Modern Loss in Jersey City

Last night I talked about death in front of strangers and met some fresh MILKs.

wod jersey city modern loss reading

I traveled to Jersey City’s Word Bookstore on a lovely summer evening. Musicians played on the car free street. Kids rode bikes, adults drank cold white wine at outdoor cafes, and a lovely crowd gathered in the bookstore to hear from Rebecca Soffer, co-author of Modern Loss, and four other storytellers, including myself.  Rebecca has been traveling the country since the book came out in January (listen to her MILK Podcast interview here), inviting people to share their own surprising stories about grief and loss.

At the event, I met Caroline Waxler, Sehreen Noor Ali, and Nicole Savini. They each told terrific 6 word memoirs stories about loss, faith, dementia and cancer, but also about how Denzel Washington impressed a Catholic priest more than he should have, how Joan Rivers killed giving her estranged sister’s eulogy, and how a mother struggles to talk to her daughter about the death of a grandparent. These women all spoke with emotion about their late parents, and their combined vulnerability, bravery and empathy are exactly what make The Modern Loss movement so damn special.

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I told a story about something that happened after I lost my mom, involving social media, miscommunication, and how grief can bring out the worst in people. The incident, which still lives with me, taught me a lot about trust and how to treat people. It hardened me in some ways, and kept me an empathetic listener, in others.

Reflecting on the five-year anniversary of Judi’s death, coming up next week, I know that I have grown in ways she would be proud. It has not been easy, but I am working on my family relationships. I am trying to raise good humans with my partner, and in my work, I am promoting voices and creating stories that I believe have meaning. I am trying to find the balance, and emulate my mother’s life by living mine with joy, awareness, and compassion.   

Mallory Kasdan, Rebecca Soffer, Nicole Savini, Sehreen Noor Ali, and Caroline Waxler

Mallory Kasdan, Rebecca Soffer, Nicole Savini, Sehreen Noor Ali, and Caroline Waxler

But back to Jersey City. It’s these events, books, and support systems that can help us get to a safe enough place with grief.  And to know that we can live again, we can morph after a loss and still be ok. We share our experiences, and we encourage others to do so, and it makes us better. A middle aged man last night had just lost his brother and niece, and wandered in from the street because he saw the Modern Loss sign outside the bookstore. He shared his own 6 word memoir with us, and we thanked him for doing so. With all of the terrible noise, cynicism and hatred in our culture right now, what a gift to have a few hours to sit with others, listen, cry, clap, laugh and support. Thanks so much Rebecca for letting me be a part of it. 

May Day

May and June are major months for parents of the school-age. There are class trips and gifts for everyone, dads, grads, end of year concerts and performances for every damn activity. As the mom (usually), you gotta show up, be celebratory, organized and sociable. It’s all so intense and condensed that you actually have to laugh at the absurdity à la Kimberly Harrington. (Her book is amazing and you should get it).

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Since I lost my mom, the period between Mother’s Day, her birthday (May 24), her deathiversary, (June 6), my son’s birthday (June 8), Father’s Day (June 15), and the end of school (June 20 something), shines a light on how surreal grief can be, about rituals and niceties versus how you, me, (everyone!) really feel. The seasonal calendar just does its thing -- flowers bloom and the sun finally shines after a seven month winter, and all I can remember is the anxiety, this time 5 years ago, of knowing that she was at the end.

And as we are often reminded, grief is not linear, and it is not clearly demarcated as to when it will flare. I’ve been good lately, trying to focus on my own family, to be more honest and explicit about my needs, less angry and more positive. I feel like I’m getting somewhere with my personal and professional goals. I’ve been trying to contribute and to not be devastated by the direction our country is taking.   

Still, I was anticipating this would be a tough Mother’s Day. I’m deep in the mommy content biz now because of MILK, and on May 1st it was like a Mom Bomb went off: MOTHER MOTHER MOTHER MOTHER MOTHER. Not quite in the same way I believe I have been exploring the nuances of motherhood through art, kvetching, honesty, and the comedy of it, but rather through any product or company that can corral the concept of birthing children into an excuse to buy this thing. Mother’s Day (and motherhood) always comes with a side of marketing, but especially now that I’m tuned in to those channels, those books, those movies, and especially those emails about how to make Mother’s Day perfect if you just buy that thing, contribute to this charity, read this book. Dude.

But, I made it. I am a mother and I don’t have a mother but I’m here today, at my desk. I feel relief that I am back to a normal day with no pressure on it to be anything, except Monday. It’s all just a little much, right?

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Speaking of moms, (yeah I know) I read The NY Times Styles reporter Katie Rosman’s memoir-ish about her mom, “If You Knew Suzy,” maybe a year ago, after I tried to get Katie interested in writing about my children’s book, ELLA for the paper. I realized she had also lost her young, healthy mother to cancer, and had written an investigation into her mother’s life, to try and gain some peace about her untimely death. I relate so much to the desire to uncover the how of someone’s life, there are no good answers to the why. Her book is wonderful, and I was so excited to have her in the studio. Her episode will be posted next week.

Reading Katie’s book inspired the current MILK episode interview with Roslyn (Roz) Neiman. I’ve talked to Roz and my mother’s other dear friends many times about Judi, my mom, in person when I go to Pittsburgh, on the phone, and on Facebook, but the formality of having Roz in the podcast studio felt like a new frame, to go back and try to fill in certain gaps about my mom’s life the way Katie did with her reporting.

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I love this episode with Roz, because it is my childhood. I get to re-hear a lot of the stories I know, and then hear for the first time some things I did not know about my mom as a friend, a support, an adult person and not just a mother I took for granted. Roz reminds me in the interview, how, at 14 years old, I was dumb enough to wear my mom’s brand new, super 1980’s mother of pearl hoop earrings (that she told me not to touch) into the store she owned at the time. She wrestled me to the ground to take them off of my ears. What an ass I was, but how funny that my mom pulled a professional wrestling move on me!

To paraphrase Katie, “you need to embody and remember the life, not only the circumstances of the death.” That’s what Roz’s interview feels like to me – an opportunity to embody and celebrate the life of my mom. It prepped me for that sad, incomplete feeling of Mother’s Day,  but connected me to the mom figures I still have, like Roz and my cousin Phyllis, and others from their community. It helped me focus and not be too sad, to think about Judi’s terrific life, how many Mother’s Days we had together, or random, regular days when I could call her and bullshit with her about things my kids did and think nothing of it.

Also, I bought a dress and some sunglasses for myself on Mother’s Day, which is shallow and right in the pocket of the marketing that told me I’m worth spending money on. But I think Judi would have approved, as would Roz. I’ll wear them to the last day of Hebrew school event or the karate belt test or the class trip to Coney Island, which I need to put in my calendar ASAP before I forget.   

MILK Guest Post: Teens, Trauma and Grief with Journalist Rona Kobell

In the wake of the Parkland school shooting and student uprising for sensible gun control, a friend from high school, Rona Kobell, wrote a Facebook post about a brutal incident that happened to our classmate when we were 17 years old. I encouraged Rona to write more about the incident that upended our community, and was our first experience with traumatic violence and an unfathomable outcome. Rona and I worked together on the piece last week and talked a lot about where Karen Hurwitz would be today, and what might have happened if the boy who hurt our friend had access to an assault weapon. This collaboration is a re-connection with our once 17 year old selves, and Rona's words add a painful layer to understanding our own vulnerability as mothers.  -- Mallory

**Following the publication of Rona's piece here on, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette published it in their March 3, 2018, edition.

In middle school, I knew a boy who was smart and talented but often very much in his own head. In high school, he got his hands on a weapon he never would have been allowed to bring to school, prepared his attack at the local library, and set out to do something terrible.


The weapon was a samurai sword. And he used it, along with a pair of nunchucks, to kill my friend. We lost one friend that day, instead of dozens, because it was a sword and not a gun, and because he went to her house instead of our school. We lost her because a boy was troubled, and obsessed with weapons, and he decided to kill a girl who had been nice to him.


It was 1989. She was 17 years old. And in our minds she still is, a curly-haired girl who loved the Rolling Stones and hoped to be a journalist. She never got to be more than our memories of her. He took that from her, from her family, and from us.

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Taylor Allderdice’s class of 1990 mourned Karen Rachel Hurwitz. We went to her funeral, where the rabbi talked about a beautiful light so unfairly extinguished. We read newspaper stories about her killer, whose defense was that he was influenced by the movie A Clockwork Orange. And at the student newspaper we wrote our own stories, agonizing about what to say in conversations that have become familiar in my adult life as a newspaper reporter. We talked about mental illness and movie violence. But mostly, we mourned our friend. We didn’t think about our own safety. Her killer was not a threat to us. He hadn’t come for us. (He is now serving life in prison, a sentence upheld after a couple of re-trials.)


But what if he had? What if, instead of a sword, he had a gun? And what if, instead of going to Karen’s home, he had come to our school?


People will argue that guns aren’t the problem. It’s the mental state. But a sword can’t kill 17 students in five minutes. A knife can’t do that.


I don’t have answers, nor do I have anything particularly insightful to say on gun control that anyone with an Internet connection hasn’t seen a thousand times. But my classmates and I, unfortunately, have something else: We know what it feels like to lose someone, brutally and without warning, at a time when we are still figuring out who we are and will be. In that, we have something in common with the Stoneman students. We are no longer 17; we are in our 40s, seeing our own children off to the bus, hearing about their lockdown drills and about classmates plotting school walkouts. With good concealer, some Spanx, and regular hair maintenance, we can pretend not that much time has passed. Some of us even run a faster mile now than we did then.


But time has passed. There is a void at every reunion. More than that, we think of Karen all the time. We think of where we were when we found out, who told us, what we did. (For me, it was my French teacher, and I ran through the empty halls to the journalism room, looking for someone to tell me it wasn’t true.) And we think of her when we have babies of our own, when we win awards or get promotions, when we achieve milestones that she never got to experience. I think of her when I hear Mick Jagger yowl about getting no satisfaction, or when I see a red bathing suit like the one she used to wear to the beach. No matter what else her old classmates endure—bitter divorces, painful addictions, the deaths of our own parents—the day we found out she was murdered will always be one of the worst days of our lives.


Taylor Allderdice is not so different from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. Both are excellent public schools that celebrate their diversity and encourage social activism. Their motto is: "Be Positive, Be Passionate, Be Proud to be an Eagle!" Ours is “Know Something, Do Something, Be Something.” Our two most famous alumni are Jeff Goldblum and Wiz Khalifa. Today, portions of the country are still fighting about wedding cakes for gay couples. But in 1990, when two girls wanted to go to our prom together, our student body made sure they could. When I look the Stoneman kids, I see my own daughters, my high school friends, myself. I hear their stories—five of the 17 killed were Jewish—and I think of my own summers at Jewish camp, the long talks about standing up for those with no voice. I’d like to think we were that fierce. But I’m glad no one tested us.


I grew up in Pittsburgh but now live outside of Baltimore. I know that, 20 minutes from me, students are surrounded by violence. They lose many Karens—not, perhaps, in the brutal manner that she was killed, but to altercations, accidents, domestic disputes, and sometimes police shootings. High school kids in Baltimore attend many funerals. They’ve been tested, too. Long before Stoneman, students in Baltimore pleaded for their lives, too. And they still are pleading.


Karen’s death inspired me to become a police reporter. As I wrote in our school paper just after she died, I wanted to understand why bad things happened to good people. The Hurwitzes are unquestionably good people. Linda Hurwitz, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, was the longtime director of the Holocaust Center of the United Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. Her father, Dennis, a prominent plastic surgeon, has helped many children suffering from deformities.


I can remember the victims in every murder case I covered: Gracie, gunned down in a convenience-store robbery and survived by her husband and beloved three-legged dog; David, whose ex-wife shot him on Christmas Eve in a custody dispute; Tony, a rowdy fellow who had the misfortune of living on the same block as an armed, order-loving former police chief. An NRA spokesman said reporters enjoy covering shootings for the attention they bring; I’d return every byline to bring the victims back. Each felt personal; I’d come home from my shift and turn on Law and Order, to replace the bodies with fictional ones in my head so I could sleep, wishing the real detectives could wrap up cases like Jerry Orbach did.


Even after writing about dozens of victims—many of them good people who, like Karen, found themselves in a terrible circumstance—her death still hurt the most. Once, when Karen’s killer was in court for a re-trial, I stopped in for the proceedings, looking for something to help me understand. I found nothing. I’m no closer now to figuring out why bad things happen to good people. Covering more murders did not dull the blunt force of the first one I wrote about. Nothing ever will.


My classmates and I think about Karen’s light. But when a deranged man brings a gun into a school, we think about our own mortality. We don’t want to, but that’s where our minds go. In another time, with a different weapon, the lights so unfairly extinguished could well have been our own.


Rona Kobell lives north of Baltimore with her husband and two children. A former reporter for the Baltimore Sun and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, her recent work has appeared in Slate, Columbia Journalism Review, Modern Farmer, The Atlantic’s Citylab, Undark and the Washington Post.



I see my tween daughter from down the street, long hair flying, giant backpack hoisted, sheathed in my mom’s dark brown hooded winter puffer -- size XS. It always makes me catch my breath for a moment – seeing Z in that jacket.

When we divided Mom’s closet between the three sisters, there was plenty to go around. Our mom loved clothes. My middle sister took the full length fur coat, which was weird but made sort of sense. My youngest sister took the loud blazers and some of the evening wear. I’m the oldest. I took the nightgowns and some purses. We divided the charms on the necklace she wore everyday.

Some of Judi’s more flamboyant pieces I gave right away to Zoe, who was seven at the time, for dress up: like the light pink cardigan with a pink fur collar and rhinestone buttons, white jazz shoes (?) and plenty of high-heeled boots to totter around in when friends came over. 

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I hung other things in Zoe’s closet gradually as she grew, mostly sweaters and long sleeve t-shirts.  Such happy/sad, private moments I have with myself every time Zoe walks out of her room in something of Judi’s. A lavender cashmere cardigan, a pair of dangling silver earrings, or a purse I had forgotten about that Zoe now sports so proudly.

In June it will be five years.

The nightgowns are what are most important to me, still. I slip on my mom's nightgowns and I feel …  like a mom. Zoe and her brother snuggle with me in our king sized bed, under the covers, propped up on pillows. We watch “This Is Us,” “Gilmore Girls,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” shows with a nostalgia component. I wish I could talk to my mom about these shows, or watch with her. But me and the kids, we’re cozy. I like holding them next to me, in her nightgowns.

Anyone who has lost a person has had to contend with the stillness of things left behind. Recently, though, I feel strongly that given time, these items can have a rich and almost kinetic power. They have waited, patiently, and respectfully, and now they are ready to live again.

My sisters and I can refer to the clothes and know exactly what the other is trying to convey. I wore the red shiny trenchcoat to vote for Hillary in the primary. Youngest will wear a loud blazer, with gold buttons, uncharacteristic of her regular style, to lead a conference. Middle will wear pantyhose under her doctor dresses, which is weird but we get it.

We are all moving forward in our adult lives now without my mom, and we manifest her, every day. My younger sister is an advocate and policy maker for under served communities, just like my mom. My middle sister is an oncologist and forward thinker about alternative cancer care, inspired by our mom’s disease and her shortened life.

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I take notice of the memories and the stories, and document how the clothes connect us. Since Zoe is the sole female grandchild, or the one most interested in fashion, she is the one to embody most of these totems, at least for now. She understands this inherently, and it squeezes at my heart that she does. She gets it. 

Zoe shines bright. She can argue like no one I’ve ever seen, except for Judi. Like her grandma, Zoe has charisma. She also has many pairs of size 5, brightly colored, slightly worn flats, which she will be wearing all spring long.


There is some. Finally. My heart has been constricted for so long that it feels rather foreign to have air around my thoughts. Grief is a lot of work and takes up a great deal of space. But some has been cleared.

This last month was an emotional sprint towards the one-year anniversary of mom’s death. There were still firsts to get through – Mother’s Day, her birthday, and several memorials. Heading towards this finish — which really isn’t a finish of course, but is more like the beginning of a life without, was quite challenging. May was tough – Mother’s Day in particular was almost physically draining, and I only got through it with wine and yoga and cuddling my family. I was so grateful for the friends who have also lost their mothers, who shared how much they missed them, and how difficult Mother’s Day was for them, too. I felt acutely part of a club, this sad but supportive little club of motherless daughters.

I sat through a memorial that a national women’s organization put together in her honor. Her hometown chapter named a children’s playroom at Family Court for her, because she spent much of the time she was president of this organization advocating for children and families. It was a real honor, but not easy to watch a slideshow set to that inspirational/sad Desiree song – the “you gotta be” one. Mom smiling wide at a podium, marching in protests, and meeting government officials on behalf of this organization – seeing these images of was a reminder of her accomplishments, but also how much she had left to do when she died.

Her birthday on May 24th was another rough one, because I was literally reliving that time last year when she was alive, deteriorating, and yet still able to call me after receiving the peonies and bright orange scarf I sent. It made me sad, thinking about those tokens I now have back in my possession, the scarves, the gifts, the clothes and jewelry divided up. So I took some breaths and wore the orange scarf all that week in her honor.

Then I was back in Pittsburgh for the unveiling, which is done within a year after a Jewish death. It’s a simple ceremony at the gravesite, where a Rabbi says some psalms, the immediate mourners say the Kaddish, or mourning prayer, and the face of the gravestone is revealed. And then there it was. Her name on a piece of granite. Her dates. Mother, Wife, Grandmother and Friend. I placed a purple rock on the top of the gravestone for Miles and Zoe, as Jewish custom dictates. It was a perfect June day, just as her funeral had been almost a year before. The sun and the breeze filtered through the trees as we put arms around each other and cried again for mom. And then we had brunch.

That weekend of the unveiling was intense, but when it was over and we returned home to Brooklyn I felt hugely relieved and … spacious. I felt like I possessed this certain kind of acceptance and understanding that had been out of reach until that moment. It’s vague and new age-y but I felt I had arrived at a destination, in my heart. And that I was going to be okay, no matter what swirled around me from that point on. I hadn’t believed it until then.

I feel so much gratitude towards friends and teachers and people who have been with me throughout this difficult year, bestowing kindness and reading my pieces and making chit chat and asking my how I’m doing. It has all been a part of this particular journey I’m now on, and each interaction and intersection of humanity has been a step on the ladder towards it. I was so happy to be able to honor my mom with friends in my home last week, for the final and most personal of all the memorials, to accept people’s kindness and offerings and music and warmth. We had an unforgettable small service and mini concert for Judi from my friends Jamie and Erin, where I was able to accept love and say thank you to my community. And to let mom go a little bit more, but with the reverence she deserved.

It must be the benefit of all of the therapy, the writing, the going inward and the good support I have. Because I feel so much less angry about losing her than I used to. A huge relief! I feel grateful to the people who get how to be and less pissed at the people who don’t. And I truly feel lucky to be the emotional person I am, and not burdened by it because right now it feels like something of a gift.

I will continue to wrestle with missing her. I will still be sad and have to shake my head at some of the continued fall-out from her loss. But I will be ok. I’m not just repeating it, hoping it will stick. I believe it.

Every day I write the book

I’ve been working on a children’s book about loss and grief. It features beloved objects that become separated from their owners and won’t be coming back.

The book will explain to a young person, in metaphor, where someone goes when they die. How those left behind can cope with the journey of grief and come out ok. It will do this without talking down to these young readers or confusing them.

I’m hoping my book will have the proper combination of sweetness and whimsy to keep it appealing and hopeful, and still be clear enough to guide a small person who has been devastated by loss.

Problem is, this is REALLY hard. I’m terribly murky about how to shape a story that’s going to make a child feel like everything is going to be ok after a loved one is gone.

Because are they going to be ok?

Am I?

At the moment it’s dicey. And like I’m trying to write my way out of something hairy that I want to be better, but cannot make so.

I returned yesterday from the first of the one-year later memorials. My nails and cuticles are not in excellent shape. Mom used to smack my hands when I’d bite my nails in nervousness and out of habit and say, “MALLORY!” Now Zoe smacks my hands and shouts my name, with that Judi flavored bossiness that’s in her DNA.

Hugging mom’s friends at the memorial – friends from the swim club and the book club and the women’s organization that was honoring her – those hugs were plush with history and love. Watching a slide show of her accomplishments set to a Desiree song was moving and smile through your tears sad, and enriched this other perspective on my mom, one that didn’t involve me and my sisters or my dad, but was connected to her need to help others and pursue social justice.

Remembering her passion, her persuasiveness, her laugh, her opinions and her “close talking,” I felt and feel deeply connected to those aspects of her every time I force myself to stop looping about how hard this is and focus on what a unique woman she was. Not just to our family, but to every person she touched with her get it done style and her self assuredness that she was doing the right thing. And honoring that her death is also loss for every person that she could have helped.

Going to see her gravestone was grounding and peaceful. Walking in the woods afterwards gulping in air was cleansing and healing. Chasms between me and family members continue to be distressing.

It is just crazy trying to parse out where she has gone, trying to figure out who is going to plug up the holes and smooth in the cracks. We are all still unprepared for a future without her. It feels terrifying. But we must move through so we do.

So the story goes forward. The memorials will continue and in a sense I must mother myself now, and find support in those able to give it — friends and cousins and my own community. Smack my own hand or wait for Zoe to do it.

And hopefully with this forward movement, clarity will come, and my story about being ok will write itself.


Terrible stories are everywhere it seems. Stage 4 cancer at age 40, hit by a car while buying cookies at the local bakery, aneurysm on the golf course. Sick kids, sick spouses, sick parents. Mental and physical illness. Accidents.

Last week I received shocking and sad news about a former boss. She died at 45 after being diagnosed with cancer only 3 months prior. I had no idea she was sick. I hadn’t seen her in a very long time, but she had just said something funny on a Facebook post I wrote in February, and I had been thinking about giving her a call. She was a PR maven and since I’m considering strategies to promote my upcoming book, it seemed like a nice symmetry to reconnect with her.

Of course, I now regret terribly waiting on this.

As I’ve grieved for my mom this past year, I’ve noticed a heightened state of nostalgia and an almost maniacal desire to record certain moments in time, to stamp them with recognition so that they never fade. Since Jen’s death last week, I’ve been perseverating over those early years in New York just after graduation, when I worked for her in the publicity department at Hyperion.

Details of the office on Lower 5th Avenue are front of mind. I can see the quality of the fluorescent light in the hallway where the assistants lined up like an entry-level army, fortifying their bosses’ windowed offices. Flicking through the cards on my Rolodex and calling the deli every morning with our breakfast orders. Jen liked a large iced coffee and a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with butter. (This was back when people ate bagels). There was Neil, the super-friendly head of the mailroom pushing the overloaded mail cart, and the giant diamond engagement ring one of the book designers wore. The heft of the To Be Filed File that I hid in my drawer, hoping Jen wouldn’t ask me how the filing was going. The tiny yellow X-acto knife she gave me to open the millions of boxes of books that arrived daily for us to unpack and mail out to the media.

Jen taught me to take a thorough phone message. To create a travel itinerary that wasn’t nonsensical for our touring authors. To grill the “book reviewers” trying to get free review copies. To massage the egos of the needier authors and only get her out of “a meeting” if it was someone specific. She taught me to pitch reporters, the most awkward and agonizing part of publicity work.

Jen gave me amazing opportunities and cocktail party stories for years. We took authors to bookings at the network morning shows, to “Politically Incorrect” when it was on Comedy Central, and to Letterman. She let me take RuPaul on a four-city book tour at age 23, and to a Today Show taping at the MAC store, where I got a makeover and a ton of free makeup. And my favorite, taking authors to the old WNYC, which stoked my longtime love of radio and had the best author and musician sightings in their ratty greenroom.

After work I’d go home. I remember looking around at my neighbors, many older than me, most on a professional track, everyone heading to Central Park to exercise with the fervor they probably put into their jobs – running, biking, rollerblading, unicycling (ok, just this one guy). I was obsessed with people watching and wondering about their back-stories, their paths. If they were coupled, how did they meet their mates? And if they had children, um, how do you even do that in New York? I was fascinated with how one arrives at an adult place and the decisions and luck a person needed to get where they wanted to go. How did they know what they wanted to do and be? How were they brave and strong enough to make it in this crazy ass city?

And now, almost 20 years later, I’m there, firmly ensconced in my adult life. How I arrived here — my own back-story– is nothing special. I’m not always even sure what led to what. I feel super lucky most days, skating by, dealt a few blows here and there, but mostly incredibly grateful. But damn aware of the fragility of it all.

I wish we didn’t need these painful reminders that life is so fleeting and that we need to be good to each other. I guess all we can do to honor those who have passed through our lives is to live with compassion and humor and an incredible amount of humility.


She hung her “Judi” key on this hook, lay down in this bed, showered and dried herself with these towels in this bathroom. It’s impossible not to feel her in this place.

Her tics and habits are ground into this apartment, layered like a collage. In this kitchen she insisted on wiping a glass table with a dirty paper towel. At this computer she printed out boarding passes days before she had to. On this beach she devoured her book club books, took walks with her grandchildren and chatted up every yenta from here to Montreal.

Her things are mostly gone from the Florida apartment, parceled out to a daughter or a cousin or thrown away. But a random drawer can still reveal an oversized brown silk button, incased in plastic like a secret. It belonged to a blazer or a sweater that once hung in this closet. A pair of size five flip flops poking out beneath a pile of sand toys, the impression of her bunion-ed feet worn in to the rubber.

Each plastic toy she bought for the kids they loved with a fervor that now seems prescient. The crayon shaped menorah she bought one Hannukah from one of the kosher stores down the street. Sunhats and knickknacks in turquoise, her very favorite color. The “cookies for sale” sign that she and Zoe made the last time we were all here together.

Objects are so curious. Completely static, and yet poignant with meaning. It’s a wonder we’re not all hoarders, trying to hold on to a person.

walk it off

Mom was no good at self-pity. From the time she was diagnosed until the time she died, she faced some overwhelming and deeply frustrating circumstances that most people would not tolerate well, few with the grace she managed. There was the physical discomfort of her illness through all of its soul sucking phases: the itching of her skin, the crappy side effects of each drug and therapy that never seemed to work as the cancer continued to spread. The depression she wouldn’t admit to, and the underlying stress of having a rare chronic disease with no known cure that worsened as it morphed. But though she may have lost a touch of the sunnyness and became perhaps more sarcastic and less patient towards the end, never once did she feel sorry for herself.

When I was growing up, Mom’s and my styles would often clash. I’m a crier, a prober, sometimes a cynic and always an over thinker, and it was challenging to have a mother who didn’t get a lot of that. Things just didn’t affect her emotionally. I’m not saying being who I am always works for me. I have trouble making decisions. I’m sensitive and can take things personally. Mom was the opposite. She would act, feel confident in those actions, and never look back. She had strong convictions, and didn’t second-guess. So she wasted a lot less time dithering and worrying, being anxious. When I reflect on her style of living, doing, and parenting, we are mostly opposites, and it’s even a bit comedic that I would come from her.

But fuck, I’d give anything to be annoyed with her positivity right this minute. To have her tell me to stop complaining about how much I miss her and how hard it is to not her around.

Almost 10 months after her death, there’s this low-grade constant awareness of her lack, and many reminders of how discombobulated things are as my family resets. I get the deep sads more randomly now, but when it comes on, it is still the rawest, achiest, saddest sadness I have ever known. It’s a longing for something I know I won’t get. Out of reach. Off limits. And ugh, I just miss her messages and her texts and her replies and opinions on things so damn much.

I wanted so badly yesterday to send her a picture of Zoe posing in front of the diorama she made as a part of her city planning unit. I want her so much to ichat with Miles while he lounges around our place like a pre-schoolin’ Hugh Heffner in his socks and nothing else. I want to show her the cover of my book or my author photo proofs, just to hear her take on it. I’m dying to talk to her about movies and books. It’s such an uncharted emptiness that I just cannot fill.

I heard this 20ish/30ish girl the other day at the coffee place on the phone. She was talking to her mom in a really sour and insouciant way – she sounded like a teenager with a bad attitude. Who knows what her mom was saying to her on the other line. Who knows their history or their dynamic or what’s come up between them, what their conflicts have been. I’ll never know. But I wanted to shake her. And tell her to buck up. Whatever was going on, she needed to be nice to her mom. It couldn’t be that bad. As Judi would say, walk it off sister.


The grief is morphing. Spreading out. Not lessening exactly, but some of these calcified parts of my heart are opening to something. Softening. I still miss her every hour, every time I strike up a conversation with a stranger or call someone sweetie. Every yoga practice I feel like I’m breathing her in and out. I want to Sykpe with her every time the kids do something Zoe or Mileslike and every time I finish a book or watch a movie or some asshole Republican Senator does something appalling.

But there is a change in the quality of my loss that feels measurable, like the temperature or humidity in a room. Life without her at seven months is still my same life. I think about the same concepts. I loop and worry roughly the same amount that I always have. I find things funny, moving, annoying, fascinating, beautiful, depressing, maybe in that order. Falling asleep and waking up in the morning is easier now. Food is good. And the chaos of the racing mind and impossibly heavy heart I had when she died in June and for that six month period following is dissipating.

Milestones have inevitably come and gone. I went back to my parents’ house for the first time since she died there and began trying to conceive of it as my dad’s place. I sat and drank coffee at the kitchen table and noticed that all of her calendars and date books, reading glasses and theater tickets were no longer a part of the kitchen desk drawer. I tried to get used to not seeing her at her desk in her office or watching Downton Abbey and Scandal on the couch or napping in her room. I had to deal, in such an initial and basic kind of way, with the physical and spiritual changes in my childhood home. I tried out the words: dad’s house.

I went to see her at the cemetery. Weirdly, it was not altogether impactful. Though her final home conceptually, it felt generic being there. Lovely and peaceful, close by where she lived her whole life, but not sad exactly. More vague than anything else. Which has more to do with the I work I need to do in terms of understanding where she is now. Where we all go.

I’ve had to accept how each member of my family is folding her death into their own lives. I’ve come to terms with a change in the narrative: a sad ending to a golden tale of a happy and healthy family doing it right and getting by with luck for so long. What is the next chapter? Knowing is a process, but I’m feeling hopeful.

For my own family of four, they have absorbed much of my pain and allowed me a focus. Lately I’ve been feeling that my mother-ness supercedes my other-ness. It’s the identity that makes me feel most alive and competent right now. Which doesn’t mean that I’m doing it well necessarily. But the way that my kids need me is so primal, so deeply dependent that I feel confusedly comforted by some of the very same tasks that otherwise make me feel like a literal valet/chauffuer/butler.

It must be because I feel so connected to my mom when I’m driving them somewhere, or watching a performance, or researching a camp, or navigating some emotional drama between Zoe and myself or shouting for the eightieth time that Miles must get in the tub. I’m reminded of the beautiful hectic heydey of the Kasdan family and all that we did, and all that mom did for us. It’s a way to bring her in, and to thank her I guess.

My days are getting easier to move through and enjoy even, especially when I’m busy and productive and my household is happy, but its the forever-ness part of this whole business that stings. And answering the questions about the why. That is hard. A spike of pain breaking through the subtle, dull throbbing. When Zoe asks, or I allow myself to ask or just feel sorry for myself because I miss her — when that comes over me, I just let them watch the iPad for hours and just cuddle them and squeeze them and nuzzle their arms and legs and cheeks. It helps.

Lately, Zoe has been sleeping with the Matryoshka doll my mom bought her on a trip to Russia. She holds it tenderly with her orange security blanket, which is funny because the doll is made of wood and is totally not cuddly in any way. This feels symbolic of Judi somehow, she wasn’t cuddly, and she was enigmatic and intricately designed. A multi-layered person within a person within a person within a person, who held my sisters and I inside of her all of her life.

My job now is to embody her, and to never forget the moments and objects and stories and values that made up that life, and to share it.