I … what? Who? Whyyyyy? As a book reader, I was well aware that we’d get to this story line eventually, but I was in no way, shape, or form prepared for “Claudia and the Sad Goodbye.” It feels weird to be guzzling wine after taking in some children’s programming, but what else will soothe after such an emotionally exhausting, gorgeous episode? Richard’s coloring books will not suffice! Nothing will. But as Claudia learns, all you can do is face your grief even though it hurts.
Claudia wakes up one morning to find her parents upset in the kitchen — Mimi died in her sleep last night. “That’s the thing about life, you never know when it will change,” Claudia says. But it seems Mimi did have an idea that her time was limited. She’d been teaching Claudia how to make traditional Japanese tea, making sure she knows you must warm the bowl first, and she visits her before she goes to bed to tell her to “keep painting” and then, instead of goodnight, says, “Goodbye, my Claudia.” Mimi had also begun to set up her funeral arrangements. She wanted to do it the traditional Japanese Buddhist way, which means no guests in the house until after the funeral. Claudia can’t comprehend Mimi not being in her house, and while her parents offer the platitudes one gives after someone dies, Claudia knows those words are just “something to fill the air when you feel like screaming.” Honestly, that’s the best way I’ve ever heard all the “she was at peace”s and “it was her time”s described. A few minutes in and Claudia is already emotionally gutting us.
She can’t stand to be in that house one more minute. She needs to be distracted because thinking about her grandmother, the one person in her family she felt truly understood her, is too much. She goes to Stacey’s and wants a project or just to go to the mall. She goes to the BSC meeting at Kristy’s house but leaves as soon as Karen — who in the actual fuck invited Karen to this thing? — starts talking about being visited by Mimi’s ghost, and Claudia can’t take everyone staring at her like she’s a “walking tragedy.” She wants to bake or do an art project. She wants everything to be normal. But it isn’t, and she can keep this act up for only so long.
Even after the funeral, Claudia tells her family she needs to get out of the house. No one wants her to go, but no one stops her. She knows it’s wrong, but facing her real emotions is just too hard. Mimi might have been ready to go, but Claudia wasn’t. By the time she ends up at Mary Anne’s, she’s manic. She’s pacing and talking a mile a minute about how they can rearrange Mary Anne’s room again or even fix the pillow-color order, and she doesn’t take a breath until Mary Anne throws a pillow at her to get her to stop for a second. Wow, wow, wow, Momona Tamada is excellent throughout this episode, but this scene especially, as she finally cracks open and talks about how it feels as if her “chest is going to explode” and she “can’t breathe,” is completely devastating. And then these two 13-year-olds have this lovely conversation about grief — about how you have to deal with it so you can move forward — that really makes you happy this show exists. The youths will be okay, I think? Well, the ones who watch this show, anyway.
Claudia finally goes home to begin to grieve for her grandmother, but when she walks in, she finds Janine and Ashley going through Mimi’s jewelry box and she loses it on them, yelling about how they’re going through it like it’s a “garage sale.” But Janine has reason to be angry with Claudia, too. Claudia has no idea how hard it’s been at the house. Janine has been the only one there to try to support their parents, and the only person she’s had to lean on is Ashley. Ashley isn’t just Janine’s friend; she’s her girlfriend, and they’re in love. Mimi knew this and was so happy for them, and she wanted Ashley to have a piece of her jewelry. Janine is in tears. As much as Claudia thinks Mimi was the only one in their family who got her, Janine probably feels that just as strongly. Claudia sits next to her, and she knows she’s right about everything; the sisters agree that Mimi was a romantic. Of course, Claudia wants Ashley to have Mimi’s bracelet (it’s the one their jiji gave to her, so it feels right). As Janine cries about how much she already misses her, Claudia holds her and says, “Me too, my Janine.”
Can anyone even see the screen through their tears anymore? Holy hell. But Claudia turns a corner, and so must we. She realizes Mimi was the one who tied their family together. “We belonged to Mimi,” she says, and now it’s Claudia’s job to do the same with “string, tradition, and love.” She makes her own special koden — Japanese mourning gifts in envelopes tied with twine in specific knots — and sends out invitations to the BSC girls, her parents, and Janine and Ashley to have a memorial for Mimi in her room. Everyone gathers on the floor, and Claudia starts it off by making traditional Japanese tea. She does not forget to warm the bowl. And then the room is filled with memories of Mimi. Janine talks about Mimi at a biker bar. Claudia tells a story of Mimi chasing an ambulance that was headed for their house. Ashley talks about how welcome Mimi made her feel. At this moment, Mrs. Kishi reaches over and takes Ashley’s hand to let her know she is always welcome, and Janine and Ashley hold hands.
Claudia proves once again how wise beyond her years she is because she knows she’ll never stop missing Mimi but she also knows that’s okay. “As long as I miss her, she’s still with me,” she says. She lights incense on Mimi’s altar in the living room as the Kishis hold one another, remembering Mimi. What a lovely, affecting way to explore such a complicated part of life in such a short amount of time. Now that I’ve been severely emotionally compromised WHEN I DID NOT ASK FOR THAT, I need a nap. Anyone else?
• Mary Anne is especially affected by Mimi’s death, and not just because she understands grief since she lived for it so long while her father kept his bottled up. Remember that Mimi and Mary Anne’s mother were friends, and Mimi was one of the few people who would share stories about what she was like.
• The song playing over the end scene and credits is “In Fantasia,” by Kishi Bashi.
• Another story line that book fans may recognize: Stacey’s parents are fighting, and her dad is spending a lot of time at work. Prepare yourselves, people.