Father's Day Is Here. Let's Laugh.
Comedian Alyssa Limperis sits down to discuss losing her dad and the comedy that followed. Plus, we have *the* Father's Day sale for you. Seriously.
In this Issue:
📖 An interview with comedian and actress Alyssa Limperis
👔 A Father’s Day Sale for the Recently Deceased Dad, by Alison Zeidman
📺 ML on TODAY, with Hallmark holiday survival tips
📆 Register for our 6/28 mindfulness session
Substack is screaming at me that I’ve used up most of the content field for this issue’s special interview and essay, and boy, are they worth it, so I’ll just get to the point:
Laughter and levity in grief are non negotiable. It’s impossible to giggle at every given moment throughout the long arc of loss, because there is just so much pain. Sometimes things are just not funny. But sometimes, they are, because grief is weird. So I hope you get some lightness out of this Father’s Day newsletter issue, which is landing in your inbox just before the day that shines the most light of the year.
Read on for an interview with actress, comedian, and A+ mom impersonator Alyssa Limperis on learning to seize the day, her theory about how New Englanders channel their grief, and creating comedic gold out of her worst loss. Then, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee writer Alison Zeidman is pummeled with Bed Bath & Beyond direct marketing suggesting “It’s Not Too Late To Find the Perfect Father’s Day Gift!,” but in this case, it kind of is.
As always, our community is a touch away on all social media, and with helpful content 24/7 over on our website, updated for this weekend. Here are a few of my favorite pieces:
Marc Sorensen Leandro’s ode to parenting after his husband’s death in Your Papa is Right Here
Yassir Lester’s lack of parental legacy in Dad-Die Issues
Paris Rosenthal embraces a new dynamic in My Relationship With My Dad Changed After My Mom Died
Justin Yopp and Donald Rosenstein’s “you’re good enough” message in To the Widowed Dad on Father’s Day
Jesse Anna Bornemann breastfeeds through grief in our “Grief Bacon” series
Michelle Chikaonda’s new perspective, in My Father’s Death Changed the Way I Think About Time
A Mizuko Kuyo primer for parents grieving miscarriage, stillbirth and abortions
If you're one of the hundreds of Father’s Day gift swap participants, post your experience and tag us. Be sure to follow us on Instagram, where the conversation is always hopping. And, as always, please consider supporting our work through a paid subscription, which gives you access to all of our virtual events and much more — next up: "Rest and Digest: A Mindfulness Session for Relaxation,” on June 28 at 1 pm ET.
I’ll be holding my dad, Ray, in my heart on Sunday (and remembering his epic Father’s Day grill fests, the only time of the year he pulled off cooking anything remotely edible) – alongside all your dads, father figures, kids, partners, and anyone else whose presence you are missing; especially if this is your first Father’s Day without them.
— Rebecca Soffer
Actress and Comic Alyssa Limperis is Proud of You (Yes, You)
REBECCA SOFFER: Let’s go back to the beginning. You were living in New York when everything suddenly changed.
ALYSSA LIMPERIS: I was moving out of an apartment and my parents were coming to help me. I got a call like, “we're two hours away.” And then I got a call three minutes later, and my mom and dad were screaming. "We're turning around. We're turning around. Your dad has a tumor."
Everything about my life changed in that exact moment. I moved home and took care of my dad. I come from New England, so…
SOFFER: ...There aren’t as many outwardly expressed emotions? Keep in mind, I’m an outwardly emotionally expressive New Yorker speaking with you from Western Massachusetts today.
LIMPERIS: Exactly! That's why sometimes I pretend to cry in my videos about Tom Brady, because I think it's real. I think people cry about Brady because they haven't cried about losing their dad, because that's not acceptable. So we end up putting a lot into sports or Dunkin’ Donuts or Ben Affleck. We feel for these things because they're vessels for us.
I think people cry about Brady because they haven't cried about losing their dad, because that's not acceptable. So we end up putting a lot into sports or Dunkin’ Donuts or Ben Affleck.
SOFFER: Tell me about your conversations during that year.
LIMPERIS: I learned a lot from my dad, and sometimes I'll do something and be like, "Oh, look at that. That was you." But I didn't get that thing of my dad being like, "Alyssa, follow your dreams. Do it for me," or grabbing my hand like, "I got one second left…go do comedy full time!" I wish I got that but it was more just like, "Should we go for a walk today?"
SOFFER: Are there any conversations you wish he’d been open to having?
LIMPERIS: Yes, and I did struggle with wanting a [perfect] goodbye. You’re trying to grab as much information and guidance and love as you can because you're so aware this person is about to leave. That's intense. But it wasn't my dad's way. I remember the hospice nurse saying you have to let the sick person lead. It's their journey. You can't force them to have a conversation they might not want to have.
SOFFER: Did you ever try to get more out of him?
LIMPERIS: I once wrote a letter because I thought, maybe this is an easier way. I gave it when he was in the pool, which he loved. He finished reading it and looked at me and was like, "This is beautiful. Can we maybe talk about this on a cooler day?"
SOFFER: May I please use that line whenever I want to deflect something?
LIMPERIS: Absolutely, you have my and my dad's permission.
But what’s great is he showed me, okay, you’re a fucking marathon runner with terminal cancer and you can't walk. And instead of complaining or crying, you say, "I want to enjoy a sunshine-y day." That lesson to me is worth its weight in gold because I'm not good at seizing the day. After my dad's death, I got a lot better at it: "Hey, if this is what someone does when they're dying, then that's good enough for me."
SOFFER: You created No Bad Days, your solo comedy show about his illness and death. It's got stand-up, it's got sketches, hell, it's even got Zumba. Tell me about the process of putting that together.
LIMPERIS: After his death, I came back to New York and what was left was my life as a stand-up. I started doing open mics and couldn't talk about anything that wasn't grief.
Sometimes it would do well and sometimes it was like, these people want to laugh, they don't want to hear about your dad's coma. But I wanted to talk about it, so how can I warn the audience that this is what they're getting? So, I decided to work on a solo show: If you come here, we're going to be laughing about death. I had so much material because I was trapped with it for so long.
I started doing open mics and couldn't talk about anything that wasn't grief…these people want to laugh, they don't want to hear about your dad's coma.
SOFFER: Did it make you feel connected to your dad?
LIMPERIS: It was like he was holding my hand for a little while as I got back into the world, as a way of keeping him with me or letting go. For a while I was doing the show and it was so fun and almost joyful. Toward the end of the run, I started really crying during a bit in a way that was not like, how beautiful, it was like, oh, no. And it became clear that the show had taken me to where I needed to get. Once I got to that stage, I was like, okay, I'm ready for this to just be sad and to make comedy out of a woman at a store or whatever. I'm now free to do that because I've processed this.
SOFFER: You created what didn't exist for yourself. You made your own support system, fathered and mothered yourself through this in a way.
LIMPERIS: You're going to make me cry. That's very sweet. I feel that way about the show. It's always there for me. It was there for me when I needed to immediately process, it was there for me when I needed to cry, and now I feel it's there for me when I can look at what grief looks after five years, because that's a whole new chapter.
SOFFER: How have you typically weathered Father’s Day since his death? And how are you planning on spending it this year?
LIMPERIS: With the day my dad died, his birthday and usually Father's Day, it's like my body knows before the event. Usually weeks before, things are just not feeling good, I feel tense and I'm snapping at things. Almost always there's a moment where I have to cry and be like, oh, it's because this thing is here. And I try to avoid it. But this year, a week before his birthday, I just started watching a ton of Matt Damon videos.
SOFFER: Peak New England.
LIMPERIS: I was obsessed with it. And one night I wept my eyes out and realized, oh, I was trying to fill the space with a male Boston accent so I didn't have to look at the absence. But the further I get from it, the more life gets busy, and I almost welcome it. Like, "Hey, this is a day where I can grieve." In the beginning, you're almost looking for ways to avoid grief because it's a constant.
SOFFER: It kind of owns you at that point.
LIMPERIS: Exactly. It's your boss and you're trying to take a vacation day and it's like, "Nope, you got to work overtime." So nowadays, I look at the day as, "Oh, I'm going to spend day with Dad. I'm going to get pastries that he likes. I'm going to walk. I'm going to go to the beach." And I usually spend it alone.
REBECCA SOFFER: We’re 15 months into the pandemic. How’d your sanity fare during the toughest moments?
ALYSSA LIMPERIS: Well, my dad had glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. I moved home when he got diagnosed and lived there for a year until he died. It took a long time to adjust to how do I maintain sanity while someone's dying and I'm taking care of him and I'm in a house with someone dying? That is a pressure cooker.
So I learned a lot of coping mechanisms: I have to go get coffee every day, I have to walk, use social media, post a joke or something else that would connect me to the outside world. In a weird way, when the pandemic hit, I was like, "Yup, here we go," while people around me were panicking like, "Oh, the world is ending…”
SOFFER: And the world has already ended before for you.
LIMPERIS: Yeah. In a bad PTSD way, I’m always ready for a phone call to change everything. So at the beginning of [COVID-19] I just figured out how to do it again: I know I need to live within the confines of my home, know I need to walk, know I need to watch a show instead of coffee because I can't leave my apartment, know I need to make some jokes or do something where I'm connecting with the outside world. But that's not a whole life. That's survival mode. And now that I get to see friends and interact with the outside world, I feel so much more sane.
SOFFER: But sometimes you need to build that ice floe in order to land at a point where you feel like you're not just existing and holding on. For people who have faced extreme adversity, the ability to revert to that is like this weird super power we get in return.
LIMPERIS: Yeah, it is. And a large part of people's mental health rides on a lot of things. To lose little things can be tough. When my dad was dying, everyone else was okay. And while that could be isolating, they could be there to support and bring over food. But with this, the whole world was going through the same exact trauma. So as a unit, we didn't have a lot of bandwidth. And we got through it. I'm impressed and I'm proud of everyone. It's a really hard thing we just went through.
SOFFER: I think everyone will be glad to know you're proud of them, because we all need some positive reinforcement at this point.
LIMPERIS: And now, since I haven't seen a lot of people, I’m like, please, tell me everything and anything. In grocery stores I feel myself turning into one of my characters; I caught my phone the other day when it was about to fall and turned around like, "Did you see that catch?" She was like, "I did." I was like, "Wow, you're trying those chips. How are they?" It's like, oh god, I’ve become what I used to mock.
SOFFER: Once my mom was on a train with my dad in Japan, sitting across from a young woman who was clearly a tourist. Later in the day she crossed paths with the same woman, who caught my mom's eye and started waving excitedly just because she recognized her and grabbed onto a moment of connection in an unknown place. I feel like that's where we're all at right now.
LIMPERIS: That is really how I feel, too.
‘Too Late,’ a horror comedy feature film starring Alyssa Limperis and ‘Portlandia’s’ Fred Armisen, premieres in theaters and on demand June 25.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Modern Loss on TODAY
TODAY recently asked ML’s Rebecca Soffer for her advice and understanding on getting through Yet Another Hallmark Holiday, especially during the first year of loss. Read it on their website here.
A Father’s Day Sale for the Recently Deceased Dad
Call me crazy, but I feel like a tie won’t cut it this year.
by Alison Zeidman
Hi there. I was wondering if you’re running any Father’s Day specials at the cemetery this Sunday?
Well, I guess I’m not really sure what I’m asking, either. What Father’s Day gifts do people typically get for the recently deceased? Am I even supposed to do anything to celebrate? I keep getting emails from Bed Bath & Beyond reminding me that “It’s Not Too Late To Find the Perfect Father’s Day Gift!,” but in this case, it kind of is. And none of the stores I’ve called have any suggestions. They have gifts for the “Classic Dad,” the “Backyard Dad,” the “Active Dad,” and the “Tech-Head Dad,” but no one seems to have any gifts for the “Dead Dad.” Asking the cemetery for suggestions is sort of a last resort, but I thought, well, it is where he spends all his time now.
Yes, I know “most people just leave flowers.” I’m looking for a gesture more along the lines of something that will make up for all the things I didn’t get to say or do or give him while he was still alive. You know, something that’ll make it OK that I’ll never get to see him or talk to him again. But, like, that you can buy at Macy’s.
I’m looking for a gesture more along the lines of something that will make up for all the things I didn’t get to say or do or give him while he was still alive…something that’ll make it OK that I’ll never get to see him or talk to him again. But, like, that you can buy at Macy’s.
I had this problem on his birthday, too. I went to The Cheesecake Factory, which felt like it made sense at the time, because he always like having cheesecake as his birthday cake. We never went there when he was alive, and I don’t know that he had a particular affinity for it, but it is a restaurant that will serve you cheesecake and alcohol in the middle of the afternoon, even if you’re crying into your Seared Tuna Tataki Salad.
Some sort of activity might be good. But it’s not like I can take him out to brunch, not without getting into a Weekend at Bernie’s situation. He has an extensive record collection, but lugging those out to the gravesite to listen to would be cumbersome, even if I could find an outlet to plug the record player into. Besides, all the music genres he likes are even deader than he is. Yes, I do still have the audio CD of the funeral service, but no, I don’t think I would find listening to that on Father’s Day very “comforting.” Have you ever had to listen to the sound of your own voice? Giving a eulogy? And look, I’m sure some people appreciate you giving those out, but I just find it kind of morbid. I came home to my mom playing it once, and I just pretended it wasn’t happening. Every few minutes I’d poke my head in from the other room and yell “Is this the new Taylor Swift???” until she turned it off.
So let’s get back to gifts that would be appropriate, under the circumstances. None of the typical Father’s Day options seem to work. He never really wore cologne, and frankly, I don’t know that there’s anything that could help how he probably smells by now. The only tool that seems relevant is a shovel, but what would he do with that? The new sod over his grave looks kind of like a putting green, but that’s the closest he’s ever come to being interested in golf. And a grill doesn’t really make sense, because we decided against cremation.
Is there anything we can do about his…accommodations? It’s been a little over a year now, so an upgrade might be nice, right? I know it’s traditional, but I’m we sure we can do better than a plain pine box in a hole in the ground. I keep seeing these commercials from Home Depot that say things like “Father’s Day Lumber Sale!” and that got me thinking about some coffin upgrade possibilities. Maybe something in a mahogany? I could build it myself. Handmade gifts are always good, right? Although, he wasn’t really one for flashy accessories. (I got him a clear iPhone case one year. That’s not even a color.) And I guess even if it could be made in time, transferring him would be a lot of trouble, and we probably shouldn’t disturb him for spiritual and legal reasons.
At least the spot next to him is still open, so he’s not too crowded. How much to buy that plot, to keep it open permanently? That could be a good gift. Oh, really? That’s outrageous. You’re not running any Father’s Day sales on graves right now? If he’d known the cost, he probably would have just told us to bury him in the backyard next to the dog. “Here lies Calvin, ‘The Greatest Dog in the World’, And Your Dad. So Watch Your Step. And Go Mow the Lawn, I’m Not Going to Ask You Again.”
What else can you offer at the grave site? Hm…no, I think the plaque that’s there is fine as it is. You’d add symbols of what to it? Oh. Huh. Like…Jewish emojis? That seems a little tacky. Plus, I mean, he’s buried in a Jewish cemetery–I think we get it. Let’s not beat a dead my dad.
You know what? Forget it. I’ll just go buy him a tie he’ll never wear. That’s a traditional Father’s Day gift, anyway.
Alison Zeidman is an Emmy-nominated comedy writer, currently at Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
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