An American in Mourning

Jun 11

Gershwin and grief do not mix.

The first thing they should tell you in grief groups is that you should never, ever go to a romantic musical while you’re in mourning.

And of these musicals, the worst (because it’s the best) would be An American In Paris.

Here’s my story:

A short time after being widowed, my good friend Diana suggested we go to dinner and a play. I hadn’t the energy to make reservations or get tickets, but neither the heart to say no. And since she did all the planning, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Maybe I should have.

The show was delightful: all those songs by George and Ira Gershwin, that singing, that dancing, those sets. But ah my friends, and oh my foes, it was not a lovely night. It was sooooo romantic. And I had just lost my love.

Cue the tears.

I cried a little (surreptitiously, I like to think) through “’S Wonderful,” “Who Cares,” and even “The Man I Love”(Gulp). But then. The last song was “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” That did it.

I’m not ashamed of crying, but it does make some people uncomfortable, so I’m usually able to control myself in public. But this time I was out of control. I didn’t just cry, I wept. Convulsive sobbing, tears splashing down my face and into my scarf, and perhaps unto the seat, staining it forever with my grief, which is a pretty romantic notion in itself. I couldn’t stop, not even when the song was over.

If my friend was rattled, she didn’t show it. She put her arm around me until the curtain fell, when she could whisk me out of the theater and into a cab. She came home with me even though I live downtown and she’s an uptown girl, and didn’t even try to talk as I wept all the way.

When we got to my building, the doorman, who figured something was wrong (they’re perceptive like that), helped me out and walked me, still crying, to the elevator. He asked if I was okay, although clearly I was not, and I blurted out, “I just saw a really wonderful play.”

Safely in my apartment, where I could weep and wail to my heart’s content, as if I hadn’t already, I stood for a moment inside the door, and stopped crying. Because something had occurred to me—something funny. What is this woman like, this poor man must be thinking, when she sees a really bad play?


I cried often in the coming months, but not in public, at least not like that. And four years later, things have gotten better. How much better? Well, that’s another story.

By the way, if you’re grieving —or even lovelorn— think twice about seeing An American in Paris. If you must, bring along plenty of Kleenex.


This is dedicated to Betsy, who’s now where I was four years ago. Things will get better, kiddo, just hang in there.



  1. colleen A mccourtne /

    Very sweet Pat (always humorous) for both of you.

    • Thanks, Colleen. Wrote this right after the show but haven’t been in the right frame of mind to publish it. Glad you liked it.

  2. David /

    My Mother’s favorite musical scene “Singing in the rain”

    • Not Gershwin and upbeat. A better choice, and not bitter at all!

  3. Sara Coe /

    Thanks for sharing this. I loved this show and understand your reaction. And love you and Diana also.

  4. You always understand!
    Hope to see you both soon,

  5. OMG, I saw that production too, and you’re right, Pat, it was sooo wonderful. They ran it on PBS a short while ago and just the chance to see those amazing sets again was worth the time in front of the TV.

    • I guess it was too wonderful at the moment, but I believe I could see it now without slobbering all over the upholstery. Time does help.

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