A woman's boyfriend died 3 months after they started dating. She turned her complicated feelings into a weekly comedic Zoom show.

A woman's boyfriend died 3 months after they started dating. She turned her complicated feelings into a weekly comedic Zoom show.
Julie Piñero performs her show "Delejos."Julie Piñero
  • Julie Piñero's boyfriend, Jose Zambrano, died suddenly when he was killed in Brooklyn.
  • To honor his love of video games and his life, she created a virtual show called "Delejos."
  • Piñero asked viewers to connect with something they love from afar to show the power of humanity.

Julie Piñero was in the thick of her grief when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Her partner, Jose Zambrano, had been killed randomly in Brooklyn in November 2019. Piñero, who had only been dating Zambrano for three months - and two weeks as exclusive boyfriend and girlfriend - when he died, couldn't stop ruminating about her complex emotions.

How could losing someone she'd known for so little time hurt so much? Where did her grief fit in among the family and longtime friends who were also heartbroken over Zambrano's untimely death?
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To explore those feelings and honor her relationship with Zambrano, Piñero created a one-woman virtual show about their love and dreams. The idea was a pre-pandemic one, and Piñero went with a virtual medium as a nod to Zambrano's passion for creating video games.

But since the project, called Delejos or "from afar" in Spanish, came to fruition in a pandemic world, it took on a whole new meaning. Much like the sudden and unexpected loss Piñero faced, an estimated 1.2 million Americans have lost loved ones throughout the pandemic. When she performed the two-hour show each week, Piñero wanted viewers to remember its hopeful message.

"This piece kind of arrives at this very magical, fantastic idea, that perhaps the ones who leave us too soon are leaving us little breadcrumbs of all of the things we need to heal after they pass," Piñero told Insider.
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A surprise trip to Olive Garden spurred the show concept

Piñero started to notice those breadcrumbs herself soon after her boyfriend's death.

Zambrano, a Venezuelan immigrant, fled to the United States for safety years before Piñero met him - leaving behind his entire family. He had a virtual reality game in the works when they met, called Delejos, that was borne out of his personal experience fleeing his home. The central concept of Zambrano's game was to connect with something you love from afar. So when Zambrano's mother asked Piñero if she could take her to her now-deceased son's favorite restaurant, she obliged, hoping to feel close to her boyfriend by proxy. What she didn't expect was to be taken to Olive Garden.
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"That was one of the most deeply funny things that has ever happened to me, and I felt that was a gift from him," Piñero said.

"I don't mean that in a supernatural way, but [when you] appreciate the beautiful, funny moments that are inherent to loss and pain of grief, there's healing in that."

In that moment of unexpected humor, Piñero realized the best way to move through her grief would be to run with Zambrano's concept of loving from a distance. What she created was a show that was equal parts comedy, heartfelt monologue, music, and immersive imagery.
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Piñero performs each week to move through her grief

Every week, Piñero performed Delejos over Zoom to a virtual audience of around 30 people, who were all encouraged to keep their cameras on.

She told them about the first time she met Zambrano, about their first date, and how he made her feel seen.

Reliving these moments can be painful, Piñero said, but she viewed them as part of her path to healing.
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Then she asked the audience to do visualization exercises to elicit similar emotions in themselves.

The goal, she said, "is to treat every performance as an exploration" and get curious about her and others' grief.

"The stages [of grief] are so non-linear. Some days I was upset because I was angry, when I felt like I had already passed that stage," said Piñero.
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"I didn't want to feel those feelings. But there's a lot of beauty to be mined when you open yourself up to that."

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