Cecily Strong is one of my favorite performers on what is a very strong present cast on Saturday Night Live. In fact, this particular season she is getting featured a lot more than usual, possibly because Kate McKinnon has been on a leave from the show while she makes a movie. Strong is brilliantly versatile and funny, most notably for the shrill bombast she evinces when she is impersonating FOX News “personality” Jeanine Pirro. Strong also did a recent bit during an installment of SNL’s “Weekend Update” where, while dressed as a clown, she discussed the fact that she had an abortion in her early 20s. Strong is the kind of performer who is willing to leave however much of herself on the stage she needs to, and it’s often amazing to behold.
Like most of us, Cecily Strong had a very bad year in 2020. Unlike most of us, she wrote a book to document and process what happened to her and her family that year. For her it wasn’t just a year lost to COVID and the turmoil and uncertainty COVID brought; for Strong, 2020 was a year of profound loss and deep grief. Strong’s 2020 started with the death of her beloved cousin Owen from brain cancer. This was followed by the onset of the pandemic that for a time seemed to put the whole world on hiatus. It was during this time that Strong wrote this book.
This Will All Be Over Soon is structured as a diary, chronicling Strong’s experiences and thoughts and feelings as the year unfolds, starting with her beloved cousin’s death and progressing into the pandemic. As such, she has to grieve not just his passing but others, and the loss of her home and her certainty. Strong meditates throughout the book about her relationships, her upbringing, and her previous struggles–if you want more insight into the abortion she recently discussed on SNL, it’s here–as she, like many of us, was forced to grapple with the uncertainty of life on an almost daily basis for an entire year…and more.
Cecily Strong is, it turns out, a gifted writer in addition to her skills as a performer. This book was on my To Read list as soon as I found out she was writing a book, and it stayed there even when I learned that it was not a comedy book but a memoir of grief and struggle. As such, I am even gladder to have read it. It’s not just a journal of a personal grief, but a primary document of a time that already feels somewhat distant. There’s a definite sense of Did it all really happen? Was it like that? Was all that fear real?
It was, and we need books like this to remember.
From This Will All Be Over Soon by Cecily Strong:
Maybe I can offer up one answer to my dad’s question: why Owen?
Owen fell madly in love after being diagnosed. He released two of my favorite songs with his band. One amazingly right before his last week in the hospital. He helped arrange the strings on that song, without even being able to play any of the strings. He went to basketball games. He covered scars with hats and became the fun guy who collected hats. He came to SNL. He danced. he smiled. He laughed. He read. He ate ice cream. He told my uncle he’d had the best year of his life.
The entire world will be affected in some way by coronavirus. We don’t know how. We don’t know if we will be sick or someone we love will be sick. Could the unthinkable happen and could we actually lose someone? And why can’t we control this fucking thing? I watch Cuomo speak to try to understand the science. We try to wrap out minds around the language of COVID-19 and Ebola drugs and malaria drugs and what it does to your body, and we can only watch, helpless.
I hear and feel the fear and pain and grief and sadness in people and how it manifests in lashing out and hoarding and turning on one another, and it’s dangerous and it’s sad and every day I have started to feel it more and more: the world needs Owen Strong.
This sound hyperbolic and, quite frankly, impossible, I realize. I don’t mind the hyperbole, since I still see him as a bit of a superhero figure. But I guess what I really mean is this: I was afraid to talk too much or share too much of this loss for many reasons. It would mean acknowledging something as real when I wasn’t ready to, I wasn’t sure it was my loss to share, and I was afraid of never being a good enough writer to properly honor him, just to list off a few.
Now I’m ready. Leda is ready. I want to write about him. I want to talk about him. I want you to know him. I want you to feel a little better after knowing a bit of his story. Maybe, just maybe, somebody will feel less afraid about the uncertainty that lies ahead. Maybe we can find moments during a very scary and difficult time to feel lucky.
Because who knows: as Owen proved, the worst year of your life could turn out to be the best year of your life.
Maybe that’s why, Dad.
And yes, there’s a reason why I’m posting about this book, this day. Grief isn’t a thing that ends, after all.