Sunday, November 2, 2008

I Am Not Having A Bad Year

After my father’s death on top of my brain tumor, a lot of people have been commiserating with me about my bad year. As always, the support and kind wishes are welcome. We need all the support we can get, just about now.

There is one point worth noting for the record, though: I’m not having a bad year. At worst, I’m having some bad months. There’s no disputing that September and October aren’t in contention for the greatest-month-ever award. That doesn’t pollute their neighbors, though, and while November looks to hold some challenges, we’re not writing it off yet. Many of the months before September were great, and some of next year looks both challenging and fun. I am not conceding the entire year for the unwelcome elements of two months.

The events of the last few days left me, predictably enough, pretty tired, and I spent most of yesterday resting and/or sleeping, aside from one ethics discussion in Chemistry. The rest helped, and I’m hoping will help me recharge before the week starts.

As always, the kindness of people is overwhelming. We are leaning on many.

We have made progress on the things needing doing and are starting on the next steps. We need to finish obituaries, both general public and science-centric versions. There’s a monument to be selected and ordered, and a spring memorial service to start thinking about, including venue, so we can notify people with the announcements we also need to think about. J will be handling all the estate details, though we’ll offer whatever assistance she needs or wants. Before we can finish the obituaries, we need to tie down details of where to send memorial contributions. Some of these tasks require a weekday and others will just take more work and time. All will be fine with the tortoise approach.

Kearney and I worked on a first draft of an obituary and then sent it off to the rest of the family to edit and improve. Going through that effort highlighted the scope and achievements of Dad’s eight decades in science. (This floored me the first time I saw it, too: he went from a 1935 bachelor’s degree to a masters’ in 1937 and completed his Ph.D in 1940, immediately assuming a faculty position at Cornell. He left his last job, for the EPA in Florida, in 2004.) Remembrances of him from all corners of the globe highlight his contributions to the learning and lives of generations of students and colleagues. It was a big life that is leaving a big hole for many, not just his immediate family.

Adjusting to the changed geography of the emotional landscape will take some time. That’s aside from the shock of opening the door to J with a canister of ashes (I believe the polite word these days is “urn” but it sure looked like a black plastic box to me), instructions and news. It was hard on her, hard on us, and hard on the family, but it sure got the job done in the way my father wanted. With some drama, which was also one of his predilections. (Here you can see a major influence on my personality in my distaste for drama.) His method was abrupt, but completely effective in achieving his wishes. Keeping quiet the news of his final illness is the same: it accomplished what he wanted to do with a minimum of fuss—to him. He wanted to move from treatment to palliative care and maintain the peace of his environment. Those are completely understandable goals. I’d wish for the same things for myself and for anyone I love. I’d just do it more directly. Now you know how I come by being so straightforward, too. My goal is to find a good balance and pacing for getting done well the tasks before us. All my work on tortoisedom, as slow and fitful as it has been, will surely help.

Meanwhile, my arm has been untaped most of a week without serious bad effects, and continues to get stronger all the time. Yesterday and today, it was sore; tomorrow brings more occupational therapy, so we’ll consult then about whether that’s a sign of progress or something to address.

Headaches still calibrate my activity levels: too high, and the headaches come back. Hitting the mark, and the headaches are absent. I might have chosen another signal, given the opportunity, but seems to fall into the area of “don’t get to choose.” That is a big category these past two months. I’m making my peace with it.

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