Death, Feelings

Voting Without Dad

The last good day I had with my dad was voting day 2012.

He loved voting. Loved politics. Loved talking big ideas.

I still have the Ford/Dole pin that he proudly wore to the polls that day.

“You can’t wear that inside, Sir.”

“Oh, yes I can. You see it’s a bit outdated.”

He wasn’t walking so well but I guess he had timed his medications that morning so that he would have maximum energy to get out of the house and to the local school. I remember buckling and unbuckling him in the car, pulling him out of it when we got there. I remember him putting both his hands on my shoulders, as he often did, and using me as a more size-appropriate walker.

I stopped to take a picture outside with the “Vote Aqui” sign.

Then we went inside. My dad, clearly the gentlest giant in the land, always attracted attention. Every little old lady in the gymnatorium wanted to help direct us.

“My daughter will take my ballot. To the booths!”

I filled out both of our ballots the same.

“Just straight down Democratic.”

And then I walked us to the machine that scans the paper ballot, collected our stickers and we went home.

He had a heart attack two weeks later.

I know I saw him in those two weeks. I must have, I was living with him. But I don’t have any memories of it. I was running off to work, sleeping over with friends, living my own life which he never seemed to begrudge me.

He died the day before Thanksgiving that year and my aunt and uncle came as soon as they heard.

“Well I guess dinner tomorrow is off.”

“Why on earth would we cancel Thanksgiving? That won’t help anything.”

It was a weird thanksgiving but aren’t all family holidays? I expected all following Thanksgivings to be hard but the next one snuck up on me. And the next, and the next. Much the same way that you’re always surprised at the answer you have to give when people ask how old your little siblings are now.

But voting for president, that’s something I never envisioned doing without talking to my dad about it.

So, Happy Quadrennial-iversary, Dad. I know that somewhere you’re really amused by all of this. Just write down all the jokes you’re coming up with, I’ll read them later.


Death, Feelings

The Power Of Your Tears

How to Look Like You Weren’t Just Crying in Less Than Five Minutes

At thanksgiving this year it’ll be 4 years since my dad died. A lot of things in my life have gone better and worse in that time. Even though I feel like everything I write here about him is sad I actually feel pretty good about where and when he left us.

This is the only way he would have ever seen any of the shows I’ve worked on and been proud of.

It isn’t great but there are silver linings.

And one of those silver linings is that in the last four years I’ve finally learned how to cry properly. Don’t get me wrong, I cried before he died, I’m sure, probably, I must have.

But now I’ve learned how to (‘enjoy’ is the wrong word) appreciate it, experience it in a transitory way, not get mired down in it, use it as a cathartic release.

Before he died I hated crying, I resented the mere fact of it and anyone who I caught being so weak as to do it. I resented any time that I would be subjected to it by my own self (or anyone else for that matter). I would scrunch up my face and hold my breath, I would immediately have a massive headache from my meager and herculean attempts to thwart the inevitable. I would need a nap or be forced to walk around the rest of the day feeling completely spent and useless, volatile, a power plant permanently stuck at the moment before the meltdown.

Now I just do it. In my living room, on the subway, in Times Square, wherever I happen to be reading a book. And then it’s done. I almost take pride in how a puppy food commercial can leave me with a pretty little pearl down my cheek.

I had to learn that crying doesn’t make you lesser because the tears made their way out. It isn’t a trick designed to leave you depleted. It’s a thing you can use to your advantage. You can use this thing to feel better, the way that doctors advise masturbation as an aide for menstrual cramps.

Lean into it.

Death, Feelings, Grief

Remember: You Are Not Your Emotion

I’ve led a pretty emotionally privileged life. I’ve never battled mental illness, anxiety disorders, the problems that a lot of my favorite humans have faced.

The only time I’ve ever had to use this kind of manual to my own emotions was in the year after I lost my dad. In the beginning every feeling I felt seemed so overwhelming. Guilt, sadness, anger. Whichever one was around took over my entire brain and body. I became the guilt, I was walking sadness, I was the embodiment of anger.

Recently a friend of mine lost her father and I called her to talk about it. She described her feelings of guilt and it was like having a phone call with my past self. I didn’t have it written down at the time but the way I finally learned to deal with my emotions was basically discovering this flow. Like it’s yoga.

Back bend, emotion in.

Forward fold, notice the emotion.

Half up, feel the emotion.

Forward fold, do you know why the emotion?

Plank, name the emotion.

Upward facing dog, accept the emotion.

Down dog, emotion out.

Like a wave. In and out.

Otherwise living in each emotion, letting them consume you, well; they’ll consume you.


Death, Grief

What Happens After You Die

Today I told my shrink that in the last year since Dad died I’m quicker to anger. It really just feels like all the emotions are just more within reach. I can tap into them all so much easier. When I want to and when I really don’t want to.

And she said that when something big happens and you have a lot of emotions about it, it can throw off your emotional balance. It can make you quicker to anger and sadness and exuberance and love. Every emotion is just a little closer to the surface.

So if you were wondering. Just in case you were curious if everything would be easier if you just weren’t here anymore. The answer is no.

This is what happens after you die. Everyone who loved you changes, some a little and some a lot. Everyone has to learn how to navigate their emotions all over again. Everyone is angry at you and everyone loves you. Everyone is having a lot more feelings than they ever did before, and for the rest of their lives and it isn’t any easier. Not at all.

Death, Feelings

One Year

People are going to say stupid things and you just have to remember they’re doing it out of love and not knowing any better.

A friend of mine just ended his relationship, a relationship that he and his fiancé were expecting to last forever. A relationship that felt so real to an outsider like me that when I heard of it’s demise I literally did a double take.

And a mutual friend of ours who had been in that situation before said to him “People are going to say stupid things and you just have to remember they’re doing it out of love and not knowing any better.”


One of the things I’ve learned so intensely in the last year is that you can’t control what anyone else does. You can’t anticipate what kind of reaction they’re going to have to surprising or upsetting news. You can’t anticipate how they’re going to try to comfort you or whether they’re going to need comforting themselves. You have to be ready to hear the exact right thing or the exact wrong thing at any moment.

And of course it’s always the wrong things that you remember. The people who I wanted to hug me but who instead just stared and let me keep rambling. The friend who told me that her boyfriend was an orphan and joked that she’ll never have to meet his parents.

And the thing I have to remember is that all of these wrong things are just failed attempts at right things made by people trying to show their love.

Even when the words cut like glass it’s this that I have to remember. People are flawed, their attempts are flawed, their words are flawed. But their love is like a diamond. If there are flaws in it they are there to be loved too because they come from a flawed world.

Today I put the Jewish anniversary of my dad’s death (called a yahrzeit) for the next 20 years into my calendar and I’ll tell you what is the most upsetting thing about him being gone, the thing I haven’t told anyone.

If I ever see him again, if I ever get to hear him crack a joke it’ll be literally a lifetime from now. My lifetime. It isn’t that I’ll never see him again, it’s imagining that if on some plane I do see him again it’ll be many, many decades from now. I’ll go the next 50, 80, 100 years before I get to see him smile again. That is the most upsetting thing. And everything else that is upsetting, a (very heavy) pine box being lowered into the earth, a yahrzeit candle, a condolence card, is only upsetting because it’s a reminder of that fact.

So now you know. Now you have a tiny slice of that experience to tuck into your heart and maybe the next time you have a friend going through something you’ve never experienced you can pull out that shard of glass and maybe it’ll help you say a right thing.

Death, Media

My Greatest Fear

Charlieissocoollike is afraid of death. Nothing against him, it’s not like he’s the only one.

But as I watch that video I keep asking myself why the idea that we are all going to die one day is so scary.

You’re a ghost driving a meat coated skeleton made from stardust, what do you have to be scared of?

– Porkbeard 

It’s just a fact. I’m gonna die, you’re gonna die, the earth is gonna die, the universe is gonna die. In some ways it’s really comforting. It’s something we all have in common. You and your greatest enemy are both gonna die. You, me, my landlord, and the homeless man who lived by my old elementary school are all gonna die.

Hosenose died.

In fact I’m more disturbed by the idea that Hosenose injured his tail during his lifetime than that he died.

In some ways the fact that billions of people have already done it makes it less scary to me.

So my greatest fear isn’t death. I’m not even scared about the thought that one day there will be no one alive who remembers me.

I’m way too busy being scared of how I’m going to injure myself trying to kill a moth.

If the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it.”
– John Green, The Fault in Our Stars, 2012

Confidence, Death, Hope

Compliments Or Lies?

This used to be a much bigger problem for me and I’ll tell you the two things that helped me get over it.  The first was making the conscious choice not to lie and especially not lie when giving compliments.  That way I could know how it felt to give a real true compliment and mean it and want the other person to see the thing I was complimenting the way I saw it.

The second was my dad dying.  When my dad died a lot of people came up to me and told me they were sorry, or that they thought I was doing a good job of being strong or whatever.  And not only could I see in their eyes that they meant it but it was also easier to just say thank you.  His death wasn’t mine to diminish and I had nothing to say anyway.

“You’re being really strong.”

You can’t say “I just have to be.” the way you would demure “It was just 10 bucks at the Gap.”  The only option is “Thank you.”

It really is something you have to practice.  But I think I like it.

I think this is pretty common among women:

growing up, every opinion and feeling I had would get shut down.

“that guy was staring at me” – stop being so full of yourself

“I’m sick” – you don’t look sick

“I have an eating disorder” – you look like you’re a healthy weight

“I can’t work out today” – stop making excuses

“someone honked their horn at me” – it was probably just traffic

So now I wonder sometimes. When I’m sick and I miss class, am I actually sick or was I just being lazy? Am I using my plantar fasciitis as an excuse to not wear high heels and rock climb because I’m a quitter, or is my diagnosed medical condition actually a real thing?

And when I articulate it that way like duh of course I have plantar fasciitis and I cannot do strenuous things to my feet, and if I’m sick then I shouldn’t go to class and I should just trust that I can tell when I’m sick.

But it’s hard. [x]

It’s a sick thing we do to people and especially women.  To teach them that their opinions don’t matter.  That perhaps whatever they think they’re feeling isn’t real.

So take the compliment because it’s real.  And then give one to yourself too.  Because a compliment isn’t only a compliment when it’s coming from someone else.


For The Grievers

People are supposed to care. It’s good that people mean something to you, that you miss people when they’re gone.

– An Abundance of Katherines, John Green

Normality is a paved road. It is comfortable to walk but no flowers grow on it.

– Vincent van Gogh

The best thing anyone has said to me in the last few weeks was a text message from a friend I haven’t seen in a long while.  She said It won’t get better, but it will change.  

I won’t ever stop missing him.  I won’t ever not wish he was here.  But that’s what is supposed to happen.  Maybe the feeling won’t get better.  But grief’s visits will change.

It’s not as keen. Well, it’s not as present, how about that? It’s just as keen but not as present. But it will always accept the invitation. Grief will always accept the invitation to appear. It’s got plenty of time for you. That’s right. ‘I’ll be here when you need me.’ The interesting thing about grief, I think, is that it is its own size. It is not the size of you. It is its own size. And grief comes to you. You know what I mean? I’ve always liked that phrase He was visited by grief, because that’s really what it is. Grief is its own thing. It’s not like it’s in me, and I’m going to deal with it. It’s a thing, and you have to be okay with its presence. If you try to ignore it, it will be like a wolf at your door.

-Stephen Colbert [x]

Religion, Sanity

Rest In Awesome

Death has infiltrated my life as of late.

Judaism is old.  And we like to think the traditions are the way they are because they’ve been beta tested for a zillion years.

Jewish rites basically say that you bury the dead as soon as possible (usually about 3 days), and that for a few days after that you have a very extended wake called a shiva.  A week of open house, people coming in and out to bring and eat food, offer hugs and condolences.  Hear you cry, cry on you, say they’re sad, ask you why you don’t look sad.

And at the end of that week the public airing of your grief isn’t over.  For the next year you go to synagogue and say the prayer for the dead.  A prayer for grievers.  Each week for the next year you stand up in public amidst your community and chant a beautiful monotonous prayer wishing your absent loved one on their way.  And every year for the rest of your life on that anniversary you light a candle and say the prayer again.

It’s designed to make you grieve.  Constantly and against your will.  When you’re too pragmatic to do it on your own.

To make you sit your ants-in-your-pants butt down and accept the hugs and the sorrow and the tears of relative strangers and say over and over and over again “he died and I’m sad.”  Over and over again “he’s dead and I have feelings.”  Over and over and over again.  So many more times than you thought you could ever say.  So many more times than you thought possible before you said it the first time.

But there is a reason this is what the beta testing produced.

Because when you say it to 100+ people and they react in 100+ ways, then you learn a lot of things.  You learn the range of human responses.  You learn that there really is no normal way to react or grieve.  And you learn that each person you tell it to teaches you something new about the experience and your love and your feelings.

Because if each friendship is a new universe, then every death for every person is a supernova.

And even though Esther has died we will continue to do projects with her because it will be when we work to decrease world-suck and when we show our love for others that Esther will be with us most.

So Hank, as you know, before I wrote books, I worked as a chaplain at a children’s hospital, and when I was there my supervisor always used to tell me, “John, don’t just do something. Stand there.”

We all want to do something to mitigate the pain of loss or to turn grief into something positive to find a silver lining in the cloud.  But I believe there is real value in just standing there.  Being still, being sad, bearing witness to Esther’s life and allowing ourselves to be transformed by it. [x]

I’ve always hated the Jewish death rituals.  They seemed so drawn out.  So unnecessary.

I changed my mind.

Much of my life had been devoted to trying not to cry in front of people who loved me, so I knew what Augustus was doing. You clench your teeth. You look up. You tell yourself that if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but a sadness in their lives, and you must not become a mere sadness, so you will not cry, and you say all of this to yourself while looking up at the ceiling, and then you swallow even though your throat does not want to close and you look at the person who loves you and smile.
– John Green, The Fault in Our Stars [x]