The idea for my film, All Exchanges Final, came to me while I was breastfeeding in an ICU waiting room. My sister was in the ICU in a situation I hadn’t previously known existed—legally dead but technically alive. An out-of-nowhere stroke had killed her brain. The rest of her body, however, was still in great shape and the perfect candidate for organ donation. So what followed my sister’s legal death was a weird thirty-six hour twilight period where we all just kind of hung out with her dead-but-still-breathing body until the surgery. The situation felt absurd, like it was Weekend at Bernie’s if those two guys had just spent the weekend staring at Bernie and being really, really sad. No matter how hard I tried to accept the reality of the situation, I couldn’t turn off my comedy writer’s brain, which told me that every absurd situation has a happy solution.
After someone dies, the grieving go to work. They carefully reconstruct the narratives provided by their religion, their not-religious-but-spiritual beliefs, or flat out nihilism. But since I wasn’t on board with sending my sister to some version of Heaven or off into Nothingness, I started constructing my own narrative – one in which my sister’s death was just a problem in need of a solution. Luckily I had come up with one. I just had to trade my baby for my sister.
My daughter was five months old when my sister died. And in my five months as a new mother I’d experienced neither the heart-bursting joy old ladies on the street gushed about nor the resentment sardonic mommy blogs warned of. She was fine. She was a good baby. And I was fine with her. The idea that I was supposed be in capital L love with this little life form was quietly hilarious to me- as if someone had asked me to make a deep, soulful connection with a very cute potato. While people like my sister had found motherhood to be a transformative experience, I had so far found it to be more of a plus-one situation.
It was so simple. Just trade this little creature for my sister and everything would be fine. Of course, reality got in my way so I made a film instead. In All Exchanges Final, a woman in the bargaining stage of grief gets the opportunity to actually make a deal. Through this decision, both monstrous and loving, the film explores the great irony of family relationships – that sometimes the connections that are supposed to be the most natural are the hardest to make. As a comedy writer emerging from grief, I made this film to tell the story of a tragedy in a way that, like life, is a little bit funnier than it sounds on paper.