There is no “grief starter pack” (w/ Michael Cruz Kayne) (Transcript)

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How to Be a Better Human
There is no “grief starter pack” (w/ Michael Cruz Kayne)
January 9, 2023

[00:00:00] Chris Duffy:
You are listening to How to Be a Better Human. I'm your host, Chris Duffy. I am a person who likes to talk. I talk for work. I talk for fun. I don't often find myself at a loss for words, except when it comes to grief. When it comes to grief, I am so often stumped about what is the right thing to say. I mean, what can you possibly say to someone who has just lost a person that they love?

Do I try to distract them by talking about something light and avoiding the topic? Do I address it head-on? Do I bring them food? Normally, personally, I just bring them food. My confusion about what's appropriate when it comes to grief or what's the right thing to say is part of why I'm so grateful to today's guest, Michael Cruz Kayne.

Michael is one of the funniest comedians I know. He's a standup and an improviser, and he writes jokes for Stephen Colbert on the Late Show. But Michael and his family have also dealt with some deep and profound tragedy, the loss of their son. And Michael is so generous with his story and with his emotions. He really creates a space where people can talk about grief and loss, even if it inevitably means a few awkward moments and stumbles along the way because with two other kids to care for, loss has become not only part of Michael and his wife Carrie's personal lives, but a large part of their careers as well.

Carrie went back to school to become a nurse and she now helps other families who have kids facing serious illnesses and even death. And as for Michael, after years of not talking about his grief to anyone other than those people very, very close to him, he's now writing about it. He's talking about it live on stage, and he hosts a podcast called A Good Cry, which is all about grief. Here's a clip:

[00:01:29] Michael Cruz Kayne:
They were born via a C-section and they were fine. They were good; they were good-looking, also, by the way, uh, they had to stay in the NICU, which is the neonatal intensive care unit for a few weeks, but they were in great shape. Until suddenly they weren’t. Just over a month old, one of my sons had something called volvulus, which means that his intestines detached from the rest of his body. They twisted around and they ripped open, and the stuff that was supposed to be going down his intestines spilled into the rest of his body. So he died from sepsis.

And I know the way I told that was abrupt, but that's what it was like for us too. Everything just humming along. You're getting ready to take your sons back from the hospital and, you’re not, they're not the boys anymore. His twin brother lived, and he's the best, and so is his sister, who was born a couple of years later. Also the best, but Fisher Daniel Kayne, who was also the best, three-way tie for best there, which is great, he never left the hospital.

In my entire life, I never heard anyone really get into grief. I knew about it from movies and TV. You've got, uh, your crying for sure. You've got your screaming, definitely. You’ve got your certainty that life will never be the same. Certainly, you probably got some dark glasses. You maybe have a veil, but we never get into all the rest of it. We stop at the door and we don't go in.

[00:03:02] Chris Duffy:
Over the course of this episode, we're gonna talk a lot more to Michael about his experience and what he's learned from interviewing other people who are in the midst of dealing with their own grief. We're gonna find out how Michael finds ways to laugh, what makes him cry, and how whatever you're dealing with, sharing your grief can help you heal.

Do we really need to find a way to move on from grief, or can we learn to make it part of living life more fully and deeply every day? We're gonna talk about that with Michael right after this quick break. Don't go anywhere.


[00:03:41] Chris Duffy:
And we are back. Today we're talking about grief and loss with comedian Michael Cruz Kayne.

[00:03:48] Michael Cruz Kayne:
Hi, I'm Michael Cruz Kayne. I'm a comedian, a writer, a standup, an actor, a podcast host of A Good Cry, produced by Radio Point, and a nice human being.

[00:03:59] Chris Duffy:
I can confirm that. You certainly are a nice human being too. I knew you originally as this really funny standup comedian in New York who I'd seen perform, and, and then I found out about this like much more serious side of your life when you went viral for talking about grief and, and specifically grief around losing a child.

[00:04:17] Michael Cruz Kayne:
So where to start? I have a son who died, and he died when he was 34 days old in 2009. At the time I was doing comedy. I also had a day job and it was, I mean, profoundly sad and also really isolating. Our son who died was an identical twin, so he has a brother who survived, and after a while, I started to be more open about what had happened.

On the 10th anniversary of his death, I tweeted this thread about what grief is like, and I went to bed, and when I woke up there were thousands and thousands of responses and like quote tweets or whatever of this tweet that were all incredibly supportive and for whatever reason, my tweets, which had like struck a chord on Twitter and sort of set off this chain reaction of people opening up about all this horrible stuff that had happened to them. And it made me aware of this tremendous community of people who have gone through really horrible stuff.

[00:05:29] Chris Duffy:
But I know from listening to your podcast, A Good Cry, you always kind of just start your first question as like, “What's your relationship with grief?” And you, you get right into it. Do you feel like people have this fear of, like, they wanna step lightly around it? Is that respectful? ‘Cause I feel like we do it because we are trying to be respectful, but it, but it seems like for you, a lot of what you've said on your show and, and publicly has been like people need to talk about this more openly. They need to kind of be a little more direct.

[00:05:54] Michael Cruz Kayne:
I think it's two things. I think it's respectful. I think it's nice. When something horrible has happened to someone, you don't want to like, you know, assuming that that wound is healing, you don't wanna be the person who opens that wound up again. So I understand that aspect of it. I think the other aspect of it is terror. I think that people don't want to reckon with the idea of, like, sort of bottomless sadness.

Something like a death of a parent also I think is something people can kind of imagine, and that is terrifying. But death of a child, like, well, hang on, like now the universe is upside down. Like I have a perception of how the world is supposed to be, and if a child can die, then everything that I think is actually not true.

And that's a very destabilizing thought. So I think consciously when people dodge the subject, I think it's mostly like sweet. It's a nice thing to do. Subconsciously, I think it's also motivated by a tremendous fear of like, “Oh my God, I'm so small in the universe. The universe could, like, eradicate me in a moment, and I would be forgotten.” There's two sides to that.

[00:07:01] Chris Duffy:
A quote that you've said that, that really struck me is you said “Grief is the most isolating, stigmatizing feeling, but it's only through grief that we can know what it means to be alive, to be human, to be connected to every other person who is alive.”

[00:07:13] Michael Cruz Kayne:
Yeah. Well, I think the thing that ultimately connects us, whether we like it or not, is that you are going to die for sure. Like there are very few things that will happen to everyone, and dying is one of them, and it's gonna happen to you, and it's gonna happen to the people that you love. It's gonna happen to people you hate. Undefeated, death goes one-on-one with all of us and always wins. So it feels like the fact that we generally, and obviously there are people who are outliers and there are cultures that treat it differently, but generally in sort of like the secular West, we treat grief and death as if they don't exist.

We sort of like obsess over youth and, like, being young forever. And I think that if there were a way to let that go, it would allow us to be more in touch with each other. Because one of the things that happened when my son died and when I started talking about it, is that all these people came out of the woodwork—strangers, but also people who I'd known my whole or for a long periods of my life—who were like, “Oh yeah, you know, we don't talk about it. We had a miscarriage.” Or you know, “We had a son who died young.” Or, “My sister died when I was five,” or whatever. And you're like, oh, a huge, massive part of your personality is processed through the algorithm of this grief and you never tell anybody about it.

[00:08:37] Chris Duffy:
For yourself, what do you think that fear of talking about it was? Was it a fear of cheapening it or was it a fear of being rejected or of just it being too raw and naked of pain?

[00:08:46] Michael Cruz Kayne:
There are two primary fears for me in talking about it. One is that I am going to destroy you. So after my son died, I was at the time, like, starting out kind of in comedy and continued pursuing it after whatever amount of time I was able to like sort of reintegrate myself in whatever half-assed way I did that.

A guy when I was going into this comedy show said to me, “Hey man, how are the twins?” It's just like in that moment I put my hand on his shoulder and I was like, “Dude. I hate to tell you this, but one of them died. Have a great show.” You know, he's gonna be on stage in like one minute.

[00:09:31] Chris Duffy:

[00:09:32] Michael Cruz Kayne:
I didn't wanna not say it, but also like, I mean, I fucked that guy up. How is he gonna have the rest of his day? While I do want people to talk about grief, I'm not trying to pulverize anyone. So like there's, there's that part of it where I'm scared of destroying someone. And then the thing you mentioned is also, ‘cause I talk about it now on my podcast, I talk it in writing. I talk about it… I'm working on like a, a show about it. I'm terrified of cheapening it. That's very tricky because I want to, like, honor my son. I wanna honor the relationship I have with him. I want to honor the memories that my wife and I have of his very short life and what his death did to us as a family, how it changed us.

That process is a constant checking-in with her because there's a part of my brain as a comedian that goes, what's the funniest, most impactful way to say this? And then I have to sometimes go back and go, how funny do I want this to be? Is what's important that this be funny? And the answer to that a lot of the time is no.

[00:10:39] Chris Duffy:
You know, we, we come from a world where, like, “Make it like you don't care about anything” is often the, like, stance of comedy.

[00:10:43] Michael Cruz Kayne:

[00:10:44] Chris Duffy:
And I think something that I've struggled with, and I'm curious how you have dealt with is, you know, it seems like being genuine is really good in comedy, and yet being like earnest, people really hate that. And I think it's hard to not be earnest when you're talking about, like, love and loss.

[00:11:02] Michael Cruz Kayne:
Yeah. Some comedians find anything that happens on stage where while you're supposed to be doing quote-unquote “comedy” that is not like outright LOL a hundred percent of the time to be like pandering almost, to be, like, cheap.
But I think actually, like, candor and sincerity and earnestness can make comedy so much richer. When you're talking about anything, something that matters to you, if you can impress upon the audience how, how important it is, and then hit them with the joke it lands, you know, 10 times heavier in my, in my own experience.

But that's also, that's like a matter of taste. You know, some people just like, they want a bunch of set up, punchline, set up, punchline. That’s cool. I love that too, but as I get older and I'm still incredibly young, Chris, I want your listeners to know that.

[00:11:54] Chris Duffy:

[00:11:55] Michael Cruz Kayne:
As I get , as I get older, I get bored by comedy that is just funny. Even though I recognize the talent inherent in it, at a certain point, now, when I watch a special or even like somebody's five minutes on whatever late-night show I am like, “Okay, but what are you gonna do with this? Like now you, now that you can tell any joke you want and you have become funny, what will you do with this ability that you have?”

[00:12:26] Chris Duffy:
I’m, I’m really hesitant to at all, like, compare experiences. I think that everyone’s suffering is different. Everyone's grief is different and unique. And, and, also I, I haven't had the same kind of grief that you have of, of like losing a child or losing a person that I loved as close as you have, but one thing that I relate to a lot, the grief that I've had, probably the closest is grieving, like the life that I thought I was living.

And then my wife had this chronic illness, and it led to disability, and it's really just changed the shape of our lives in a way that was really unpredictable and, and we still don't know whether there is an end or, or what the end is.

And you know, I, I think I'm allowed to talk about it. One, because she's written about it publicly. She's even talked about it on this podcast. But one of the most comforting things that I've heard is talking to a friend that I've made who's in her seventies, and she was like, “Oh yeah, I had a terrible 10 years. That was a horrible 10 years. Really horrific. And then it was fine afterwards.”

And that just felt like such a relief to be in the middle of something and to know, maybe when I'm 70, it's okay to just have had a horrible decade and, and that won't even be the defining moment of my life. So I'm bringing that up, one to say like, I think that what you're doing is so meaningful to share what you're going through and to be open about it because it does provide that, that comfort of letting people know that they're not alone.

But then I also wonder, when you think about this, how much of it is a challenge to be like people don’t get this because it's happening to me earlier than it's supposed to happen?

[00:13:52] Michael Cruz Kayne:
Well, when I talk about it in the show, I try to not care about that so much. Like really more, it’s about the idea of being open to whatever degree you want to be about tragedy or grief or, like, any kind of sadness that you might have in your life, like, I think the thing that I tried to encourage people to do is just be aware that it's happening and, like, when you say, “Hey, there's actually something going on with my wife that's hard,” it’s a reminder that like, oh, right, the guy on the subway has got a thing going on.

And I know it's cliche. Be kind, because everyone is fighting a hard battle or whatever. But I think it's more true than you think it is. And that thing you're saying about talking to older people, I get that so much because someone who has been through some shit, when you say you know something fucked up is going on, their first instinct is not to go, “Oh, well how can I make you feel better right now?”

Or, “How can I change the subject?” But instead, it’s like, “Damn dude. Like, tell me more about that.” If there's anything that I want. It is for people to feel comfortable asking that question and obviously having all your antennae out to be receptive to how that question is received ‘cause, so, you know, not everyone wants to talk about it all the time, but my experience is that most people don't get to talk about it.

They don't know how to ever say anything about their dad who died, and they don't just want to tell you 50 sad things about it. They also want to be like, “My dad fucking played the flute and he was so good at the flute,” or whatever. They want to keep their dad alive in a way, and I think that's cool and we should let them do that.

[00:15:53] Chris Duffy:
One thing that I know from having, you know, mutual friends with you and being in the comedy world with you is everyone talks about how great a father you are to your two kids, and you have these like adorable kids. They're so fun. Everyone is like, “Oh, Michael's the best dad.” And I wonder, how do you handle your own grief while also having these children who are alive and are dealing with things on their own? So how do you like help them deal with grief while not burdening them with your grief?

[00:16:18] Michael Cruz Kayne:
Great question. I try to be open with them about it without overwhelming them, but like, you know, if I'm feeling sad about something, I try not to hide it from them.

I try to, like, let them know that that's a normal thing. Fisher is my son who died. We talk about him, you know, not every day. I think about him every day. We talk about him a decent amount. He's like a subject in our house, and there will be times where, like, you know, something will happen, and I'll just start crying.

It doesn't take an A-to-B association for that to happen, you know what I mean? It can also be like, I hear the macarena, the macarena makes me think of it would make you think of this would make me think of this. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And now I'm thinking about my son who died and suddenly I'm crying. If I feel that way, and my kids notice it, and they're like, “Hey, are you know what's going on?” I don't have a problem saying, “I just started thinking about Fisher, and I just… I wish he hadn't died.”

And I hope I'm not wrong when I say that they have the capacity to deal with the reality of that because they know he's dead. It's not like they don't ever think about it. And there have been times where my son also will just like, it hasn't happened in a, in a while, but where he would just start crying and be like, “I wish I knew him.”

And I think we could, in an alternate universe, not have talked about it and just been like, that's like a private thing that my wife and I will only talk about in our rooms from time to time. I'm not sure that would've served anyone because I think you have to prepare them for what the world is. And I think if I were, you know, turning 40. And then my dad said, “Hey, by the way, you had a twin brother who died,” I’d be like, “Fucking what? What do you mean?”

[00:18:09] Chris Duffy:
And certainly even in the moment, kids are gonna make up all sorts of wild narratives about like, “Why is dad crying at the Macarena?” Like, it's gonna make a lot less sense the story they come up with, than the like kind loving version that you, you have told me.

[00:18:22] Michael Cruz Kayne:
That's exactly right. If I'm really sad, and I don't express the sadness in some way, I don't mean communicate it, I just mean express it, then it's gonna come out some other way. And I don't, I wish I were not like that. I wish I had, like, complete control over every feeling that I have. But if I'm feeling super sad and I don't let that sadness pass through me, I don't let it, like, move, then, you know, that night my kids are gonna be like, “Why is he so pissed at us?” And it's gonna be because I didn't cry four hours ago.

[00:18:55] Chris Duffy:
Can I ask you just, like, on a technical level, like if someone's listening to this and they're a parent and they're dealing with their own grief, whether it's of a child or a friend, or a parent, what, whatever, it's, if they're dealing with their own grief and they're trying to figure out how to talk to their kids about it, like how do you technically do that with your kids?

Like how, what kind of thing do you say? What kind of space do you create? Like, what kind of questions do you ask them? What's the, like, technical piece of doing that for you?

[00:19:18] Michael Cruz Kayne:
That's a great question. I first would say, in like huge capital letters, italics, bold, underlined, maybe even like orange Comic Sans, I am not an expert on this subject.

But what we did was just talk about it whenever it came up. So my friend gave us a book that I'm now forgetting the name of, I want to say it's called Sargent’s Heaven, which is a book about a child who's died. It's a children's book. So like that's a tool to try and like help your kids understand what's happening there.

We celebrate Fisher Day, which is like the day that he died. We try and do something that's like for the community and spend some family time together and talk about, you know, whatever's on our minds. But really it is just being open to the feelings that my wife and I have and you know, it's not just like dumping them on our kids. We try and find a way to express it in a way that a child can understand.

When my kid was in third grade, a girl in his class called him a slur for, for gay people. And he was like, “What does this word mean?” And I was like, “Oh, well, it's like, it's like a way of making people who are gay feel terrible about themselves.” And he's like, “What are gay people?” And then I was like, “Oh shit, okay, here we go. I'm gonna try and explain this to him.” And I was like, “Okay. So sometimes like mommy and daddy, it's like a man and a woman, but sometimes it's a man and a man,” and he's like, “Oh, like Uncle Todd?” and I'm like, “Yeah.” And he's like, “Great.” And then he goes away and starts playing.

Like, I have prepared in my mind that when I say this thing to this kid, he'll never recover from it, because that's what I've been taught. What I've been taught is “How will you ever explain being gay to a child? It will ruin them forever.” But really the kid’s, like, he learns in 5,000 new things every day.

So to be like, some people are gay, he's like, “Great, I'll put that with 6+6=12.” Like, that's just one of the facts in the world. And so I do feel like, with death, it's like people live, and then they stop living. That's one of the things that's in the world with all the other things.

[00:21:29] Chris Duffy:
We'll be right back with more from Michael Cruz Kayne in just a minute, but first, a few quick ads.


[00:21:44] Chris Duffy:
On today's episode, we've been talking with Michael Cruz Kayne about his experience dealing with the loss of his son. But for years that loss was not something that Michael talked about publicly. It wasn't something many people even knew about him unless they knew him pretty well. But that all changed one day when Michael decided to tweet about what grief is really like. Here's another clip from his podcast: A Good Cry.

[00:22:06] Michael Cruz Kayne:
Everyone who has ever grieved has a three-dimensional story to tell full of details like those. How do I know? Well, after not talking about Fisher with anyone other than my wife for, I dunno, 10 years, I tweeted about my grief and how much I wanted to talk about it.

I went to bed, and when I woke up, the tweets had gone viral. Twitter named them tweets of the year. I was interviewed for newspapers. I was interviewed for TV shows, but more importantly, thousands of people responded with their stories of grief, all kinds of people: politicians, priests, pornographers, all other P words.

They felt like they had been keeping their grief inside, too. And one of the very few universalizing things in our lives remains the most isolating, and that's crazy, and it sucks. So let's change it.

[00:22:55] Chris Duffy:
So Michael, one of the ways that you've been trying to change that and to bring these conversations more out in the open has been to start talking about Fisher and death in general on stage in your comedy.

And now obviously, that's not really a subject that many people associate with comedy, but it can be. So what are the moments that have surprised you in trying to write comedy about your grief and that you've been able to find laughs in on stage?

[00:23:17] Michael Cruz Kayne:
I would say that they are the ways in which we've been conditioned to deal with it and the failures that people have when they try to talk about it for the first time. Like there are so many… What are they called? Like condolence cards for a child. You will see some of the most horrific cards you can possibly imagine. Whatever that job is at Hallmark, like that job's going to an intern. You know what I mean? Like be like, nobody wants, like the guy writing pumpkin cards is stoked.

[00:23:50] Chris Duffy:

[00:23:50] Michael Cruz Kayne:
Like he… That’s, that's the job you want for life. He's like “Another, another pun about ghosts? No problem.” But, like, the people who are stuck writing those cards have no clue what they're doing. Or you talked about not comparing, like, our stories, right? Like you, you're dealing with chronic illness in your family is not exactly the same as the, the death of my child. But there are also people, people trying to relate who don't have anything to relate to, is also very funny.

[00:24:18] Chris Duffy:

[00:24:18] Michael Cruz Kayne:
Like, you know, oh yeah. You're like, “I had a goldfish.” And you're like, “Well, okay. That's not the same.” You’re… “I’m sorry, your goldfish died.” “Oh no, he didn't die. He's just sick.” It's like that kind of—

[00:24:27] Chris Duffy:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

[00:24:29] Michael Cruz Kayne:
It’s like, because the life experiences are so different between me and almost every single one of my friends in that particular regard, everybody's nice, but sometimes the shit they say, you're like, wow. It's unbelievable that the closest analog to this thing that happened in my life is your pet is ill.

[00:24:48] Chris Duffy:
Is there a piece of advice that you got about dealing with grief or loss that is like, stands out as absolutely horrendously bad advice?

[00:24:54] Michael Cruz Kayne:
I mean, I would say the, the most common things that people say a lot is like with love, they say with complete love, “He’s in a better place.” I don't love that. Or, “It’ll be better soon. It's for the best.”

What is that thing that's like, “God gives the most burden to the soldiers who can handle it?” That's definitely not the quote, but like something like that. Yeah. I think there's, there's so many aphorisms that are the bedrock of how society deals with grief that are so dumb and bad. Um, and I think it's you do your best to, uh, just avoid them just as a person who's been through it.

[00:25:41] Chris Duffy:
I imagine that now people do come to you and they're like, “Hey, like this horrible thing just happened. Help me out. What is the grief starter pack?”

[00:25:48] Michael Cruz Kayne:
Okay. Yeah. So again, we're going back to the huge disclaimer. This is just what I wish I had done. But again, everybody's different and everybody's tragedy is at a different depth and width and length and everything.

One is talk about it or find a way to express it somehow so that it's not something that you are keeping to yourself. I was… I mean, obviously lucky that I had my wife and we talked about it all the time, but the greatest gift that that Twitter thread gave me, and I'm not telling everybody to tweet about their tragedy, is that it preloaded all the people who read that thread with the information that this had happened to me and that made it so that I didn't have to surprise them with it later on because it is, it's very hard to talk to people about it and just prepare yourself for that difficulty that, like, the best people in your life do not have the capacity to help you with this.

As kind as they are, as giving as they are, as much as they want to be there for you, if they haven't felt something like this, they're not gonna know. They're gonna disappoint you. And I guess I would say, like, prepare yourself for that. If this podcast were 50 hours long and all I did was take you through every single second that happened between the moment my son died and now you still wouldn't understand. It can't be understood.

You have to sort of lower your expectation of the world with love and go like, “I will be misunderstood in this area, but I'm going to try to be understood.” For me, that helps a lot. It helped immensely when I started talking about it and people who, there were tons of people who had no clue what the hell they were talking about, who in all kindness tried to reach out to me, and that, that didn't hurt me.

It didn't help really, but didn't hurt. But then there were also all these people who secretly had stories like mine, and perversely, like, their sadness made me feel better. Sadder actually, but better at the same time. And, and the other thing I would say is that the bottomlessness of it will end or you will learn how to fall. Oh my God. Is that the title of a book that I'm gonna have to write now?

[00:28:30] Chris Duffy:
That's a great book. I, I, I feel like that's really profound. Actually I, I would love for you to talk a little bit more about two of those ideas that you just brought up. The idea that like, you felt better and sadder at the same time and then that there's just something about the shape of the bottomless that changed.

[00:28:46] Michael Cruz Kayne:
So like, if anyone finds that the responses to the thread are devastating. Tons of it are like, you know, “Thank you so much for sharing this”, blahblahblah, et cetera. But a lot of them are also like, you know, “My niece drowned in a pool.” “My dad died from ALS.” All, all this stuff. And as someone who had sort of operated on this assumption that I had this special sadness that no one else knew anything about, finding out that there were thousands of people who had that same feeling, who were like, “It's, it's just me. I never talk about my, my other son who died. I never talk about my grandfather in a car crash,” or whatever.

Even though, like, piling those stories on, you're crying as you're reading them, there is an element of like, “Oh, right, I am part of humanity.” I think it served me in a way to feel special in my sadness, but once you, like, open this door into this, you know, like Varsity Depression Club or whatever of, like, people who have felt something that the other people haven't felt, you're like, “Oh this, this club is actually limitless.”

It's a weird relief. Just to talk about one other aspect of that, it was intolerable, the pain after he died for, I don't remember how long, for a long time. And now there are long stretches where I don't have any pain, like there's not pain. So when I watch a movie about a dad whose son is sick and he'll do anything to make him better, and I start crying, it feels weirdly good. It's like, I, I miss this sadness because it reminds me of my son.

[00:30:38] Chris Duffy:
I've heard a lot of people talk about how sadness is a reminder of the depth of your love and that you care that much about someone. There's a, a, a therapist who I really like, her, her name's Jordana Jacobs, and she talks a lot about how we can only really love other people who are here with us right now when we acknowledge explicitly our own mortality and their mortality, that we only really love people when we realize that we don't have them forever, and that the illusion that we're gonna have this person forever, it it, it's inherently false. Right? So I wonder how that changed the way you think about being in love with your wife and how that changed the way that you love your other children.

[00:31:15] Michael Cruz Kayne:
Well, one thing I can say is that Fisher’s death, in terms of my marriage, forged us together in a way that is totally can't be undone. No one was there except for us.

[00:31:34] Chris Duffy:

[00:31:35] Michael Cruz Kayne:
In terms of my kids, I think it has made me love them more than I otherwise would have. But I honestly don't know. Like, because this is just what I have. Other parents love their kids a, a real fucking lot. So I, I don't know that, I don't know that I can compete with them.

[00:31:56] Chris Duffy:
Is there a way in which comedy has like shaded all this or helped you or is that kind of just incidental because that's how you process things?

[00:32:01] Michael Cruz Kayne:
There is a way in which it has helped me and that is that through doing the show that I'm working on, there is so much bullshit around grief and how we, like, wall it off. I'd like to think that my son would've been funny, and so it feels like all, all of this is a way of keeping him alive. For me, comedy is the way in which I've been able to express it the most, and that I feel like it has resonated with people the most, because they're not used to seeing things that are profoundly sad, presented through the lens of someone who is fucked up like me, who looks at a horrible situation and goes, “Okay, this is incredibly sad, but also kind of funny that that guy said that, right?”

[00:32:56] Chris Duffy:
Can you give us an example of some of those? Like I, I love the, you have the one moment of like the business card from…

[00:33:00] Michael Cruz Kayne:
I think what we're referring to is at the funeral home where we had the service for our son, there was a receipt that they gave us at the end and the receipt at the bottom of it said, “Thank you. Come again.”

And I just remember getting that receipt—thank you, come again—and being like, “This is fucking insane.” It's an insane thing. I'm sure just like, that's just what comes on every receipt. But you would think the funeral home would be a little more sensitive. So there's like, there's just, there's so many things like that.

[00:33:35] Chris Duffy:
One thing that I'm also curious about is so much of the, like hesitance to talk about death and loss and, and tragedy comes from kind of a particular strain of North American society and, and culture. You are half-Jewish. You are half Filipino. I'm also half-Jewish. And one thing that I've really appreciated about Judaism is that there's just like, there's some rules about what you do when someone dies, right?

It's like, okay, you go to your house, people are gonna come by, they're gonna keep coming by for multiple days of the week. They're gonna bring food. Like, you don't have to make a plan. People are gonna be there for the first period. I think that that really helps. And, and I wonder if being part of both of those cultures gave you any kind of like special insight into, to things that helped or, or were useful as you were going through this?

[00:34:17] Michael Cruz Kayne:
I would like to say yes, but unfortunately, I think that as a result of whatever the Americanization of my ancestry, as my family's assimilated here, I don't practice Judaism in any way really. I was bar mitzvah-ed, but I don't, I don't really know anything about it. You know, I'm attached to my Filipino heritage, but really not as profoundly as I would like to be.

I mean, as a result of those, of like the tenuousness of those ties when this happened, I wish I had had some ritual to like guide me through like the, you know, Shiva or something that's like, it would've taken me much faster to that concept of “You are not alone in this.” If there had been a ritual to participate in that made me feel like, “Oh, right, I'm gonna now say every day this prayer that has been said over every single Jew who has ever died in the history of time.” It doesn't allow you to believe you are alone, right? I think something like that could have helped me, but I didn't know how to avail myself of that at that time.

[00:35:35] Chris Duffy:
Final question.

[00:35:34] Michael Cruz Kayne:

[00:35:35] Chris Duffy:
What is one way that you, yourself are trying to be a better human right now?

[00:35:37] Michael Cruz Kayne:
One way that I am trying to be better right now… I mean, this is very selfish but I am trying to sleep more. I don't sleep enough, which contributes to me frequently feeling unwell and also having a bad attitude. And when I sleep, I am so much better. And I think that's like just not emphasized enough in life. And also to just talk about our marriage, when we had newborns, I mean, we're not sleeping at all.

But then every day it's just like, we both have the worst attitude. We're so mad at each other about shit that we absolutely do not care about. If you go to sleep that night and sleep for eight hours, the next day is like a honeymoon. I know that whatever, 245% of marriages end in divorce.

[00:36:35] Chris Duffy:
I think that's the actual stat. Yeah.

[00:36:37] Michael Cruz Kayne:
I think you could save most of those if you were just like, all right, you know what, it's 8:00 PM, we’re both going to sleep right now, and then we will talk about, we'll talk about this in the morning.

[00:36:45] Chris Duffy:
Yeah. I've always thought that the worst marriage advice is never go to sleep angry. I'm like, “No, no. If you get angry, immediately go to sleep.” That's what you need to do. It's the exact opposite.

[00:36:51] Michael Cruz Kayne:
The only marriage advice you need is go to sleep, period. Forget angry, whatever. Yeah.

[00:36:58] Chris Duffy:
You don't even need the, if you're, if you're angry. Well, Michael, thank you so much for talking. It's been such a pleasure to have you on the show.

And, and I just wanna say, you know, I have known you as such a smart and funny and creative comedian, but, you're also such, like, a person who radiates love and care, and I admire that so much. It's truly, it's something that I really aspire to.

[00:37:16] Michael Cruz Kayne:
Oh, thanks, Chris. That's a really nice thing to say. Thank you.

[00:37:24] Chris Duffy:
That is it for this episode of How to Be a Better Human, a very, very big thank you to today's guest, Michael Cruz Kayne. You can listen to his podcast, A Good Cry wherever you get podcasts. You can also find more information about Michael's standup and his solo show Sorry For Your Loss online at That's Michael C-R-U-Z-K-A-Y-N-E. Michael Cruz Kayne. I'm your host Chris Duffy, and you can find me at, which includes my weekly newsletter full of jokes and laughs, and live show dates, and a lot more.

This podcast, How to Be a Better Human, is brought to you on the TED Side by Anna Phelan, Jimmy Gutierrez, Julia Dickerson, and Erica Yuen, who all hope that you come again soon.

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