Now Or Never

My best friend died suddenly. How telling jokes has helped me grieve

Jessica Seburn's best friend April died suddenly and mysteriously. Afterwards, Seburn turned to comedy to help her move forward and make sense of it all.
Jessica (right) and her best friend April (left). April died suddenly, and Jessica has channelled her grief into comedy (Jessica Seburn)

By Jessica Seburn as told to Now or Never

Here's the first joke I ever told on stage:

The good news is that I've lost 15 pounds! (Cue audience politely clapping.) Yeah, I mean, I stopped eating because my best friend died... So, just three more friends until I reach my goal weight.

Yep. That's the first joke. I told it about five months after my best friend April died suddenly and mysteriously when we were 25. 

Jessica, April, and their friend Kristen as kids. (Jessica Seburn)

I remember telling April how I was thinking about doing comedy — this was when she wasn't feeling well. It was a fairly new thought of mine, a new dream. She immediately said: "That's a great idea, you should do it."

I had been scribbling jokes in a book for a few months leading up to her death. After she died, I searched around in the gloom for little sparks of humour. Granted, not many audience members could relate to gut-punching gallows humour, but the ones that did relate always spoke to me after shows. 

Jessica performing stand up. (Jessica Seburn)

There's that old saying: "You've got nothing to lose." That felt true after losing her. I was a wrecking ball of dark humour. It was the only thing that was getting me through hell. Even then, I wouldn't say it was the healthiest coping mechanism. But it was something to hold on to.

Not everyone appreciates me joking about death, or writing about things that nobody really wants to talk about. But April's death motivated me to make more of my life. 
Since April's death, Jessica has performed at open mics and comedy festivals across Winnipeg. (Jessica Seburn)

I hope that my comedy gives people permission to laugh at the things that haunt them. That's what I try to do with my humour. 

If I were to talk to April today, I would say:

"Hi April. I hope you know that I've been trying my best. Even though life looks very different on this side, I think it's pretty beautiful, hilarious, and weird. I feel like I lost my laugh the day you died, but, I'm working really hard to find it again. And even though I don't have even ten per cent of the motivation you had in your life, I'm working really hard to get there. I hope you're proud of me."

April and Jessica, goofing around for the camera. (Jessica Seburn)

This interview has been edited and condensed. To hear the full piece, click the 'listen' button above. Seburn also wrote a book about grieving her friend April, it's called The Corner Chip