Derailed

My birthday list has been derailed because my life has been derailed.

On December 11, I found out that my dad died. No warning whatsoever. He had a heart attack in bed.

I’m thankful that he passed quickly and painlessly (I hope anyway) but sometimes I think the magnitude of shock and grief might kill me, too.

He lived in the house that I grew up in, a seven-hour drive from where I live. I immediately flew home and spent a week with my brother, who lives in the same town as my dad. My dad left no will and no paperwork in order, so much of the week was spent scrambling trying to figure out his accounts. We only paused for brief moments of grieving, where we would cry over the fact that he would never walk through my brother’s door unannounced like Kramer on Seinfeld, as he did on almost a daily basis…or cry as we shuffled through his house and came across a picture of him and my brother’s daughter that he had tacked up on the wall…or found cards that we had sent him years ago.

We made multiple visits to the funeral home in town, having to make decisions about the burial, the memorial service, the memorial cards, the cremains. We have no idea what my dad wanted, but we think he’d be happy with what we chose. I had to write his obituary, which was one of the most surreal moments of my entire life. How do you sum up a person’s life in a few paragraphs?

I’ve been experiencing the first four stages of grief like it’s my full-time job. One minute I’m looking through photos for the memorial service slideshow and I feel completely numb. The next minute I’m running errands and every time I pass an elderly man, I think, “Why does he get to live and my dad doesn’t?” Sometimes I start to go down the road of, “What if I had called him [a few days before he died], heard that he was very sick, and begged him to go to a doctor?” (He had either a bad cold or the flu before he died, which can increase the risk of heart attacks.) I’ve had moments where I’ve thought that I couldn’t go on.

I look to my friends who have already lost parents as inspiration. With time, the wounds will heal somewhat and I will live a “normal life” again. One day in the future, when I think about my dad, I’ll crack a smile instead of break down in uncontrollable sobs. I wait for that day.

 

 

 

 

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A Better Ending

A few months ago, I was waiting for the subway and ad caught my eye. It was an invitation to free lectures as part of a “Harvard Mini-Med School.”

I had never been to a free medical lecture before. Hence, an addition to the birthday list. All four of the lectures sounded interesting, but my schedule only allowed for me to attend one: A Better Ending: A New Beginning for the End of Life.

This is a hot topic for me right now, so I was really looking forward to this lecture. My interest in end-of-life care piqued last fall, when I saw Atul Gawande talk about his 2014 book, Being Mortal. In his book, he discusses the necessary shift in thinking that doctors must undertake. In medical school, students are taught to save lives. Whatever happens, they have to do everything in their power to save a person’s life.

But what if treatment after treatment brings unnecessary pain and suffering to the patient? What if the patient just wants to be comfortable in their last days and doesn’t want to endure another operation or round of drugs? What if quality of life is more important than length of life?

Doctors are now being trained and encouraged to ask terminally ill patients what is important to them. Patients are being given control in how their final days play out.

Simultaneously, there is a movement to encourage people to talk about their wishes for end-of-life care with loved ones, even before they become ill. It’s stressful enough dealing with crisis or illness when you know your loved one’s wishes regarding artificial nutrition, mechanical ventilation, CPR, etc. When you don’t know, it must be torturous.

The Conversation Project is a wonderful resource to help you start “the conversation” with loved ones.

I didn’t take notes during the lecture, so I don’t remember any of the interesting stories and research that was shared, except for Dr. Angelo Volandes‘s video library that he is creating “not to train doctors, but to train patients.” The videos explain how patients can go about discussing their goals of care with their doctors.

I printed out the resources from the lecture that are posted on the website and found them very helpful. I also highly recommend Atul Gawande’s book!

These conversations are difficult to have but really important. If people can face their mortality and think about and share their end-of-life goals with their doctors and loved ones, they are ensuring peace and comfort for themselves as well as their loved ones.

Give Me a Child until He Is Seven

…and I will give you the man.

This is the premise of the British documentary series known as the “Up Series.”

In 1964, an English television director chose fourteen 7-year-olds from different socioeconomic groups and different geographical areas of England and filmed them, intending to introduce people to the future laborers and executives of the year 2000.

What started as a one-off program became a series. Every seven years, those who wish to participate are filmed, which means there are currently eight films. The last film, 56 Up, was released in the States in 2013.

I don’t remember when I watched the first one; it may have been Christmastime, because I was at my mom’s house. As I watched it, I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to make it through all of them because I could barely understand what those 7-year-old munchkins were saying! All of the different accents: the children were from London’s East End, wealthy parts of London, Liverpool, the Yorkshire Dales. They were all adorable and most of them were talking very fast.

I stuck with it, though, and I’m so glad that I did. There was something fascinating about watching them go through all of the stages of life. Carefree and thoughtful children, awkward teenagers, young adults, middle age. None of their stories are remarkable: almost all of them get married by 21 or 28, have kids by 35, bury parents by 42 or 49. Many of them get divorced and remarry. But as Nick said in 56 Up, “It isn’t a picture really of the essence of Nick or Suzy; it’s a picture of everyman.”

As filming continued, the director wanted to frame the story in a political way, showing the difference in the high and low classes. But that angle fell away at some point and the focus shifted to everyone’s personal stories. It was apparent, though, that the wealthier people were more reticent about being filmed and tended to stay married. That being said, most of the lower to middle class people seemed perfectly content with their lives.

Even though many of the participants weren’t entirely keen on being filmed and becoming “celebrities,” ten out of fourteen of them have participated in all eight films. None of them initially “volunteered” to be filmed; it was their parents or their teachers who signed them up to participate. Thank you, Bruce, Andrew, John, Lynn, Jackie, Sue, Symon, Paul, Nick, Suzy, Peter, Neil, Tony, and Charles, for sharing your life with the world.

If you enjoy watching documentaries, these are a must. Roger Ebert included them in his top ten greatest films of all time list, for goodness’ sake!

Up Series

Courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

Another Year, Another List

Since I’ve plunged feetfirst into a new decade, I decided that I should give myself more time to complete my birthday list.

So the clock starts ticking TODAY. I’m giving myself six months to complete 41 items.

This is all I know so far:

I’m attending a lecture by Deepak Chopra in a few days.

I’m attending a burlesque version of the Nutcracker in a few weeks.

I’m attending a world music festival next month.

I am finishing the AFI’s top 100 movie list! I have around 10 left.

Have any suggestions for me?

Putting Pen to Paper

This happened a couple of weeks ago.

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I finally broke down and bought a smartphone. I hemmed and hawed because I was perfectly happy without one. My family wooed me to join their family plan, which meant I had to switch carriers. And it was a good time for a new phone, because my dumbphone’s battery was fading.

Ultimately, I couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t want a smartphone within the next two years (as I would be signing a two-year contract).

Enter iPhone.

I was so overwhelmed by it the first week that I barely used it. I grumbled every time it dinged. It dings. so. much. I found typing almost impossible. A few times, I had to switch to email mid-text conversation because I couldn’t bear to (mis)type another word.

At the end of week 2, I finally got around to adding a couple of apps. Typing is a little easier. I still jump every time it dings, but I don’t grumble.

I asked myself why I was being such a grump, and I answered that it’s because of my analog heart. Being on a computer for 8–10 hours a day is enough for me. I don’t want to add any other digital items to my daily life.

The thought of making lists on the phone and reading on the phone and listening to music on the phone holds absolutely no appeal. I like paper. I like putting pen to paper. I like books and CDs.

So there it is. Over time, the smartphone may wend its way into my heart. For now, I’m keeping it at a safe distance and treading lightly.

Do you love your smartphone? What do you love about it?

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