Richard E. Grant: grieving people ‘want to talk about the person who is gone’

Like many, I first saw Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me. He was an utter delight, both onscreen and off, and his unadulterated joy made the 2019 awards season fun to watch. While that was an undoubtedly high moment for him, sadly the next year his wife was diagnosed with cancer. By the time of her passing in September 2021, he and Joan Washington, a dialect coach, had been married for 38 years. To help process his loss, Richard has compiled his diary entries into a memoir to celebrate the span of their life together. He recently spoke with the LA Times to talk about A Pocketful of Happiness, available in the US on August 1:

How he got started keeping a diary, it’s a doozy: When Richard E. Grant was 10 years old, he fell asleep in the back seat of the car. Upon awakening, he saw his mother and a friend of his father’s having sex in the front seat. This was obviously traumatic, so Grant, having no one he could talk to about it, started keeping a diary. It is a habit that Grant, 66, has maintained ever since.

Why he especially wanted to keep a diary during his wife’s cancer battle: “Your memory forgets stuff and tricks you, and I wanted to have a record of every day and every stage we went through together,” says Grant, whose new book, “A Pocketful of Happiness,” charts those terrible times but also explores their 38 years together. “My diary was a way of trying to hold on to and capture all that.”

On continuing to talk about and to his late wife: “People who are grieved want to talk about the person who is gone. But I don’t want to talk about the suffering part without the other 38 years” And later Grant said, “It’s like how I was so grieved by that idea of not being able to share my day with her in all the detail [telling her about details like]: Is that an Edward Hopper behind you and a baseball bat on the wall? But then I thought that after 38 years I know what her response would be… So it’s still an ongoing conversation. Please know that I’m not saying out loud, ‘Oh I said to Stuart…’ but in my head it’s still there and I find that a very reassuring way of dealing with this loss.”

None of his original entries were edited: “In a diary you don’t know what’s coming tomorrow, and that’s what gives it the immediacy and authenticity and value. Nothing was revisited afterwards in the diary entries. And when I was seesawing backward in time I also relied on diaries and our letters rather than trying to fashion something fancier out of it. I think you would sniff that out very fast.”

‘Joy overwhelmed the sadness’: “I found an old biscuit tin that I thought had a piece of Christmas cake left in it, but I found a stash of letters that Joan and I had written to each other. Finding that cake tin stuffed with letters, I could hear her voice was so powerful. It was absolutely golden. I was so thrilled, and, of course, heartsore, but joy overwhelmed the sadness.

[From LA Times]

What a dear heart. He’s so personable in the way he speaks, and I bet that will also be true of his writing. I’m looking forward to reading the memoir, though I know some parts will be tough. I mean, his story about the cake tin already sent me to pieces. Looking back at the timeline, it’s crazy to think he was busy promoting Loki when his wife was so ill. Was that maybe a relief, just to have a little bit of focus on something lighter? However he felt, I’m sure he took candid notes in his diary. Hug the ones you love, you never know what’s ahead.

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37 Responses to “Richard E. Grant: grieving people ‘want to talk about the person who is gone’”

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  1. seaflower says:

    Having recently lost both parents, I understand when he talks about joy outweighing the sadness when you look back at the entirety of your time together.

    As Vision said, “What is grief, if not love persevering?”

    • Sydneygirl says:

      Condolences to you. I just lost my Dad in April, and my Mum last September. The grief is still very raw.

      I like what he says here, particularly about finding joy in the memories, but also feeling heartsore. It’s so true.

      • seaflower says:

        Hugs and condolences to you too. I agree re the finding joy. I always try to remember the smiles and the laughter.

      • twoz says:

        My deepest sympathies to you both. I lost my Mum last year and the first anniversary of her death coincided with the 30th of my father’s (one day and 29 years apart).
        Like you said, it’s finding the joy amidst the grief – at Mum’s funeral, rather than having a celebrant or minister who’d never met her, I led the eulogy and invited people to stand up and share their memories – there were as many fond chuckles as there were tears.

  2. Lindy79 says:

    I would HIGHLY recommend following him on Instagram. He’s been so open about his grief and his journey on there I have been in tears numerous times.
    He is an utter joy

    • Haus of Cats says:

      I read a great quote somewhere that said They are not gone who live in our hearts and mind. It’s comforting to think that way. I had a dear friend who passed in 1995. He will be in my thoughts for the rest of my life.

      Love REG since Henry and June.

    • Valerie says:

      As soon as I saw the post about his mom, I started to cry. I felt his loss so acutely, and he has been so open about losing his wife… The videos he posts are really wonderful in their own way. Not many people are willing to be that vulnerable, and I’m sure there is a lot more that we don’t see, but I am grateful for what he chooses to share.

  3. SarahCS says:

    I heard/read a phrase somewhere about no-one being truly gone while someone speaks their name.

    I couldn’t agree with him more and part of the challenge can be that when you’re deep in grief sometimes people want to avoid the topic for fear of upsetting you.

    • Haus of Cats says:

      I meant to reply to you, Sarahcs. My comment is above.

    • Emme says:

      @SarahCS, reminds me of a Thomas Hardy (brilliant poet) poem I read, Her Immortality, in which are the lines
      “By living me you keep alive,
      By dying you slay me.”
      Read that in school a lifetime ago and have never forgotten it.

    • HeatherC says:

      There’s a beautiful song by Disturbed called “Hold Onto Memories,” the chorus is like that
      And hold on to memories
      Hold on to every moment
      To keep them alive
      The world’s greatest tragedy
      Souls who are not remembered
      Cannot survive

  4. Wow. What a truly lovely human being. I will be getting and reading the book.

  5. Ponsby says:

    I follow Grant on tik tok, and he has a great series of perspectives on how much people avoid surviving spouses after the loss of a partner because they just can’t sit with the grief and loss. He talks about seeing a couple that he and his wife were friends with for decades and how they literally cross the street to avoid him because they can’t think of anything to say and are uncomfortable with that level of grief. It’s crushing, but I think it’s such a real experience and admire him for shedding a light on it.

    • Penguin says:

      Just commented the same below before I saw your comment. Broke my heart to read that from him, but it’s incredibly common.

  6. manda says:

    well he sounds delightful. I think I only know him from playing a creep on downton abbey, and now I feel bad for associating him with being a creep!

    • twoz says:

      Oh, you’re in for a treat, discovering his various roles. Aside from the ones mentioned, he played a wonderful Scarlet Pimpernel, as well as one of the servants on Gosford Park. And I see there are a lot I have to catch up on as well!

  7. Midnight@theOasis says:

    A great piece of advice I received after losing my husband was “Allow yourself time to be able to smile at the memories of Dwight rather than hurt for the loss.” That was very helpful in processing my grief and now the memories bring me immense joy.

    • aang says:

      This is so true. When I lost my baby brother (he was 35, but being 10 years younger than me he will forever be my baby brother) I couldn’t bring myself to talk about him for a while. Even thinking about him caused overwhelming pain. But now its been 5 years and I can talk about him with joy and celebrate all the light he brought to my world. His loss still hurts but now the memories bring smiles and laughter more than tears.

  8. Tarte au Citron says:

    I love REG and he must be protected at all costs. <3

    I have a copy of his diary "With Nails" at home. He is a delightful, charming read. 🙂

  9. Twin Falls says:

    The love he has for his wife is just beautiful. He’s right about memory playing tricks on you. Journaling is a gift to yourself.

  10. Lady Baden-Baden says:

    “Like many, I first saw Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me.”

    Wait, what?! Is this true?! No Withnail and I?! He’s National Treasure status in the UK!

    • Granger says:

      This surprised me too! And Bram Stoker’s Dracula (which was turdy in so many parts, but every scene with Richard E. Grant was a joy to watch), Henry and June, The Age of Innocence, Gosford Park, etc. He’s had a long and amazing career.

      • Lady Baden-Baden says:

        I have a soft spot for Jack and Sarah too!

      • lolalola says:

        Help! We’ve gone on vacation by mistake! oh dear gawd I love WIthnail and I. It just gets better with age.

      • ellyn says:

        Even in very stacked casts, I remember Richard E. Grant’s onscreen presence in L.A. STORY (1991) and in THE PLAYER (1992). Having heard his recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, I love how he owns his eccentricities, and it’s obvious that he has a lot of solid friendships among his many well-known costars.

    • Penguin says:

      “Oh, my boys, my boys, we’re at the end of an age. We live in a land of weather forecasts and breakfasts that set in. Shat on by Tories, shovelled up by Labour. And here we are, we three, perhaps the last island of beauty in the world.” Richard Griffiths was solid gold in that film.

  11. Shawna says:

    “In a diary you don’t know what’s coming tomorrow, and that’s what gives it the immediacy and authenticity and value.” – That’s something movies can’t give us. There are a few exceptions (when the production has a lot of unscripted areas), but I can see that a film start would especially value the immediacy of real life.

  12. HeatherC says:

    I lost my dad in June 2020. It hasn’t gotten easier and I love to talk about him, he was a character! Sometimes I think my desire to talk has outstripped other people’s capacity to listen, which is sad for me.

    • Bola says:

      Me too. I lost my dad August 2020 and I just want to talk about him always. It makes me feel more connected with him, I feel he lives on in my words. I lost my mom the following year in September. Same thing with her.

  13. Nicegirl says:

    Sending loving support and a heap of air hugs 🤗 to all who are struggling with grief. You are not alone.

    How lovely is Richard ☀️

  14. TOK says:

    I read “A Pocketful of Happiness” (via Richard’s narration on Audible) earlier this year, and it’s just as moving as you might imagine. What a love this couple had, and I came away wishing I could have known Joan. And it’s enjoyable as a pure celeb bio too, with fun details about REG’s wide-ranging career and his love for Barbra Streisand and plenty of gossipy goodness–some of it quite interesting and none of it mean.

  15. callahan says:

    Beautifully stated. Just yesterday I watched a clip of John Schneider speaking on his grief after the death of his own wife—his eyes were welling and the reporter apologized for bringing it up, & John explained that it was ok to cry—he & i share a birthday and it just feels great to see a ‘strong man’ (in an early 20th century way) expressing emotion that way, and celebrating the life of his counterpart .

  16. BW says:

    I first saw Richard E. Grant as The Scarlet Pimpernel with Jane Seymour.

    You must watch the Red Nose Comedy Special where he plays one of the incarnations of The Doctor, called “Doctor Who: The Curse of Fatal Death.” It goes through a bunch of Doctors.

  17. February Pisces says:

    His mother also died a few weeks ago and he posted a video that day. It was very bittersweet. He explained that they had a complicated relationship. I really admired his honesty, he didn’t sugar coat things, but he wasn’t angry at her either. It was like he had reached a place of acceptance.

    Anyway Richard is a treasure for sure and must be protected at all costs.

  18. Jaded says:

    He’s so spot on about still wanting to share day-to-day stuff with his wife. I lost my dearest BFF of almost 50 years in 2021 and I still think about her every day. We were so much a part of each others lives, shared everything, helped each other out in so many ways. I miss that connection, I hear her voice in my head with her funny comments and unique laugh, I dream about her.

    REG was amazing in Withnail and I, one of my all-time favourite movies…the dish-washing scene comes to mind:

    Withnail: Right, you fucker, I’m going to do the washing up!
    Marwood: No, no, you can’t. It’s impossible, I swear it. I’ve looked into it. Listen to me, listen to me! There are things in there, there’s a tea-bag growing! You haven’t slept in sixty hours, you’re in no state to tackle it. Wait till the morning, we’ll go in together.
    Withnail: This *is* the morning. Stand aside!
    Marwood: [holding him back] You don’t understand. I think there may be something living in there, I think there may be something alive.
    Withnail: What do you mean? A rat?
    Marwood: It’s possible, it’s possible.
    Withnail: Then the fucker will rue the day!

  19. Valerie says:

    Aw, I love REG. Grief can be such a tricky thing for people to navigate, and it can be uncomfortable from an outsider’s perspective because we’re all so afraid of tripping up and saying the wrong thing. But the truth is, sometimes you don’t have to say anything at all. Just your presence is enough.

    I always let the other person lead. The best thing to do is to offer your condolences when you meet (for the first time after) and then let the conversation go where it may. Sometimes they want to talk about it, and sometimes they want nothing more than to talk about the weather.