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The Mourning After photo

I haven’t had a sip of water in days. I scan the colorful, exotic flowers that fill the twenty eighth floor apartment. The view overlooks the Hudson River in New York City, and the lazy, muddy water adds to the seasickness I already feel.

On this particular late spring day, bagel spreads, caviar, platters of assorted handrolls, delicious desserts and half-filled wine glasses obscure every available surface. A carefully curated playlist reminiscent of a ’69 Woodstock lineup plays softly, almost cheerfully, in the background.

Guests sip cocktails and wines from the extensive collection displayed on the kitchen counter; one enthusiastic guest has appointed himself the bartender. Men look dapper in their suits and ties while the women show off their unique interpretations of today’s theme: all-black everything.

From the corner, I observe the festivities through my waterproof mascara-covered lashes. I am coasting, barely existing.

I close my eyes to shut out all the people.

In my mind, I’m sitting in front of an old projector in a softly lit room filled with nothing but a white couch and a wooden stand holding up a yellowed screen. Shutter sounds begin to click and tap out an odd pulse inside the vintage machine, and I watch as stock images come to life. I observe the world from a distance, watching myself stand like a disregarded extra on a dim stage – as if, in determination to spotlight the leading lady, the director has simply forgotten I exist.

This feeling is familiar.

I know I’m here, but I don’t feel like I’m here. And I can’t say that out loud because I know that sounds dumb.

The doctor prescribed Zoloft when I was in high school, but the drug made me feel disoriented, nauseous and drowsy. Now, I feel the familiar disorientation as I recognize my deep disinterest in the conversations around me.

I despise it.

I was on Zoloft for six months before dumping the remaining pills into the toilet. A voice in the back of my head reminded me I was supposed to wean myself off slowly. Gritting my teeth against the already-rising feelings of withdrawal, I flushed. I frankly didn’t care and didn’t think I should be taking it in the first place.

But this time, my reality is the culprit, not the drugs. There is nothing I can flush down the toilet.

Sure, I feel lucky scanning the room and recognizing friends, old and new. I watch as guests passionately embrace and catch up on the past few days, months and years.

It’s bizarre to see all the smiling faces as if they weren’t scrunched in sadness mere hours before.

What a joy, I think. Really putting the fun in funeral.

The scene confirms my suspicions: everyone has already forgotten the reason they’re here.

Maybe they forced their tears earlier so they wouldn’t be known as the friend who didn’t cry. Maybe they couldn’t help the chance to make the service all about their own faked feelings. Maybe, and the biggest maybe, they were able to compartmentalize their grief and enjoy themselves even though they were also sad. That thought makes me the angriest of all.

I stare at a platter of sushi. Nothing looks appetizing. 

I wonder how long I won’t want to eat. My mouth twitches. It’s not a smile, only a crack in my stoicism. There’s a silver lining: maybe I’ll become skinny as hell while I grieve. My body doesn’t feel hungry, but my mind knows I haven’t had an actual meal in days. I clutch my untasted glass of red wine as if it’s some sort of compromise between my grief and desire to not completely starve.

Too many guests are trying to make eye contact, their bodies slowly gravitating toward me – or maybe it’s toward the food. I duck my head, letting hair fall over half my face like a shield. Keeping my head down, I swim through the sea of noise and chaos, retreating to another quiet corner.

Even as the host, I drift unnoticed through the soundbites of conversation on my way:

“Is that tweed jacket from the new Spring Chanel collection?”

“…met on Hinge, but we had three amazing dates. Three dates! I can’t remember the last time I spiraled this hard.”   

“But my boss told me to expect a raise by the New Year. If he doesn’t, I’ll quit and take my talents elsewhere. I know what I’m—”

“Have you heard her without autotune? Sounds more like screeching than singing.”

“Is this okay to post from last night? Or is it too thirst trap-y?”

A large arm reaches out from the crowd, dragging me bodily from my detachment. My glass of wine sloshes onto the beige shag carpet. Tightness closes around my jaw.

“Hey now. Why are you crying? It’s a shiva, baby!” Booms a familiar family friend, mid-fifties. “Don’t be sad, now!” He smells like whiskey, and the musty aroma of a cigar lingers around him as he tips back a short glass with amber liquid. I can’t stand him.

I’m not crying, you moron. These eyes are bone-dry.

I’m uncertain if this can even be considered a legitimate shiva. Typically, a shiva takes place over a week, but we’re only doing two days. Our Jewish practices were never exemplary. I dropped out of Hebrew school at eleven years old because I had “way too much homework.”

As I wait for him to finish laughing, I nudge the puddle of red wine on the carpet with my black faux leather ballet flat. I hate my outfit. I know that’s probably odd coming from a New Yorker who was raised with a strict color pallet of black. But my black dress feels too boxy and conservative, and nothing screams bleak more than a six-year-old pair of flats filled with opaque black tights. Does anyone even wear opaque black tights anymore to anything except funerals?

“Life is to be celebrated, not mourned,” the moron continues. “Take a load off and have a drink. Baruch Hashem!”

I’m not sure which is worse: being called out for crying at a shiva when I’m not, or realizing that, if I had in fact been shedding tears, I would have been criticized for it. His arm reaches towards me again as my eyes roll to the back of my skull.

What a shitshow.

He wraps his warm arm around me and suffocates me in his embrace. He kisses me on the top of my head as if I’m three and then lights up a perfectly rolled, thick joint. He raises his hand, the smoldering tip smoking slightly.

“To Diane! A great mother, and a great friend.”

I wince hearing my mom’s name spoken so casually, almost joyfully by this man who’s clearly only here because he figured there’d be free alcohol and food. I don’t care to light up a joint with anyone, let alone this troll who so obviously wants to turn this shiva into a rager.

Entering the Twilight zone, if there was ever a feeling of it, this sure as hell is it. Mere hours ago, this same crew all sat inside an inconveniently-located Long Island funeral home. Mere hours ago, they’d acted sad.

Searching the guests’ faces again, I wonder if they all must be suffering from amnesia. Or maybe I’d mistaken their earlier grief for mere annoyance. Ninety-nine percent of the guests live in Manhattan and had to coordinate a caravan to even reach Long Island. Maybe none of them miss my mom at all.

Climbing the stairs toward my childhood bedroom, I close the world behind me. I sprawl out onto the floor, staring blankly at the same ceiling that has witnessed every stage of my adolescence since age ten. My face radiates heat, mimicking the symptoms of sunburn. Everything slows and the room flexes around me; suddenly the only noise is the sound of my own heartbeat hammering rhythmically in my eardrums.

The room is smaller than usual – the walls closing in on me like a trick elevator in a fun house.

No, everything remains the same.

The same white headboard, white shag rug, white desk with the Mac computer desktop I got as a birthday present in eighth grade. A pink bean bag from the classic early 2000s furniture store PBteen is resting on the floor. The green dresser with six unique, colorful knobs. Photographs filled with candid, smiling memories of friends. Candles that only have a quarter-inch of wick left. The participation medals that hang on my closet doors from my subpar performance in gymnastics and dance.

It seems strange that, even with mom gone, life on this side exists as it always has. I picture each item in my room vanishing into thin air. The guilt pangs through me like a sharp blade. It seems so wrong. All of it. How does anything have the audacity to remain unchanged – unaffected – by death?

I close my eyes and the clicks of the vintage projector punctuate the beating of my heart, taking me back to earlier that day.


“Hi Tara? I’m Tina, it’s a shame to meet you for the first time at a funeral. I went to high school with your mom. I saw on Facebook she passed, and I was just so sorry to hear it. She was such a bright light. So funny too. Do you know all the details? I know it was some sort of freak car accident.” The woman leans forward, already smelling slightly of wine, her face a mask of fascination. “I thought I ought to repost the tribute. You know, spread awareness.”

Spread awareness of what, exactly? Why freak accidents are best when they don’t happen to you?

“I hope it’s not one of those situations that could’ve turned out differently if the ambulance got there quick enough.”

What a revelation.

“It’s just so awful, sweetie. You’re so young. Twenty-four years old and already motherless… and I heard you just celebrated your birthday a few weeks ago,” Tina says regretfully, twisting the corners of a dusty tissue that has clearly never wiped a tear.

“Excuse me,” I reply blankly.  

The million-dollar questions: who will show up to your funeral? What will they say in your eulogy? Who’s not going to cry? Who will cry the hardest?

I realize I never asked my mom what she wanted for her funeral. Why would I? A daughter isn’t meant to see her mom off until at least eighty. Isn’t there some sort of unwritten rule about that?

I consider mom looking down and seeing me – her own daughter – dry-eyed as I find my seat, and I feel my sense of emotional failure worsen.

She’s definitely pissed. That much I know. And here lies the beginning of my mental checklist on what I should expect to get in trouble for in the future if we ever meet again. My unshed tears remain a hidden rebellion against the watchful eyes of my mom’s late legacy, a lifetime of constant judgement.

With anticipation hanging in the air, the ceremony begins, and I can’t shake the fact that the Rabbi is simply another player in this twisted charade. From his absurdly thick Soprano-style accent to his perfectly executed, recyclable speech that could plausibly be used for anyone in the world, his portion of the service might as well be stand-up for how well it actually pays tribute to my mom. I’ve never seen this Rabbi, and I assume I can thank my father for hiring an imposter to share this half-hearted collection of meaningless words. I feel anger bubbling up in my stomach.

I indulge it. Right now, anger and hatred are proving more comforting than grief.

My mind meanders while he talks about life and death as if he’s borrowing words from the back cover of a self-help manual.

A true savant.

“Diane was not a PC. She was a Mac computer. A hundred percent user-friendly.”

Dear god.

I almost let out a snort of derision, but somehow even letting out that much emotion feels like a waste of energy. Even so, I cringe internally with every word he speaks. As I cringe, I notice others crying.

Oh, come on.

A drop of sweat drips down my back, and I wish more than anything I could teleport out of here.

I know damn well that if mom was still alive to witness this botched memorial, she would wish she wasn’t.

I sit straight and apathetic as my distraught, highly unique dad makes his way to the podium in his light-blue, transparent aviator sunglasses. Through the lenses, I can see that his eyes are dilated and wandering from weed, and his body moves in exaggerated lethargy, likely the result of his newfound love affair with Xanax. I set my jaw and stare straight ahead.

In and out, Dad. In. And. Out.

“Diane was the greatest wife.”

Here we go.

“The greatest partner.”


“Made every day better than the next.”


“We’re really going to miss her in this world.”

Half a lie.       

A grin I recognize begins forming on his face. He scans the room and my body braces for impact.

            Please do not try to lighten the mood.

“I also want to say that I’m so lucky to have two great daughters with such beautiful, thoughtful friends. They really are all so pretty.”

There he is.

“They’ve been at the house every day since Diane passed, and I gotta say, I’m so lucky to be surrounded by such beautiful women.”

The muscles in my face twitch under the strain of the expression I wear.

My dad ultimately bids an emotional farewell to his wife.

Ex-wife, I correct nearly ten times in my mind as he speaks.

Well, they never legally divorced for reasons forever unclear to me, but they’d been separated on and off well before I can clearly remember. A true modern family. I force my jaw to unclench. I let my eyes close briefly, but I’m not sure if I want to erase or memorize these scenes.


The day after my mom’s passing, I find my dad sitting on the couch in the living room. His eyes, dark and misty, blink a few times as he holds his cell phone. He hangs up on the last person in a surprisingly long list of loved ones we needed to tell about mom’s accident. He lifts his sulking head, and his beady eyes turn on me.

“If this happened when you were younger, I would be out of my mind. I wouldn’t know what to do.”

“Well, if mom were here this would be the moment she would hiss at you and say: you were never there! Lucky for you she’ll never say it again.” I smirk as I meet his furious gaze.

“I’m kidding!”

For the most part.

I don’t know what to say, so I don’t say anything. If he’s looking for additional sympathy for what might have been, then he needs to look elsewhere. I’m too busy feeling numb from what is.

Is it enough to know that he means well?

“Do you need anything?” my dad continues. “Do you need me to go to the drugstore and get you tampons or sanitary napkins?”


I fix my blank, stoic stare on him. The clicking in my mind hitches as it struggles to comprehend his question. “Are you roleplaying being a single dad now? I’m twenty-four, but good looking out.” It sounds sarcastic because it is.

My dad throws up his arms in a sudden avalanche of rage. “I need you to support me during this, okay? I’m doing the best that I can, but you’re still…” he waved his hands, indicating where I sit as if my very existence is the problem. “At least I’m trying to be helpful. I don’t need the attitude. That’s all.” He stalks out of the room.

It’s not that I lost my mother; it’s that my dad lost his wife.

It’s all one big performance.

Places, everyone! Places.



The clicking continues, and I am transported to a younger memory. It’s second grade and I’m stuck in the middle of a tumultuous relationship between two parents. Last week, my dad moved to the other side of Manhattan again, and living solely under my mom’s roof with an older sister who prefers to be around my dad for reasons I don’t understand as a seven-year-old…well, it’s been stressful.

I’m not exactly sure when I started making up stories about my life, creating moving images to run on that old projector screen whenever I closed my eyes. I dreamt up stories of what could’ve been and what could be. Bits and pieces I conjure from my jealousy of my friends’ perfect families.

“Are your parents divorced?” My friend asks in our elementary school bathroom.

“No. Why would you say that?” I scoff.

“Your dad is never at your house when we have a playdate.”

“So what? He works all the time. He also travels the world. He always brings us back presents.” I scramble for an acceptable – no, dazzling – image of my parents. “My dad brings us presents every day after work, and we sit in front of the TV, eat s’mores pop tarts and watch movies until four in the morning. Every night. As a family. It’s so fun, it’s insane. Does your family do that?”

She blinks, amazed, slightly jealous. “No. But that does sound really fun.”

But, even then, of course it was all a lie. A performance to hide the tragic truth.

I couldn’t face the sheer embarrassment of telling her that my dad had moved out or that my household was different. Even life with my mom – the authentic, exuberant mom all my friends loved – is too unpredictable to describe.



And this is why I will not be giving a eulogy.

Lying at a funeral feels worse than lying in the school bathroom. It feels like lying under oath. In fact, it seems to me that a funeral is probably the best place to finally tell the truth.

Sitting in my mom’s service, listening to the lies of the Rabbi and my dad, I just can’t reconcile this retouched image of my mom with the woman I knew so well. Just because someone dies doesn’t mean their flaws are magically forgotten, let alone forgiven.

My mom, my greatest teacher and wildest supporter, had a childlike spirit as she sashayed through the streets of New York City without a care in the world.

“What is life if it’s not fun? Everyone needs to lighten up and bite me!” She’d always say.

If a friend slept over at our home the night before their birthday, my mom made sure to purchase balloons and decorations to ensure my friends felt celebrated and loved. She’d pick me up from school most days with a treat of the day, like chocolate covered strawberries or a cupcake. She let me take a day off school when she sensed I was overwhelmed because “everyone deserves a mental health day.” We’d go make banana chocolate chip pancakes and play board games all day.

“Pancakes and Yahtzee cures all!”

 That version of my mom was joyful and kind – buoyant and colorful. But even as I sit here and listen to the Rabbi make a mess of even her good side, I know it’s only half of the whole, one side of an unpredictable coin.

The other fifty percent of mom stayed hidden from the world. We kept that half a dark secret during her life, and I guess we’re still doing that, even at her funeral.


I first know something is different about my mom when I’m seven years old. I tiptoe downstairs for a glass of water in the middle of the night but stop abruptly in shock at the bottom of the stairs. My neck swivels my head from right to left as I process the chaos in front of me. Furniture is shoved haphazardly across the room. Chairs lay awkwardly on their sides, and blankets, pillows, and Tupperware scatter the floor.

Broken shards of glass twinkle like dangerous glitter. Hunched in the corner of the kitchen between the refrigerator and cutlery drawer, my mom’s wracked sobs make the shattered glass look even more deadly.

“Mom, are you okay? I take a few anxious steps forward.

Her rasping voice lashes back, “None of your damn business. It’s rude to impose when you’re not wanted. Brat. Go away. Now.”

I step back as if slapped. I’m frozen.

In a sudden fury of motion, my mom lurches up. “I said go away, you ungrateful bitch!”

I run.

At the top of the stairs, I run into the bathroom and lock the door. I would’ve preferred to take refuge in my bedroom, but it doesn’t have a lock – my mom doesn’t let me have a lock.

I sit on the cold linoleum with my back to the solid wood of the door. I close my eyes. My heart pounds in my ears. I try to take a few deep, steadying breaths, and the quiet clicking of the projector echoes far away, trying to produce a safer picture.

Whoever is in the kitchen looks exactly like my mom, talks like her too, but it can’t be her. I’ve never met this woman before. This is the moment that forever tunes me into my mom’s erratic behavior. Growing older, I witness her mood darkening, insults becoming more painful, and fights intensifying. 

A few years later, I wake up from harrowing shrieks echo from downstairs.

“They attacked me!” my mom screams beyond the door.

I run out of my room into the living room to find my mom sobbing, sitting at the dining room table.

“What’s going on?” I ask in a deep panic as my dad rushes out of his bedroom. (He moved in, he moved out, and so forth.)

“Three men just broke down the door and attacked me. We need to call the police.”

Tears form in my eyes as I slowly turn to the front door at the same time my dad rushes over to assess the situation.

“Diane, the door is locked.”

“They kicked it down! The door was on the floor.”

“You don’t want to believe me, go figure. Go fuck yourself. Both of you.”

My dad walks over to the kitchen table. He spots something in her hand.

“You took Ambien? How many times are you going to pull something like this before you realize you can’t stay awake and organize the damn cabinets after taking a sleeping pill.”

For the most part, until I reach high school, I get lucky, and my mom hugs me tightly as I hold on for dear life.

Other times, the cruel woman stares coldly out of my mom’s eyes, and I shrink back, terrified. Once I’ve experienced her hatred, trusting her love becomes an impossible struggle, and I find myself wondering if there’s truth in her malicious words.

In fifth grade, I learn about bipolar disorder from watching an episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation. Come to think of it, this show has taught me almost everything I know about what it means to be a teenager. Craig, a fictional character, suffers from depressive episodes, and what I see rings more than one bell.

“Racing mind, impulsive actions, high highs and low lows, combative behavior, emotional instability…”

Check. Check. Check. Check…

At first, I try to secretly use this information to help my mom. When that doesn’t work, I use my knowledge of the disorder as a weapon when my mom is in her moods. I call her crazy, tell her she needs help. Once I throw in the word therapy, there is no coming back.

“Therapy is a great idea. For you,” she snaps back. “You need help. I’ll call your doctor tomorrow. Now leave me alone.”


Within the confines of my teenage haven, I pause the film of the past replaying in my mind. I lean against the wall, still sitting on the floor, my face blank as I try to shut out the noise from the shiva downstairs.

Don’t cry, I remind myself as I look at my pale, tired face, featuring chapped lips and black puffy eye bags. I vaguely wonder what would be released if I surrender to my new reality; the thought frightens me, so I choose to leave the door to my emotions locked.

After being chastised by my dad’s friend for daring to look sad, what else is there to do?

Stop yourself. Don’t release. Lean your head back when you feel the tears to suck them back into your eyeballs. No one wants to deal with that. You don’t want to deal with that. I lean closer to the mirror, disgusted by the dry skin surrounding my lips.

You’re not looking so hot.

I need a sip of water.

Oh well.

I take a drink from the dark green bottle I swiped from the kitchen to replace my spilled wine.

It’s a shiva, baby!

I let the bottle land heavy on the carpeted floor, my hand holding it upright. Heat flushes my cheeks. He said it like someone might say, “It’s Las Vegas, baby!” A chortled admonishment of someone who had the audacity to caution against visiting the slot machines. 

It’s a shiva, baby!

I lay back on the carpet. I wonder what it would feel like to be dead. Not that I want to die by any means, but isn’t everyone just a little bit curious? I want to know what my mom is feeling. I wish I knew what I’m feeling.

Is it possible to reach a meditative state where your mind and body are so disconnected you trick your brain into thinking you’re dead?

My mind begins to spiral.

Maybe the closest you can get is a state of intense peace.

I heard it’s possible to achieve death-like peace when I read about the Opioid crisis. Except the addiction will kill you before you can feel at peace, so it would be difficult to analyze the experience.

What a pickle.

The vintage clicks begin, and my mind wanders to the night before the shiva when the so-called detective sat crammed with my family at our four-person circular glass table in the kitchen. I feel my lungs tighten as the detective on the screen leans towards me.


“Here, I will draw a picture for you to make it make more sense.”

My eyes squint in suspicion.

For me? Feels like he’s singling me out, and it feels like a dig, but okay.

Perhaps it’s my constant blank stares. I’m listening and understanding perfectly well. I just don’t think he’s qualified for his job.

The middle-aged, partially balding detective wears a dark blue button-down with a dark red tie. He flips open a notepad and clicks his pen at least four too many times before beginning to write. He begins to draw what he calls a diagram, but it looks like a “picture” a two-year-old might scribble.

Like I said, not qualified and definitely not “making it make more sense.” 

“This X is your mother’s car. This X is the platform where she points her key card. And this X is the gate.” He leans forward, raising his eyebrows. “What I believe happened is that, while your mom was trying to enter your grandmother’s assisted living complex, she leaned over to tap her entry card and got caught in her car door. She passed out from asphyxiation and was D.O.A.” He says D.O.A. as though it is a punchline in a Law and Order: SVU episode, his face expectant for our impressed reaction.

I guess every actor starts their career on an SVU episode. This one needs more training.

My eyes scan the detective, looking for reassurance that he is at least partially competent. He can barely draw a simple stick figure and uses terms like “D.O.A.” to describe a sudden death to grieving family members. I want a second opinion. In fact, I demand a second opinion because I do not trust this stranger. For all I know, he’s made it up. How does someone get stuck in their own car door?

There’s more to this story. Obviously.

My mind refuses to accept his conclusions. He’s just a half-baked actor like the rest.

My nostrils flare as the detective continues to speak, and the scent of hospital antiseptic with bitter artificial undertones assaults my senses. The smell lingers in the apartment for hours.



The clicking pauses, and the image falters.

I open my eyes. I roll my left wrist three times, followed by my right three times. I remember these movements from when I was younger. I roll each wrist and count to remind myself that I have control of my own body. I look in the mirror.

You are here. This is me. This is me looking in the mirror. This is me touching my face. This is my rug. This is my bed. Bring it all back down to planet earth. Hello. Welcome back.

I feel my inhale tickling the hairs inside my nostrils.

After swallowing, I open my lips slightly, letting the air release slowly.

My old therapist’s high-pitched voice echoes in each ear. Listening, I let him coach me through the movements just as I did in high school.

The POP of another bottle being opened downstairs startles me. Someone cheers.

Someone cheers?

Alone in my room, I search the mangled sheets and pillows for my iPhone. It died days ago, and I haven’t bothered to charge it.

I’m not sure if I’m sad or relieved my mom is dead. Should I be burned at the stake for thinking that?

I’m not sure if I’m a horrific, cynical person who’s ungrateful and self-absorbed. I’m not sure if I want to drink an entire bottle of wine or sleep.

What I do know is that I want to be left alone, to let the darkness and chaos I feel inside consume and bury me alive.

Or maybe I don’t.

I don’t know.

I can’t pinpoint what I want. Consolation or isolation?

My desires flip-flop faster than I can even feel them. My lips are still so chapped. I also still really hate my outfit.

I plug my phone in. After taking a few deep breaths, I click the power button and begin to scroll through Instagram. For a few brief moments, it’s comforting to see that no one else’s life has drastically changed. But then my blood begins to boil.

How lovely for you.


Your brother got married? Lucky you. My mom will never meet my future husband.


Wow look at these mediocre food photos that no one gives a shit about.


Picture after picture flows by, mocking me with filtered joy. I find catharsis in my fury.

No, really, good for everyone. Good for their perfect, happy-go-lucky lives. I’ll drink to that.

I lift the bottle of cabernet and begin to chug. I accidentally choke as I gulp, my cough spattering droplets of blood-red wine across my phone’s screen.

I search through my camera reel to find a photo of my mom, and I wonder if I should post it. In this new age, likes on Instagram translate to labors of love, validation and attention. I love those three things, and I simply don’t believe anyone who says they don’t.

I post my favorite nostalgic photo of me and my mom and wait for the likes to pour in. It’s an old photo that sits in a frame on my dresser. I stare at my youthful mom, looking effortlessly chic and cheerful. I look cute with my blonde little ringlets, denim dress and a large blue bow on the right side of my head. I caption the photo, “My angel.”

Damn. I’m just as pathetic as the rest of them. Maybe I’m worse.  

The likes and comments start to flood in, as do the texts from the ghosts of friends and boyfriends past who had no idea. It would be a lie to say I don’t feel a brief, intoxicating high hearing from all the boys I used to pine after at once. I ignore their messages, but it’s nice knowing they’re there.

I take myself to the Google home page and stare at the search bar. I have a lot of questions I’d prefer not to ask a real human being.

My mom just died… what do I do?

On average, how many days does it take people to stop saying “I'm sorry” when someone dies? They’re all relatively smart why can’t they find other words?

Can your body drown from too much wine?

Buzzfeed quiz for which ‘Friends’ character you are.

My friend is playing at a concert and all of my friends are going and I really want to go, but my mom just died… can I still go? Or is that bad?

How can you tell if you’re a horrible person?

A loud knock sounds on my door, and the phone skitters across the floor away from me. I freeze, my eyes staring expectantly at the closed door. Although I just posted on Instagram for the world to see, I don’t want anyone to see me on my phone during the shiva. People will probably think it’s disrespectful.


I am so tired of hearing other peoples’ opinions of my behavior. Why should I care? Everything I’ve done so far has received criticism.

My bedroom door opens slowly, revealing the face of one of my good friends, Lily.

Maybe now that mom’s dead, I’ll put a lock on the door. Even as I think it, I know it’s stupid. I don’t even live here anymore. I’ve just been staying here to help plan this trainwreck of a funeral with my dad and sister.

Lily steps tentatively into the room, her lower lip trembling, tears already dribbling down her pale, poreless cheek. Her soft whimpers turn into deep sobs, and she embraces me, clutching tightly. I feel her nails digging into my back as she holds me close, her sobs seeping into my stupid black dress.

Dry-eyed and jaw set, I hug Lily and rub her back robotically. She lost her mom a few years ago, but clearly our experiences are not quite lining up.

“It’s so hard,” Lily gasps through her tears. “I’m so sad you have to go through this too. I don’t know how I’m going to go through this again.”

My eyes twitch, and my jaw clenches even tighter. I blink. If I’m not mistaken, your time has passed, my friend.

I can’t even begin to think of something to say. I generally pride myself on being an extremely empathetic person. But not today.

I simply don’t have the energy to deal with someone else’s grief when I haven’t even figured out mine.

Other friends take the unlatched door as a welcome sign to enter my bedroom. Once the gates are open, there’s no going back.

“Are you doing okay? Do you need anything?”

“When was the last time you ate something?”

“Have you had any water today?”

Smothered with love.

I see their mouths moving, but I can’t quite catch what they’re saying. I’m not ready to listen. All I can hear is the same, rhythmic sound of my own heartbeat.

I feel a sharp pain inside my chest, stabbing through my left lung. I’m unsure if it’s a pang of grief for my mom’s death or a twinge of anger at my own friends for interrupting my emotional confusion. I’m not ready to be comforted. My emotions feel trapped, trying to find escape anywhere other than my own sadness – anger or anything else is better, surely. If I let my guard down and allow myself to witness – and feel – the love right in front of me, I would remember how deeply everyone cares. Well, maybe not everyone. But I have the most wonderful friends in the world, and it’s challenging for me to acknowledge that my journey through grief isn’t solely my own; my family and friends are experiencing it too.

I’m not ready, though.

I haven’t let myself feel the pain yet.

Maybe I never will. That would be nice. Isn’t that what sociopaths do? Never mind.

I shove my feelings into a dark closet, and every time I hear the joy from the party downstairs, another padlock clicks shut, sealing the floodgates closed.

I don’t want my friends to tell me everything will be okay.

I want them to be angry with me, cheering me on as I wallow in the unfairness of life.

What I want in this moment is for everyone to RSVP to my everlasting pity-party. I hold onto my rage for dear life, and mask it with monotone, quiet emotion – never letting anyone in.

The sky dims as the sun begins to set on the calm, sparkling river. Surely people will leave soon, I think as I extract myself from my well-intentioned friends and escape downstairs.

 I’m not sure if it’s a sense of duty to say goodbye to guests or if I simply want to disentangle myself from my bedroom full of people.

People I like, I remind myself.

I shrug internally. I still feel crowded, and I prefer feeling sorry for myself. 

Depleted wine bottles and scraps of food on paper plates scatter every surface of the apartment. Ashtrays smoke gently from joint and cigarette butts, and the darkness from the day seems to give second wind to the belligerent crowd. The somewhat tame, albeit slightly inappropriate shiva that once was, is no longer. It is now a shameless party.

Faces flush from a day’s worth of drinking. Joints are passed around and music is blasting. Heart sinking, I turn away from the scene before me, hoping to wander the apartment for any isolated oasis.

I find an empty hallway and take a deep breath.

Breathe in for five seconds. Hold for seven. Exhale for five.

I close my eyes and wait for the clicking memories to calm me.


I’m surrounded by my laughing friends as we hover over my favorite icebox cake from the best bakery in New York City, Magnolia’s.

It’s my tenth birthday, and I blow out my candles. I reach an eager hand forward, smearing my name on the cake, and my mom takes a corner piece and throws it directly at my face. I stare at her, shocked and overly excited to get her back. My friends can’t contain their laughter. We are all full of food and belly laughs.

“Food fight!” my mom screams.

I take a piece of the cake and throw it in her face. My friends join in. Five uninterrupted minutes of little girl magic and pure bliss.

“You’re so lucky to have such a fun mom.” My friend says amongst the cake chaos.

“I know.”

But then, a few days later, I’m standing outside of my school, waiting for her to pick me up.

I’m searching for her in the sea of parents, because even though she drove, she can’t park in front of the school entrance. But I don’t know where she is.

I pull out my flip-phone and text her slowly, as I’m just now getting the hang of T9 word. I stand in the corner and overhear one of my classmates say to another in a whisper tone as she smirks and points:

“Look at Tara’s mom. Why is she just sitting on the curb twirling her hair?”

When she’s feeling depressed, she always looks for a nearby seat, even in public. Even on the curb of my middle school street.

“She looks like she’s wearing her pajamas. I think she’s an alcoholic.”

They don’t know I can hear them, and it’s difficult to find the ammunition inside of me to fight back because I’m aware this isn’t exactly normal behavior. I know the truth is so much worse.

She’s my idol and my worst nightmare.

And I don’t know if I love her or hate her.

All I know is I want her to love me.


A loud crash brings the clicking projector to a screeching halt. I hear the crystalline scuttling of shattered glass, and I’m running downstairs before I can even wonder what’s happened.

My friend Avery holds a half-drunk bottle of wine, her face streaked with mascara tears. Around her feet, shards of colored glass reflect the dying light of the party.

The bottom shelf is now gone – the shelf that, until moments ago, held every meaningful, unique glass antique from my mom’s collection.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Avery sputters in tears, clearly mortified and obviously intoxicated.

“It’s fine,” I say.

It isn’t.

“They are replaceable.”

They are not.

“All that matters is that you weren’t cut from the glass.”

One more lie.

My jaw clenches as I feel an unexpected prickling of pain in the back of my throat. My eyes feel warm.

“A shot for the lady’s troubles?” says the same old moron who told me not to cry because this is a shiva, baby.

I turn on my heel, running back to my childhood bedroom, now empty of the bodies that once filled it. I grab my desk chair and lean it against the door because there is no fucking lock.

I kick off my shoes, not caring as they hit the opposite wall and leave scuff marks on the light pink walls.

Taking refuge in my horrible outfit, I climb into bed, shoving myself under the covers, and pulling them over my head. As the blankets obstruct the soundwaves, the music finally fades. To ensure complete silence, I block out any remaining sound with my earplugs, sinking gratefully into this dark cave of silence, closing my eyes and waiting.

The quiet clicking begins.

The old wooden floors are smooth and clean. I’m sitting on the same white couch in front of the yellowed projector screen in a dimly lit room. I open my eyes to watch just as the first image flickers into focus, and I replay the day from the beginning.