conscious of couples who love one another so fully. 

Laurie Burrows Grad: Peter was my best friend. Losing a spouse is like losing a limb. It is hard to cope alone especially since we were married so young. I had never really functioned on my own, so I had to adapt and find a way through the loneliness.

JT: Without going through all of the points of your book what were the key components of plowing through grief and then surviving?

Laurie Burrows Grad: I used humor. Other people use other methods, but humor was what worked in my marriage and humor got me through my pain. I have heard that the sixth stage of grief is finding meaning. I have found meaning by helping other widows cope with their pain. I often get notes saying: “it is as if you are in my head.”  I say all the stuff that people are afraid to talk about. My first blog: Demoted to Lunch on HuffPost went viral, because it addressed the issue of people not knowing what to say.  I could do lunch by myself.  Now, dinner was another story and I needed others to surround me and help me through the tough times.

JT: The biggest mistake of my life was not marrying and having children. I never thought about what my life might be like as I got older. Most people don't. No one cares if I've been to Malaysia. I don't care that I've been to Malaysia! My surviving siblings and I were with my mom when she went to her eternal home. Being with loved ones at the end is vital. My mom and dad had a significant love story and friendship. There were times when I realized their great strength was that they liked one another as much as they loved one another - which at times is harder to do. I got to witness the bond between you and Peter on multiple occasions. Another significant love story. What were the elements of your marriage that made it work and work so well?

Laurie Burrows Grad: We were each other’s best friend. That is a rarity these days and I haven’t been able to find anyone who could walk in Peter’s shoes. They were comfortable and warm shoes and I miss them all the time.

JT: You discussed dating after the death of your husband. At some point, you referred to it as dumpster diving. Any stories you can share without giving away too much of your life? 

Laurie Burrows Grad: One guy drove past the valet parking. I said "we need to park here.”  He said, “I never pay for parking.” Now I knew I was dealing with a cheapskate. When he turned to me and said: “your roots are a little dark, when are you having your color done,” I nearly fainted. He followed that with “you must have been too busty to have modeled,” I said: “the editor has left the building," and I walked out of the restaurant.

JT: That's memorable and not in a good way! I only walked out of one date in my life. It was a date with a music industry guy many years ago. Worst date of my life! I had fun walking out.  I love to journal (that bad date made it into the journal) and I've been doing it most of my life. I don't look back, but it's there if I ever want to. Out of curiosity, did you keep journals after Peter passed?

                               Laurie Burrows Grad and Peter Grad 

Laurie Burrows Grad: I journalized on my blogs on Huffington Post. I discussed finances, “who will zip up your dress,” and all the other aspects of widowhood that people sweep under the rug.

JT: I had to zip up my own dress! My mom passed away two years ago. She lived with me the last 12 years of her life. I miss her deeply. The single best relationship in my life. I knew my life was never going to be the same again and I was right. Obviously, it is a different relationship, but this has been difficult for me. What advice would you pass on to people struggling with loss, even beyond loss of a spouse?

Laurie Burrows Grad: Get help. I joined a group after Peter died at Our House Grief Support Center.  It helped me immeasurably.  I went to the group feeling “why me.”  After I was in the group, I said “why not me?”  I also used a grief therapist.  There are many organizations that help people adjust to grief.  Many are free and Our House charged the minimum.  I joined the board after I left the group and help them as much as I can.

JT: You and I met when I started volunteering on A Night at Sardi's for the Alzheimer's Association in Los Angeles. You lost your dad to the disease and eventually I lost my dad to the disease. I recently interviewed an author on his book regarding the disease; and over the last few years I've reviewed three documentaries on the disease. The numbers of people being diagnosed with the disease are growing. Clinically where do you see the future of this disease - short haul and long haul?

Laurie Burrows Grad: I watch my brother in law descend into that scary place of Alzheimer’s. It is the worst possible disease. To see my father, a wordsmith, not able to speak made both Peter and me want to help and raise money.  I am sorry to say they are no further along with research in this dreadful disease that robs the mind.

JT: What happened to A Night at Sardi's? I was attending two events per week throughout my career and A Night at Sardi's was definitely one of the best of the Hollywood fundraising events. Quite honestly, the only event that bested your event was the Carousel of Hope Ball (they gave out Hermes scarves!). A Night at Sardi's was a notable night on the town while serving as an important fundraising operation. 

Laurie Burrows Grad:  It was the most fun event.  We got celebrities to sing Broadway tunes. We handed over the reins to Seth Rogen and his wife Lauren Miller who are committed to helping Home Instead.  

JT: Your dad was a famed Broadway legend and your brother was the creator of one of my all-time favorite series (Cheers). Both your dad and your brother are show business legends and clearly you were surrounded by funny people. 

Laurie Burrows Grad: I come from funny. My brother just wrote a book called Directed by James Burrows and he talks about his career. My father always cracked us up at the dinner table. Hence the humor gene. After you’ve dumpster dived dating, you too would want to laugh!

JT: Your son is the President of FX scripted series. FX is known for its high quality series. I loved Black Narcissus that aired in the fall of 2020. I reviewed it at the time. Just fantastic mini-series and you most likely wouldn't see that production anywhere other than on FX. I'm sure you are a proud mom.  

Laurie Burrows Grad:  Nick has fostered some wonderful hits - The Shield, Sunny in Philadelphia, and so many other series. Yes, I am proud of his work.

JT: You are a gifted writer and you've written multiple books, including several cookbooks. Did you come to writing later in life and if so, why did it take you so long?

Laurie Burrows Grad: I wrote four cookbooks but until Peter died, I didn’t use my prose. Now that he has died, I believe he would be thrilled with my writing. The writing I do now helps me to help others.

JT: I cannot let Laurie Burrows Grad not share some of her favorites? What are your favorite films?

Laurie Burrows Grad: The Philadelphia Story is my absolute favorite movie and  I am a fan of Sandra Bullock. I am about to sell my book to a movie company and I can’t think of anyone better to play me!

JT: Favorite theater production of all-time? 

Laurie Burrows Grad: Guys and Dolls. A classic!

JT: Favorite television series?

Laurie Burrows Grad: Fawlty TowersDownton Abbey. I love a great British mystery!

JT: Last question. Who is your all-time favorite actor?

Laurie Burrows Grad: Cary Grant!  Does that date me too much?  LOL!

                  Laurie Burrows Grad with brother James and son Nick 

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