I Forbid You to Forget Me

I Forbid You to Forget Me

by Daniela Spector


On August 24, 2019, about a week before my trip to Hawaii to celebrate my husband’s 30th birthday, I got a call from my dad. Mom had a stroke, and they were going to the hospital. Something shifted in my chest. After talking to my dad, I searched for Cristina Rivera in my contacts, tapped the number, and my older sister answered. The call lasted a few minutes, but she was confident in our mother’s ability to bounce back. Because mom had done it before. The year prior, mom had a stroke and had to regain the ability to walk on her own. But you’re not supposed to be good at bouncing back from strokes, so I booked a flight from New York to Miami for the next day. I could go see my mom for the weekend in Miami and return just in time for our flight to Hawaii. My mom had been sick since 2013, and I had become used to these calls. She was diagnosed with neurosarcoidosis, a disease that ravaged her mind and body. Every time I came home, she was slightly different. Her voice was weaker, she needed help getting dressed, and she forgot things easily. Walking into her hospital room, I knew this time was different from all the other times. My family was hopeful, so despite my lingering concerns, I still went to fucking Hawaii. On September 3, 2019 (my husband’s birthday), I got another call from my dad. This time he just said, “Oh, Daniela, I’m so sorry.” 

A few months after my mother passed away, I was going through the things she left behind, and I found this image in a box of photos.

It translates to, “I Forbid You to Forget Me.” It felt like a wink from my mom but also a directive.

The following syllabus follows how I’ve processed my grief.

Course Description: 

This course’s aim is to develop a working knowledge of grief. You will not learn how to get rid of your grief but rather live and expand with it. You can process the course chronologically or jump around as you see fit. 


This course is designed to follow the loss of a loved one. But often, the loss happens while your loved one is still alive. 

Month 1: 

During the first month, when grief feels the most surreal, we’ll be focusing on how to self-soothe.

An email from my friend, Peter, after my mother passed away.


  1. Bloopers on YouTube, quick dopamine hits to help trick your brain into thinking you’re ok enough to laugh.
    1. The Office
    2. Parks & Rec
    3. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
    4. Cable News

Get a journal, but instead of documenting your grief, begin each entry as if it’s a letter to your lost loved one. As if they’ll be able to read it one day.

Month 2: 

This month, we will focus on finding ways to keep your loved ones nearby. In the beginning, you might forget about the loss. Not logically, but in your bones. It’ll feel like they just went to the supermarket, and they’ll be right back. 


  1. Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner
    “How cyclical and bittersweet for a child to retrace the image of their mother. For a subject to turn back to document their archivist.”

Find photos, business cards, or anything of similar size that reminds you of your loved one. Tuck them into your journal or favorite book. Promptly forget about the action. When you find it again, it will feel like a “hello” from beyond. Sometimes the “hello” will come exactly when you need it.

Month 3: 

During this month, we’ll practice talking about our lost loved one.


  1. Andrew Garfield on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (4:38) 
    “I love talking about her, by the way, so if I cry, it’s only a beautiful thing. This is all the unexpressed love, the grief that will remain with us until we pass because we never get enough time with each other, no matter if someone lives till 60, 15, or 99. So I hope this grief stays with me because it’s all the unexpressed love that I didn’t get to tell her, and I told her every day. We all told her every day. She was the best of us.” –Andrew Garfield

Talk about the one you lost as often as possible. The food they made. The thing that annoyed you the most about them. Prepare for the lump that will gather in your throat or the tears that will well in your eyes during the first few attempts. Maybe it’ll be during a business dinner with a client you barely know, and it will be awkward and uncomfortable. Maybe it will be with a friend, and they’ll reach out to hold your hand as you recount a memory. Maybe it will be online with someone going through the same thing, and you’ll feel less alone. 

Month 4: 

This month, we’ll focus on witnessing others’ grief. A gentle reminder that this overwhelming feeling is so universal. 


  1. Marvin Heiferman’s Instagram Account: Heiferman’s partner, Maurice Berger, passed away at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. He has spent the past three years documenting his grief in heartbreakingly beautiful detail.
  1. #fromthearchiveofsuz: an ongoing series by Lily Sullivan as she grapples with the loss of her mother, Suz, and everything she left behind. 
  2. All There Is with Anderson Cooper – You Are Not Alone: Cooper begins audio recording while packing up the apartment of his late mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, and the podcast evolves into a series of emotional and moving conversations about the people we lose. This particular episode features poignant and profound messages from listeners of the podcast.  

The following questions were sent to me last year by my friends at Less-Journal. A place where loss is found. Founded by grievers (Mar and Maddie) for grievers. It’s a toolbox with resources, check-ins, kind keepsakes, and an online community so grievers can honor and heal themselves at their own pace.

My memories have begun to fade of my mother in the past few years, and I wish I had these questions sooner to preserve my memory of her. You may not have the answer to some of the questions, but that’s ok. 

About __________

  1. Describe  ______’s face? 
  2. Describe ______’s body? 
  3. What clothing did ______ like to wear? Describe an outfit you remember them wearing.
  4. Describe ______’s laughter? 
  5. Describe ______’s philosophy? 
  6. Describe how  ______ loved? 
  7. Describe ______’s morning ritual? 
  8. Describe ______’s habits? 
  9. Who was _______’s hero? 
  10. What was ______’s favorite movie(s), book(s), music, food?
  11. What was ______ known for? 
  12. Describe ______’s most used words? 
  13. Describe your relationship with ______ ?
  14. What was ______ doing before they became sick or died? 
  15. What projects, goals, or dreams did ______ leave unfinished? 


  1. How did you learn that ______ was dying? 
  2. What is the last full conversation you remember sharing with ______? 
  3. How did ______ feel about dying? 
  4. Did you feel prepared for grief? 
  5. What is the best advice you received about grief prior to grieving? Are there things you wish you had been told or taught about death?
  6. Prior to losing ______, had you supported someone through their grief? 


  1. Where was ______ when they died? Where were you when  ______  died? 
  2. Describe the room or space where ______ died? 
  3. Do you remember current events from that day? 
  4. What was the weather like? 
  5. What was ______ wearing? Really think about it– necklaces? Rings? Socks? 
  6. How did you say goodbye to ______? This can be directly or indirectly.
  7. What was the first thing you did after ______ died? 
  8. How would you describe your emotions when ______ died? Did you feel a lot, a little, or nothing at all? If you cried, how would you describe your crying? 


  1. How would you describe your grief? What does your body feel like experiencing grief? 
  2. When do you feel the most alone?
  3. Are there objects that make you miss ______ ?
  4. Are there things you wish you could hear from ______ today?
  5. How did your community and culture influence your experience of grief? 
  6. Who do you confide in about ______?
  7. Are there rules, rituals, routines or guidelines you’ve made for your grief? 
  8. What actions do you take to feel “better”?
  9. What does support look/feel like to you? What are things you wish people would say to you or ask you about your grief? 
  10. What did you do with the things ______ left behind? Are there specific things you’ve kept, and now own, that belonged to ______? How does it feel to wear/interact with those things?
  11. Has grief made you feel more or less spiritual?
  12. Do you feel connected or able to communicate with ______? For some this comes by way of prayer, for others in symbolic moments, and for many not at all. 
  13. Where do you go to visit ______? (A grave, a park, a beach, a building) 
  14. Have you become more or less fearful of death / more thoughtful of your mortality since ______’s passing? 
  15. Are there any movies, books, articles, artwork that bring you comfort? 

Month 5:

This month, we’ll focus on pre-emptive nostalgia. You’ll begin to look at all of your loved ones differently. Sometimes, by accident, you’ll imagine their deaths and how you’ll feel. You’ll approach relationships differently. Softer, with more capacity. This act will be one of the greatest gifts that grief can teach you.


  1. Dick Johnson is Dead: “A lifetime of making documentaries has convinced award-winning filmmaker Kirsten Johnson of the power of the real. But now she’s ready to use every escapist movie-making trick in the book—staging inventive and fantastical ways for her 86-year-old psychiatrist father to die while hoping that cinema might help her bend time, laugh at pain and keep her father alive forever. The darkly funny and wildly imaginative DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD is a love letter from a daughter to a father, creatively blending fact and fiction to create a celebratory exploration of how movies give us the tools to grapple with life’s profundity.”

Spend time with the living. Those you don’t know too well. Those you tolerate. Those you love. 

Additional Resources:

  1. Days After Your Departure – Joe Kenneth
  2. Dear Memory – Victoria Chang
  3. Rachel, Monique – Sophie Calle
  4. Ke Lefa Laka: Her Story – Lebohang Kganye
  5. Ojalá nos encontremos en el mar – Gabriella N. Báez