My dad never cries, but no that day, he started sobbing in the car after he told me that the doctor thought Mom had cancer that had spread to lots of parts of her body and that she probably had "three to six months to live, but it's hard to really know for sure." (3.72)
Seeing your parent cry for the first time is pretty traumatic. Seeing your parent cry because the other one is dying… well, let's just say we don't envy Corinna in this moment.
My mom, Sophie Burdette, had a death sentence, but she hadn't committed a crime. (3.72)
Corinna gets to stay on the planet, but part of her has a death sentence, too. When someone you love dies, you don't get that part of your heart back.
Everything is so different now than it was before, and not just with Joci. It's as if everything in my life can now be divided between BD and AD. Before death and after death. (4.55)
Once you've experienced something as heartbreaking as losing your mom, you can never completely go back to being a carefree kid. Corinna didn't just grow up fast; she grew up instantly. Life now will always be After.
I don't believe God had a plan to make my mother die and make me motherless at age thirteen and my dad wifeless at age forty-four. […] What kind of a God would want Sophie Burdette to die? (6.42)
Corinna hates when people tell her that Sophie's death must have been part of "God's plan." It just doesn't add up for Corinna.
She had a baby who died a few days after he was born, so I think she kind of knew what it was like. It's totally different, but kind of the same, I guess. (7.22)
Which is worse: Being a parent and losing a child, or being a child and losing a parent? How are they the same? How are they different?
Seeing mail addressed to her feels like getting sharp needles stuck into the emptiness inside of me. Don't they know she's dead and can't read their stupid catalogs or contribute to their organizations? (11.7)
It's not like Corinna would have forgotten Sophie if those catalogs hadn't been there to remind her. What hurts is that when you're mourning the person you loved most, you don't want to be reminded that to others, they were just a name on a mailing label.
First, I sort the candy into color groups. Then I make designs with them. I tell myself that if I get the right combination and eat them in a special order, then I might somehow unlock a secret passageway and be magically transported to heaven (or wherever her spirit is), and my mom will be sitting there smiling at me like she's been waiting for me. (18.2)
There's a name for this: magical thinking. It's sort of like praying, in that you're imagining something you want and doing something ritualistic to manifest it.
Yasmine's father was in the U.S. Marines and got blown up in Afghanistan about eight months ago. Max's dad committed suicide. Robert's stepfather died in a car accident when someone ran a red light. Yikes. I want to know more about all of them, but especially the suicide. (24.3)
Corinna can't comprehend why anyone would choose to die, given that Sophie's death was so totally not by choice. Why do you think people are more curious about the details of suicides than natural deaths?
"This is stupid. There are so many stupid rumors and stories about ghosts and curses and death. And if you're trying to scare me about my mom, she's not even here, for your information." (47.15)
It might not be that Olivia is trying to scare Corinna; it could be that she forgets who she's talking to when she starts telling ghost stories. Almost a year after Sophie's death, Olivia is once again starting to talk to Corinna just like she would her other friends.
After using every hand signal for death we know—finger across the throat, finger gun to the chest, sword to the stomach—and repeating the word "cancer" over and over, they seem to get it. (53.19)
The Ishibashis don't get it, though, and Aiko calls the next day to say her parents are worried about Sophie. Why did the Ishibashis ask Corinna and her dad about Sophie, watch them mime several kinds of violent death, and then invite them to their home?
I guess she's trying to get close again, but it feels so awkward, like we can't figure out how to go back to the way it was before. I place the cupcake back in the box and wonder if things between me and Joci will ever be good again. If I can ever trust her again. (4.55)
It's not just Joci that Corinna has trouble trusting—it's the world. How could you, when the world just took away your favorite person?
I'm mad at Joci for a lot of reasons. But I also need her. It felt so good when she stuck up for me at lunch the other day, better than any cupcake ever could. Being so mad at the person you want on your side feels terrible. (5.40)
This is the same thing that motivates people to apologize for things that aren't their fault: Sometimes it feels easier to swallow your anger than stand up for yourself.
I didn't tell my friends. I didn't want anyone to know. If they knew, then it would be even harder for me to block it out. (8.9)
After her mom dies, Corinna is torn between wanting people to acknowledge her pain and wanting them to let her forget it. The trouble, of course, is that it's impossible to forget.
The great thing about Clare is that she understands the serious stuff. Another great thing about Clare is that we can joke about things that no one else gets, like baked ziti. (9.41)
Obviously it's not actually funny when your mom dies and the neighbors pity-cook for you. However, you eventually have to find something to laugh at in the middle of the pain, and for Clare and Corinna, it's the fact that baked ziti seems to be the default condolence dish.
Joci is a great friend in some ways, but after what happened with my bracelet, on top of blabbing about my mom to who knows how many people last summer, I really don't know if we can stay friends. (10.39)
For the first half of the book, Joci's not a great friend at all. But we'll cut her a little slack—she hasn't had any practice dealing with death. (But seriously, what's up with that bracelet?)
If you'd told me back in September that Clare would become a regular member of our lunch table by November, I would never have believed it. No one changes where they sit unless there's some big fight or something. (11.16)
By accepting Clare, Corinna's friends show her she can trust them. Allowing Clare to sit with them is an act of kindness not just to Clare, but also to Corinna.
Now I'm really not sure our friendship will survive. And that would be sad. We've been friends for so many years, and I really love her mom. (13.39)
Joci's mom is the closest person Corinna has to a mother after Sophie dies—we just wish Joci's mom would reassure Corinna that she's not going anywhere. (Saying it with Victoria's Secret is the next best thing, though.)
"So even though I hate it when you say things like that, or broadcast to the entire world about my mom having cancer even after I ask you not to, I just hope we can be real friends again, like before." (16.53)
Her friendship with Joci will never be like before because Sophie's death has made Corinna a different person. However, seeing that they can weather something so awful is likely to make the friendship even stronger.
"Yeah… but… well… it was really hard. I felt so uncomfortable. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what you wanted me to do." (16.56)
Finally, Joci admits it. Sixteen chapters in is better than never, right? Let the healing begin.
After our showdown with Dylan in PE, Nicole begins to hang out with Joci, Clare, Eliana, Lena, Olivia and me. She's really fun, and when she doesn't have that blank look on her face, she's really pretty. (44.18)
We're willing to bet Nicole's blank look is an external sign of her internal numbness—sometimes shutting down is the only way to not fall apart. It's not a good coping mechanism, but it's a coping mechanism nonetheless.
Everyone—worst of all, my friends—has pretty much avoided me all summer. But now they won't be able to. And everyone else… Well, I figure if they don't already know my "news," as soon as they find out, I'm going to be the class freak. Or the class pity project. (3.5)
Going back to school is hard enough without grief piled on top. Corinna's not sure if it would be worse to be ostracized or pitied, but either way, it's no wonder her stomach hurts.
Walking down the familiar hallways, I feel strangely alone. Alone even though there are tons of kids everywhere. Alone even though some of them are my friends. (3.23)
Our internal worlds often take precedent over our external ones. The way you perceive what's going on around you depends on how you perceive what's going on inside you.
It feels like I'm on a separate planet from everyone else. The kids at school are on Planet Normal, the planet I used to belong to. Their lives are going on as if nothing had happened. And then there's me. I'm on Planet Doom and Gloom. I don't know if I'll ever get back to Planet Normal. (3.60)
What was that we said about being an alien? The good news is that once you get out of middle school, Planet Normal starts to seem less and less appealing. Planet Doom and Gloom has way better music.
They never ask me about my dad, if my dad is driving, or whatever. It's like there's this big wall between them and me. (5.3)
Moms aren't the only parents who can drive you to the mall and cook you dinner, yo. Granted, Corinna's dad lives on canned chili and indefinitely postpones clothes shopping, but we've got to give him credit for that just-toss-the-tampons-in-the-cart-at-the-grocery-store thing.
They should make earplugs for people who are grieving, so we don't have to hear the stupid things people say, but I'd look like a dork in them. (5.13)
We're kind of surprised Dr. Dre hasn't jumped into this market yet. Just sayin'.
It's times like this when I feel like he barely notices me, even though we're in the same house. It's not like I am totally invisible, but more like we're separated by fog and can barely see each other. (6.29)
Corinna doesn't just feel separate from people who aren't grieving; she feels separate from her dad, too. They might be mourning the same person, but they're mourning totally different relationships.
He stands there in his khakis and Orioles baseball hat, silent, tall, thin, kind of blowing around in the wind. This might sound paranoid, but I get the feeling that the other parents don't talk to him the way they used to. (10.67)
Corinna's dad is going through the motions of being a parent, showing up at her soccer games as always, but he's not really there. His anchor is gone, and now he's at the mercy of the wind.
Even though I'm sitting with my friends, I feel trapped. I'm torn between wanting to scream at everyone and everything, and wanting to run out of there and jump on my bike to freedom. (15.23)
Grief can obscure your ability to recognize your emotions. Anger? Sadness? A little of both? Corinna's not sure.
"Well, um, I think Juliette didn't want you to feel left out, so we were supposed to keep it hush-hush. I told her we should wait or maybe change the theme, but she didn't want to." (20.8)
If Corinna's friends had been honest with her about the mother-daughter tea party, it would have been awful, but at least they wouldn't have kept secrets and betrayed her trust. Finding out about it after the fact is worse.
Do they think that talking to you or being near you means they can "catch" having a parent die? Nothing like feeling that you're contagious when you already feel so alone. (36.4)
We're pretty sure nobody actually consciously thinks this, but superstition is a powerful thing. It's eighth grade—difference in general feels contagious.
"I know Mom talked to you about some of the body changes girls go through. She was certainly more of an expert on those kinds of things than I am, but if you have questions about that stuff, maybe you can ask Aunt Jennifer, or Deborah, or…" (12.6)
Okay, Dad, listen to us: We're Team Joci's Mom all the way on this one. Give that woman a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves and a Victoria's Secret gift certificate and tell her you need her to do you a solid.
"Oh, and one last thing, honey. When you need supplies at the drug store or the grocery store or wherever you buy those things, just go ahead and toss them in the cart, okay? I don't want you feeling embarrassed." (12.16)
Way to tell your daughter the most embarrassing thing in the world, and follow it up by telling her not to feel embarrassed. Still, Corinna's dad is lost in his own grief, and he's doing the best he can. He might not realize Corinna needs clothes, but at least he realizes girls have periods.
When did you get your period? When you said you were a late bloomer, is that what you meant? When am I going to get mine? Almost all of my friends have theirs already. Is there something wrong with me? Does being sad make your period come later? (12.19)
This is one of those times when we wish Sophie had written Corinna a letter before she died, or at least filled in a few more pages in her journal. Our hearts are breaking over here.
I see Alex looking right at me, right into my eyes. He's only two feet away from me, and he's wearing his orange shirt […] That frozen-but-hot-and-sweaty feeling takes over my body. (15.15)
Oh young love… bodies aren't the only things that change in adolescence. Crushes are a doozy, too.
I'm in the girls' bathroom between classes, having just checked again to see if I got my first period. I'm paranoid that it's going to come at school. (16.21)
Running to the bathroom between classes to check for your period has to be a drag… as well as something that pretty much every adolescent girl has done at some point.
I never imagined that my first bra would be bought by someone else's mom. (21.37)
Ouch. But hey, at least she has some nurturing mother figures in her life. They don't make up for her mom, but we like knowing Corinna has someone to help her out in the lady department.
I've been feeling more and more self-conscious about being flat when all my friends are filling out and moving from exercise bras to real bras. My body seems to be stuck. I've thought about what I could do to get it going but haven't been able to come up with any ideas. (21.44)
Corinna's been Googling, but she hasn't found any answers. Her body will probably start cooperating any time now, but a few months feels like an eternity when you're waiting.
My mom said I couldn't get my ears pierced until my sweet sixteen because she got some terrible infection that spread all over when she got hers pierced. She was worried that I would, too. (30.3)
When Corinna goes against Sophie's wishes and engages in a normal act of teenage rebellion, it's a sign she's healing. Acting like a typical teenager for an afternoon is the first small step toward actually being one.
Dad brings up the idea of us taking the trip to Japan we had been planning to take with Mom this summer. They had wanted to wait until I was old enough, whatever that means, and apparently fourteen is the right age. (38.3)
Growing up isn't all about physical development—it's about intellectual development, too. At least Corinna's dad recognizes she's made some strides, even if she hasn't put any of "that stuff" in the shopping cart at the grocery store yet.
I wonder if I would have talked to my mom about this boy stuff. I can't really imagine talking to Mom, much less Dad, about it in any detail. How could Dad know what it's like to be a girl? (40.9)
He can't, but he knows what it's like to be a teenager and have crushes. We hope Corinna will eventually be able to recognize this and talk to him about it.
I reach out to open the taxi door. The driver wearing white gloves starts saying something very fast in Japanese. I'm confused. Then the door starts swinging open by itself. Mom never told us that the drivers get really mad if you try to open the door. (52.11)
In contrast, taxis in New York City have televisions in the partition between the front and back seats, and they start blaring commercials at you as soon as you get in. America!
We are surrounded by noisy slurpers. Dad and I look at each other and burst out laughing at the sound effects. Then we pump up the volume of our own slurping to fit in. (52.13)
In Japan, slurping is a sign that you're enjoying the meal. It's actually considered good manners.
Trying to communicate is exhausting. Sometimes people pretend not to hear us or understand us, but other times they are incredibly helpful and we do a whole nodding routine with a mixture of English and Japanese. (52.17)
Here's an experiment: Try to go an entire day without talking, but don't stop interacting with the world. Sure, other people might shun you for being a mime, but you'll learn what it's like to try to get by without spoken language.
[…] when it's time to flush, I'm faced with a bunch of buttons with Japanese characters on them. None of them have pictures that I can recognize. I take a guess. Two seconds after I press the middle one, water starts shooting straight up in the air and all over the little room. (53.26)
Corinna's just encountered a bidet, which is a more hygienic alternative to toilet paper. Americans are a little behind on this one. (Get it? Behind? See what we did there?)
I'm worried we won't be able to find her, even with a meeting place, but I never would have guessed that we would stand out as if we were tall basketball players with red hair and blue skin. (54.4)
Fortunately, Corinna and her dad don't have to worry about finding Aiko in Kyoto—just being white Americans makes them easily recognizable.
The floor is covered with straw tatami mats, the kind I saw at the restaurant when I horrified the hostess with my dirty bare feet and at the Ishibashis'. I'm not sure if we're supposed to keep on the slippers or go barefoot this time. Dad and I both look at Aiko's feet for guidance. (54.18)
Corinna learns not to wear sandals on the street because her feet become unacceptably dirty. Japan would be a lot easier if she didn't have to walk or pee.
There's a tiny toilet room that has its own pair of slippers just outside the door. Across the top of each toe is written TOILET. I sense another slipper rule, and I start worrying I'll cause a second flood. (54.19)
There are special bathroom-only slippers in Japan, and if you wear them outside the bathroom, it's considered very unsanitary. Likewise, don't be wearing your living-room slippers to go to the toilet.
"The incense smoke helps the dead find their way to come back and visit," Aiko explains. "And the vegetable horses help the spirits travel home quickly. The vegetable cows help the spirits return feeling relaxed." (54.44)
Okay, this all sounds a little silly, but no more so than a giant bunny who brings you chocolate eggs or a fairy who gives you money for your teeth.
It's interesting how sometimes time goes so slowly, like when you're in pain or in math class, or having lunch with people who are in shock because they just found out your mom is dead and you don't speak the same language. (55.1)
"We got to meet your famous Japanese family. Aiko showed us some really cool stuff. She told us about Obon and welcoming the dead, so that's what I'm trying to do now. I hope you know you're welcome anytime." (55.8)
Having returned from her time as a foreigner, Corinna has new tools for communicating with the person who felt most like home.
It's so quiet and serious while we eat. I used to love it when the three of us got silly and laughed at stupid stuff. (5.23)
Laughter is the first thing to go after Sophie's death. It will be a while before Corinna and her dad find anything funny again.
Aunt Jennifer's kids and husband came with her from California, and my cousins who live in England came, too. I hadn't seen them in a really long time because they live even farther away than the California cousins. (7.19)
One of the few positive things—perhaps the only positive thing—about funerals is that they bring families together.
Even my grandparents—Grandma and Bapa, Mom's parents who moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona a few years ago, and my dad's parents, Gigi and Pop Pop, who live in Annapolis—didn't seem to know what to say to me. (7.22)
Everyone who loved Sophie is going through their own pain, but they all realize that being a daughter without a mom is the worst pain of all. Also, lots of adults find it easier to talk to other adults than to kids.
It stinks that she lives in California, especially now. Aunt Jennifer reminds me of my mom. They are sisters, of course. Were sisters? (7.22)
Is Aunt Jennifer still Sophie's sister after Sophie's death? Is Corinna still her daughter?
I don't tell Joci, but I worry about my dad feeling too lonely. (9.77)
Corinna doesn't realize that her dad might welcome some alone time. He needs a break—even just overnight—from being a single parent, and everyone needs time to be alone with his or her grief.
I miss the old dad, the one I knew before Mom got sick. The one who laughed and made me laugh. I feel like I should be the parent and make him go out with his friends or play tennis or something. (10.66)
Corinna's dad is a mess, and he doesn't have the same daily access to his friends as Corinna does because he's an adult. She doesn't need to be his parent, though—he needs to be hers.
I'm also worried I'll forget the sound of her voice. It's already fading a little, even though I have her cell phone message. We do have some movies Dad made, but that's not the same as hearing it in your head. (14.6)
Losing touch with your own memories is awful. At leas Corinna can still talk to her mom's voice mail, though it's obviously not the same. We've got loads more to say about this over in the "Symbols" section, in case you're interested.
Uncle Patrick and Aunt Vicky, my father's brother and his wife, are both trying to be thoughtful and make an effort to talk and sit with me away from my loud and hyper cousins. All the grown-ups ask me the same question: "How's school?" (17.8)
Just as Corinna's school friends feel uncomfortable talking to her about the deep stuff, so do her adult relatives. Knowing how to talk to the grieving is never easy, no matter what age you are.
I think people are avoiding talking about Mom, which is really weird, because we're with our own family. It's like everyone is trying to protect one another by not bringing her up, but it's so obvious that she's on everyone's minds. (17.9)
Yeah, what's up with that, anyway? If her relatives said what they were feeling, it would give Corinna permission to do the same.
I hope you will forgive Grandma and Bapa. I know they want to stay close and connected to you. They love you and your dad very much. Family connections are so important. (55.3)
Thank goodness the Burdettes have Aunt Jennifer to be their mediator, even if she lives far away. Email: the great equalizer.
Grief is hard. Really hard. And you can't put the cap back on when you want to, like you can with a tube of paint. (1.1)
Corinna compares the year after Sophie's death to a bruise. In the fall, everything is black, but by spring, the black has a yellow and purple halo—she's not healed, but she's healing.
Some people say that the heavens are crying when it rains. I guess they're really crying tonight, crying with me. (4.1)
When you're sad, bright and sunny days can feel like they're mocking you. The gray, stormy sky matches Corinna's mood.
My dad said he thought Dr. R. was having a hard time accepting that she couldn't fix my mom. When she finally stopped chemo and all the other stuff, Dr. R. seemed kind of mad. (8.5)
Corinna doesn't understand that Dr. R. wasn't mad at Sophie; she was mad at cancer. After all, she's an oncologist—she knew Sophie was dying. How could you not be mad about (not at) the patients you can't save?
My world is upside down and inside out and scrambled like mush and it's really horrible, and I feel like I have this great, big, giant emptiness inside of me. (10.1)
Corinna has to redefine herself as a motherless child. The emptiness is partly the absence of Sophie, but it's also the absence of the self she knew.
This fall, Dad hasn't missed a single game, home or away, but he's kind of like a scarecrow. He stands there in his khakis and Orioles baseball hat, silent, tall, thin, kind of blowing around in the wind. (10.67)
Here's another example of being alone even when you're surrounded by people. Corinna's not the only one with an emptiness inside, and just because you still have to be someone's parent doesn't mean you can automatically get it together.
The other day, I heard my dad telling someone over the phone that I've been spending a lot of time in my room and that I was playing a lot of sad music. Like he hasn't […] then my dad said, "Yeah, we're kind of going through the motions of life, doing our best." (22.51)
Corinna and her dad have to go through the motions until they figure out what this new life is going to look like. They have to live it until they define it and it becomes normal. It's fake it 'til you make it in the worst of ways.
Our house is permanently changed. Our house is filled with sadness, not holiday cheer. Our house is missing someone. (22.55)
Seeing happy people when you're unhappy is awful. Seeing them being happy on Christmas is another level of terrible.
The next day, we head down to Ms. DuBoise's office at lunch period. Without even saying hello, I blurt out, "Just because her dad died three years ago doesn't mean she's over it." (24.17)
Dealing with Sophie's death makes Corinna more compassionate toward others. When she brings Clare to the grief group, she's trying to ease someone else's suffering in the midst of her own.
And I do talk to her, sometimes in my head, sometimes out loud, but still, she's not coming back to our house, to be my dad's wife, to be my mom here and now. She won't be there for all my graduations when everyone else's mom will, or for my wedding. (27.3)
Part of making peace with someone's death is looking toward the future and preparing to be without them in important moments.
At the end, it was kind of scary to see her lying there, barely breathing. I couldn't tell for sure if she was alive or not. I wanted to hold her hand, but I didn't know what I was and wasn't supposed to do. (43.12)
Corinna feels a lot of guilt over not saying goodbye, but watching your mom hover between life and death for days is enough to justify hiding in your room. We're pretty sure Sophie would forgive her.
I look over at Joci to see if she gets how awkward this is. I'm not sure, but she looks like she's as scared as I am about how this is going to go. (3.45)
Corinna's first lunch with her friends on the first day of eighth grade is particularly scary. Nobody knows whether to acknowledge that she's motherless or pretend nothing happened.
But he hasn't answered the part of my question I've been too scared to ask. The part about what happens with me if something happens to him. The part I really need him to answer. (4.29)
This is a conversation Corinna needed to have with her dad before Sophie died—or at least shortly thereafter—but he might not have it figured out yet. After all, this is a pretty major arrangement to make.
When you don't know what's going to come at you, it makes it hard to feel safe. It's like trying to run across a street before the speeding truck that appears out of nowhere hits you and makes you go splat. (5.20)
All kinds of things unexpectedly trigger Corinna's fear, from her mom's favorite yogurt to seeing other mothers dropping their kids off at school. She never knows what's going to hurt next.
We haven't done a major food shopping together since Mom died. I feel a sense of danger, like I'm in a movie and a tiger is hiding in one of the aisles. (5.21)
Seeing her mom's favorite foods for the first time since the funeral is excruciating. It's not like Corinna's not always thinking of Sophie, but she doesn't need extra reminders.
I still have stomach pains. I don't think that was one of Mom's symptoms, but I can't help but worry that the different aches and pains I get might be some kind of cancer, or something else really serious. (9.23)
Corinna's stomachaches are from stress, but she'll probably be nervous about aches and pains for the rest of her life. After all, when Sophie went in for the surgery that revealed her cancer, Corinna's dad said it was just to make sure nothing was wrong.
They don't understand that my life has changed forever. Forever. They also don't have a clue what it's like to be terrified that your other parent might die. That could be the worst part. I don't have a backup plan. (9.40)
It's not Corinna's job to come up with a backup plan—it's the job of the adults in her life. They need to work it out and tell her as soon as possible.
Dad's spacey-ness makes me feel sick and scared. We really could have been hit or hit the cop, we could have died, or we could have killed someone else. I'm worried that he isn't paying attention to important stuff, and I need him to get his act together. (9.105)
What's worse than a parent who's putting your life in danger? One who's endangering his own.
I'm surprised to hear that besides Clare, there are other kids like me […] But I also feel scared. What would we have to talk about and what if I don't feel comfortable? (10.18)
There's no way Corinna could feel less comfortable than she does with the kids who haven't lost a parent. We're glad she decides to go to Ms. DuBoise's group.
I feel so alone and scared sometimes, scared that the pain will stay with me forever, that I won't ever go back to having a normal life. (14.1)
Corinna's probably right about this—after all, her version of normal means having a mom. But having her first crush is a close second; at least she can still feel excited about some ordinary-people things.
Every single one of us is scared our other parent might die. I also say that I'm scared that either my dad or I might get cancer some day. (26.26)
Corinna's not just scared her dad might die; she's scared they both might die in a very specific way.