An American in Mourning

by Pat Fortunato

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 all the musicals in the world, the worst (because it’s the best) has to be An American in Paris.

Little did I know.

A short time after I became a widow, a good friend suggested we go to dinner and a play. I hadn’t the energy to make reservations or get tickets myself, nor the heart to say no. And since she did all the planning, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Perhaps I should have.

Dinner was fine and 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. The show 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. In fact, I read recently that nothing is as embarrassing as another person’s sorrow, and 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 onto 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 rode home with me even though I live downtown and she’s an uptown girl and didn’t say a word as I wept all the way.

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

Safely in my apartment, where I could weep and wail to my heart’s content, I stood for a moment inside the door, and suddenly stopped crying. Because at that very moment something occurred to me—something actually funny. Something about the doorman.

“What is this woman like,” the poor guy 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 over six years later, things have gotten better. How much better? Well, that’s another story.

By the way, if you’re grieving —or lovelorn—or even if you’ve just had a really bad blind date—don’t even think about seeing any revival of An American in Paris. But if you must, take my advice and bring along a friend. And plenty of Kleenex.

After working as a writer, editor, and publisher, I formed my own company in 1984, optimistically naming it Mega Books. When I sold the company and retired, I started a blog called I Can’t Believe I’m Not Bitter, and now do everything I can to stay that way—including being a member of LP2.