A Postcard from Japan

Hi all,

This week I returned from a 10 day trip to Japan, and I figured I would share some pictures with you.

The first pictures were taken on the plane ride over. We flew over the frozen Midwestern US and Canada and over the Bering Strait, and the view was breathtaking:

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And finally we were over Japan!

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Our home base in Japan was a place called Nobi, which is in the Muira peninsula, west of Yokohama and Yokosuka but not all the way to Muirakaigan:

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We spent some time exploring the Muira Peninsula, which included Yokosuka, home of the Japanese and American naval bases:

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and Yokohama, second largest city in Japan, home of a famously large Chinatown with a few nice temples inside:

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as well as many natural wonders, including Muirakaigan beach and Jogachima island:

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Kamakura is also on the Muira peninsula. Kamakura has many beautiful shrines, great shopping and food, and the third largest Buddha in Japan- which was hollow (we were able to step inside) .

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Tokyo is North of Muira and full of many kinds of wonders, from gardens, shrines and temples to buildings, nightlife and neighborhoods with very distinct characters. We explored many of the different areas of Tokyo:

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We also attended a drum festival in the town of Narita, which most people only know for the large international airport. This was a truly amazing experience! As we walked from the subway to the big temple we passed many shops, ate amazing street food and saw smaller drum performances. The main performance was on the steps of the big temple, and we were able to explore the grounds and gardens and return to see drumming by fire at sunset. Once the performance ended we followed the main road back to the city, but now it was dark outside, the shop lights were low, and the shopkeepers had set candles out to line the path.

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Truly an amazing experience- thank you for sharing!

 

 

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An Analytical person at the Nutcracker (or Research Methodology, Nutcracker Style)

Last night we attended a Russian Ballet performance of the Nutcracker. It was a great performance, and fun was had by all.

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Early in the performance I realized that although I have developed some understanding of the ballet, I hadn’t shared any of that knowledge with my kids. At this point, I started whispering to them quietly to explain what they were seeing. I whispered quick, helpful comments, such as “those are toys dancing” and “the kids have gone to sleep now, so this is just the adults dancing.” It wasn’t long into the performance that this dynamic began to change. I realized that their insights were much funnier than mine “wow, that guy should go on ‘So You Think You Can Dance!’ or ‘The Voice’ or something! “and that my comments were starting to be pretty off-base. My comments evolved into a mash-up of “The kids have gone to sleep now” “No, I guess the kids haven’t gone to sleep yet” “I really can’t tell if the kids are still up or not!” and “Those are the sugarplum fairies” “Wait, no, maybe these are the sugar plum fairies?” and “I don’t know, sweetie, just watch them dance!” By the end of the show I had no idea what was going on or why the Chuck.E.Cheese king was dancing around on stage (although one of the girls suspected this particular king was actually a bear?). The mom next to me told me she didn’t know what was going on either “and,” she added, “I go to the Nutcracker every year! Maybe that was what made it a Russian Nutcracker?” …And here I thought the Russian influences were the Matryoshka dolls and the Chinese dancers clothed in yellow (despite the awkward English conversation that the costumes prompted).

At the beginning of the show I was nervous to whisper with my kids, but I soon realized that there was a low hum all around me and throughout the concert hall of people whispering with their kids. This, I think, is what remix research methods should be all about- recording and interviewing many audience members to gain a picture of the many perspectives in their interpretations of the show. Here is a challenge question to my readers who are hipper to qualitative research methods: what research strategy could best capture many different interpretations of the same event?

Earlier this week I spoke with a qualitative researcher about the value of an outsider perspective when approaching a qualitative research project. Here is a good example of this dynamic at play: people clapped at various parts of the performance. I recognized that people were clapping at the end of solo or duo performances (like jazz). If I were to describe these dances, I would use the claps as a natural demarcation, but I probably would not think to make any note of the clapping itself. However, the kids in my crew hadn’t encountered clapping during a show before and assumed that clapping marked “something awesome or special.” Being preteens, the kids wanted to prove that they could clap before everyone else, and then revel in the wave of clapping that they seemingly started. At one point this went awry, and the preteens were the only audience members clapping. This awkward moment may have annoyed some of the people around us, but it really made the little sister’s day! From a research perspective, these kids would be more likely to thoroughly document and describe the clapping than I would, which would make for a much more thorough report. Similarly, from a kids-going-to-a-show perspective this was the first story they told to their Dad when they got home- and one that kicked off the rest of our report with uncontrollable laughter and tears.

As the show went on and appeared not to follow any of the recognizable plot points that I had expected (I expected a progressive journey through worlds experienced from the vantage of a sleigh but instead saw all of the worlds dancing together with some unrecognizable kids variously appearing on a sleigh and the main characters sometimes dancing in the mix or on their own), I began to search for other ways to make sense of the spectacle. I thought of a gymnast friend of mine and our dramatically different interpretations of gymnastics events (me: “Wow! Look what she did!” her: “Eh, she scratched the landing. There will be points off for that.” Which parts of the dancing should I be focusing on? I told my little one “Pay attention, so we can try these moves at home.” Barring any understanding of the technical competencies involved (but sure that laying your body at some of these amazing angles, or somehow spinning on one foot, or lifting another person into the air require tons of training, skills and knowledge) or any understanding of the plot as it was unfolding in front of me, I was left simply to marvel at it all. This is why research is an iterative process. In research, we may begin by marveling, but then we observe, note, and observe again. And who knows what amazing insights we will have developed once the process has run its course enough times for events to start making sense!

To be a researcher is not to understand, but rather to have the potential to understand- if you do the research.

The holiday season and the post-degree process

I haven’t blogged much this month.

Yesterday I didn’t blog because I was wandering around my neighborhood with my kids and my winter boots, looking for the ultimate sledding hill that wasn’t just mud.

 

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I did get this cool shot of the snow melting:

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This past weekend I didn’t blog because I was trying to get some holiday shopping done. Holiday shopping is a mess of contradictions. The music and festive spirit are relaxing and wonderful, but the task at hand is to reckon with our wants. My goal lately has been exactly the opposite of this- to appreciate what abundance already constitutes my life and not to focus on needing or wanting more. This is an important part of my post degree process.

At the time of my graduation I joked with a close friend about expecting life to be like a musical, with the people around me singing and dancing my accomplishments and those of my classmates. For those of you still in school I hate to break your bubble, but there will likely not be a musical in your honor, as deserving as you may be.

Graduation is not the end of your work as a student. Your work will extend beyond graduation and in to what I’ve come to think of as an extra semester of undetermined length. This is the time when we try to make all of our hard work pay off. We learn that the world will not recognize our accomplishments unless we learn how to be our own best advocates, and we learn how difficult it is to advocate for ourselves across lines of field and areas of practice.

This process involves a reckoning between the idealized notions of our future that motivated us through late-nighters and all-nighters and the realities of our post degree lives. It also involves a surprisingly long transition from the frenetic pace of student life to the appreciative pace of real life. We learn how to channel the energy that is no longer focused on school work but free to roam across a wide range of interests and responsibilities. We forge a new set of priorities. We realize that we will not find jobs that are as well rounded as we are. We see that we are not frozen in place after our degrees but will continue the lifelong process of learning. We begin to find peace in the knowledge that what we have is enough. We may not have the yacht and the private plane, but we have food on our plates and in our bellies. And what we have is enough.

Graduates (especially in today’s employment market) have to wrestle with the responsibilities of post-degree life, the lack of recognition of their academic accomplishments, and the transition [back?] into the swing of daily work life. We have to transition from the big dreams of school life to the small rewards of real life. For me this process involves a compacting. It involves tightening the family budget and saving for bigger goals. It involves family challenges to see how long we can go between trips to the grocery store and the fun set of culinary challenges that rise from the emptier cupboards (Have you seen those cooking shows where the contestants are challenged to invent a meal based on a small number of random ingredients?). It involves decluttering my house to get rid of extra stuff, appreciate what we have and lessen our responsibilities (less stuff to clean!), and it involves spoiling my family with the time and attention I couldn’t give them before.

This all seems to directly contradict the goals of holiday shopping. I wandered through aisle after aisle of stuff that I couldn’t imagine needing or wanting, thinking of needs and wants as a kind of black hole where needing and wanting can simply lead to more needing and wanting. I’m not sure how my holiday shopping process will shake out this year, but I do know that my happiness and the happiness of those I love can’t be found on any store shelves.

For you students, recent graduates and professional researchers and other readers, I wish you all the peace and gratitude of the season. May the new year bless you with continued curiosity. May we never stop learning and growing. May the process and daily rituals of our lives be reward enough. We can’t anticipate the challenges 2014 will bring, but let us be grateful that we have the tools that we will need to greet them with.

And most of all, I want to thank those of you who read my blog posts. Thank you for your time and attention and for encouraging me to continue to explore. I hope to reward you soon with a rundown of some particularly great events I’ve attended lately!

Spam, Personal histories and Language competencies

Over the recent holiday, I spent some time sorting through many boxes of family memorabilia. Some of you have probably done this with your families. It is fascinating, sentimental and mind-boggling. Highlights include both the things that strike a chord and things that can be thrown away. It’s a balance of efficiency and sap.

 

I’m always amazed by the way family memorabilia tells both private, personal histories and larger public ones. The boxes I dealt with last week were my mom’s, and her passion was politics. Even the Christmas cards she saved give pieces of political histories. Old thank you cards provide unknown nuggets of political strategy. She had even saved stirrers and plastic cups from an inauguration!

 

Campaign button found in the family files

Campaign button found in the family files

 

 

My mom continued to work in politics throughout her life, but the work that she did more recently is understandably fresher and more tangible for me. I remember looking through printed Christmas cards from politicians and wondering why she held on to them. In her later years I worried about her tendency to hold on to mail merged political letters. I wondered if her tendency to personalize impersonal documents made her vulnerable to fraud. To me, her belief in these documents made no sense.

 

Flash forward one year to me sorting through boxes of handwritten letters from politicians that mirror the spam she held on to. For many years she received handwritten letters from elected politicians in Washington. At some point, the handwritten letters evolved into typed letters that were hand-corrected and included handwritten sections. These evolved into typed letters on which the only handwriting was the signature. Eventually, even the signatures became printed. But the intention and function of these letters remained the same, even as their typography evolved. She believed in these letters because she had been receiving them for many decades. She believed they were personal because she had seen more of them that were personal than not. The phrases that I believe to be formulaic and spammy were once handwritten, intentional, personal and probably even heartfelt.

 

 

There are a few directions I could go from here:

 

– I better understand why older people complain about the impersonalization of modern society and wax poetic about the old letter writing tradition. I could include a few anecdotes about older family members.

 

– I’m amazed that people would take the time to write long letters using handwriting that may never have been deciphered

 

– I could wax poetic about some of the cool things I found in the storage facility

 

 

But I won’t. Not in this blog. Instead, I’ll talk about competencies.

 

Spam is a manifest of language competencies, although we often dismiss it as a total lack of language competence. In my Linguistics study, we were quickly taught the mantra “difference, not deficiency.” In fact it takes quite a bit of skill to develop spam letters. In survey research, the survey invitation letters that people so often dismiss have been heavily researched and optimized to yield a maximum response rate. In his book The Sociolinguistics of Globalization, Jan Blommaert details the many competencies necessary to create the Nigerian bank scam letters that were so heavily circulated a few years ago. And now I’ve learned that the political letters that I’m so quick to dismiss as thoughtless mail merges are actually part of a deep tradition of political action. Will that be enough for me to hold on to them? No. But I am saving the handwritten stuff. Boxes and boxes of it!

 

 

One day last week, as I drove to the storage facility I heard an interview with Michael Pollan about Food Literacy. Pollan’s point was that the food draughts in some urban areas are not just a function of access (Food draughts are areas where fresh food is difficult to obtain and grocery stores are few and far between, if they’re available at all). Pollan believes that even if there were grocery stores available, the people in these neighborhoods lack the basic cooking skills to prepare the food. He cited a few basic cooking skills which are not basic to me (partly because I’m a vegetarian, and partly because of the cooking traditions I learned from) as a part of his argument.

 

As a linguist, it is very interesting to hear the baggage that people attach to language metaphorically carried over to food (“food illiteracy”). I wonder what value the “difference, not deficiency” mantra holds here. I’m not ready to believe that people in areas subject to food draught are indeed kitchen illiterate. But I wouldn’t hesitate to agree that their food cultures probably differ significantly from Pollan’s. The basic staples and cooking methods probably differ significantly. Pollan could probably make a lot more headway with his cause if, instead of assuming that the people he is trying to help lack any basic cooking skills, he advocated toward a culture change that included access, attainability, and the potential to learn different practical cooking skills. It’s a subtle shift, but an important one.

 

As a proud uncook, I’m a huge fan of any kind of food preparation that is two steps or less, cheap, easy and fresh. Fast food for me involves putting a sweet potato in the microwave and pressing “potato,” grabbing for an apple or carrots and peanut butter, or tossing chickpeas into a dressing. Slow food involves the basic sautéing, roasting, etc. that Pollan advocates. I imagine that the skills he advocates are more practical and enjoyable for him than they are for people like me, whose mealtimes are usually limited and chaotic. What he calls basic is impractical for many of us. And the differences in time and money involved in uncooking and “basics” add up quickly.

 

 

 

So I’ve taken this post in quite a few directions, but it all comes together under one important point. Different language skills are not a lack of language skills altogether. Similarly, different survival skills are not a total lack of survival skills. We all carry unique skillsets that reflect our personal histories with those skills as well as the larger public histories that our personal histories help to compose. We, as people, are part of a larger public. The political spam I see doesn’t meet my expectations of valuable, personal communication, but it is in fact part of a rich political history. The people who Michael Pollan encounters have ways of feeding themselves that differ from Pollan’s expectations, but they are not without important survival skills. Cultural differences are not an indication of an underlying lack of culture.

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Encouraging things I tell myself

Long time, no blog…

Life is currently kicked into overdrive, and I’m switching between coasting and gunning. I know that many of you are also working particularly hard, between the end of the school year, upcoming conferences, taxes, … I’ve thought about using this blog to vent or to catalog my stress (this works better as a to-do list than engaging narrative), to pay tribute to my mom (who passed away May 5, 2012, after spending April living it up on a cruise with her sister), or to wax poetic about my current research project (I will share about the research soon, because I’m really excited about the work I will soon be able to do. But I’m not ready yet.). Instead, I’ve decided to share the encouraging things I tell myself…

Microfocus. This is the true key to a busy lifestyle. Focus on as few things as possible and work to make them happen. Then keep it moving. Thinking big=stress. Thinking small=achievable goals.

Let go of what you can. Put the things that can wait aside. Doing everything all the time is foolish and unnecessary.

Look beyond yourself. Putting all of the burdens on your own shoulders helps no one. It’s not about you. Think to the bigger goal and share your burden.

Know stillness. All of this activity requires some inactivity. Somethings are better for this than others. Throwing caution to the wind and going to sleep when you’re tired is far more effective than reaching for a drink. For me, sleep, nature, exercise and art are the biggest sources of peace. I’ve even started going to church!

Stop fighting. This one really hit me over the head this week. Momentum can lead you to crazy places, where you’re working too hard on too many fronts. But if you take a minute to look around, you may see that all of that frenzy is unnecessary. You’ve been working hard. You’ve put your projects in motion. They have momentum, and they don’t need so much pushing. Getting a degree takes years. You’ve already put in a few. The wheels are already in motion. Don’t push, just follow.

Learning is not supposed to be a done deal. I am about to finish my graduate program next month, and I feel anxious about it. I’m aware of so much that I still don’t know. I catch myself reading Blommaert and worrying that as much as I dig it, I wouldn’t read it on my own. But learning is and has always been a process and a passion. Curiosity drives you to learn. Let that curiosity and passion continue to drive you to grow. The world is bigger than you. You will learn what you need to when you need to, and you will ask for help from the right places when you need to do that.

Be a little emotional. It’s ok to feel happy when things are finished, proud of the hard work you’ve put in, and sad that your mom’s not here to see things come together. And it’s not helpful to worry about feeling anxious!

In a little over a month, many of the pieces I am juggling will come together, and I will have less hanging over me than I’ve had in years. But that point is quite a few deadlines away. For now, I am at bat, focusing on the ball, connecting, and! Next. For those of you who are stressed, I wish you pockets of peace. For those of you who are graduating, “job well done! way to go!” (<– and put a congratulations in your pocket, for when you’re ready to hear it). For those of you who are grieving, I wish you all the ups and downs that go along with it. And for those of you dealing with all of the administrative headaches that accompany loss, I wish you a pat on the back, a quiet beach, a gentle breeze, a margarita, a memory that makes you smile, and some space to cry and scream a little! As they say “this too shall pass.”

Time moves through the jungle, and we swing between vines, focusing on the flowers. I wish you all flowers.

Flower market in Amsterdam

Flower market in Amsterdam

A fleet of research possibilities and a scattering of updates

Tomorrow is my first day of my 3rd year as a Masters student in the MLC program at Georgetown University. I’m taking the slowwww route through higher ed, as happens when you work full-time, have two kids and are an only child who lost her mother along the way.

This semester I will [finally] take the class I’ve been borrowing pieces from for the past two years: Ethnography of Communication. I’ve decided to use this opportunity do an ethnography of DC taxi drivers. My husband is a DC taxi driver, so in essence this research will build on years of daily conversations. I find that the representation of DC taxi drivers in the news never quite approximates what I’ve seen, and that is my real motivation for the project. I have a couple of enthusiastic collaborators: my husband and a friend whose husband is also a DC taxi driver and who has been a vocal advocate for DC taxi drivers.

I am really eager to get back into linguistics study. I’ve been learning powerful sociolinguistic methods to recognize and interpret patterning in discourse, but it is a challenge not to fall into the age old habit of studying aboutness or topicality, which is much less patterned and powerful.

I have been fortunate enough to combine some of my new qualitative methods with my more quantitative work on some of the reports I’ve completed over the summer. I’m using the open ended responses that we usually don’t fully exploit in order to tell more detailed stories in our survey reports. But balancing quantitative and qualitative methods is very difficult, as I’ve mentioned before, because the power punch of good narrative blows away the quiet power of high quality, representative statistical analysis. Reporting qualitative findings has to be done very carefully.

Over the summer I had the wonderful opportunity to apply my sociolinguistics education to a medical setting. Last May, while my mom was on life support, we were touched by a medical error when my mom was mistakenly declared brain dead. Because she was an organ donor, her life support was not withdrawn before the error was recognized. But the fallout from the error was tremendous. The problem arose because two of her doctors were consulting by phone about their patients, and each thought they were talking about a different patient. In collaboration with one of the doctors involved, I’ve learned a great amount about medical errors and looked at the role of linguistics in bringing awareness to potential errors of miscommunication in conversation. This project was different from other research I’ve done, because it did not involve conducting new research, but rather rereading foundational research and focusing on conversational structure.

In this case, my recommendations were for an awareness of existing conversational structures, rather than an imposition of a new order or procedure. My recommendations, developed in conjunction with Dr Heidi Hamilton, the chair of our linguistics department and medical communication expert, were to be aware of conversational transition points, to focus on the patient identifiers used, and to avoid reaching back or ahead to other patients while discussing a single patient. Each patient discussion must be treated as a separate conversation. Conversation is one of the largest sources of medical error and must be approached carefully is critically important. My mom’s doctor and I hope to make a Grand Rounds presentation out of this effort.

On a personal level, this summer has been one of great transitions. I like to joke that the next time my mom passes away I’ll be better equipped to handle it all. I have learned quite a bit about real estate and estate law and estate sales and more. And about grieving, of course. Having just cleaned through my mom’s house last week, I am beginning this new school year more physically, mentally and emotionally tired than I have ever felt. A close friend of mine has recently finished an extended series of chemo and radiation, and she told me that she is reveling in her strength as it returns. I am also reveling in my own strength, as it returns. I may not be ready for the semester or the new school year, but I am ready for the first day of class tomorrow. And I’m hopeful. For the semester, for the research ahead, for my family, and for myself. I’m grateful for the guidance of my newest guardian angel and the inspiration of great research.

A snapshot from a lunchtime walk

In the words of Sri Aurobindo, “By your stumbling the world is perfected”

OT: On Loss and Grief and the power of Storytelling

On May 5, 2012 my mom passed away.
This is a professional and academic blog, and I have no intention of making it a personal one. But I believe that grieving is a universal enough aspect of our human experience that it couldn’t hurt to share our story.

The first question people tend to ask is whether she was sick. The answer to this question scratches the surface of what made her a particularly inspirational woman. She was sick- she had Multiple Sclerosis, but she believed firmly in never letting sickness get her down. In fact, MS never DID get her down. Her life with MS was smiling and full.

When I was a kid, some mornings I would approach my mom and ask to stay home from school because I wasn’t feeling well. She would listen while I listed my symptoms, and then she would list her own. Then we would shrug them off and go about our day. As an adult, I haggled with my mom seemingly endlessly for her ambitious plans for our days together. I would try to convince her that taking her grandkids (my kids) to the zoo was activity enough for a healthy person, and no one in their right minds would plan more than that.

In April, 2012, my mom went on a cruise with her sister. When she returned from the cruise, she was having quite a bit of difficulty breathing. She had developed a particularly nasty pneumonia. But she repeatedly shrugged off my pleas for her to go to the hospital. When she was finally rushed to the hospital, she told the medical staff off for running too many tests on her, checked out, and went to play Bridge. Despite her worsening pneumonia, she stayed active for 2 more days before calling 911. When the paramedics arrived, she didn’t answer her door. They broke her window to get in and managed to resuscitate her.

While they repeatedly used the paddles on her, I was at a Vegetarian Festival, laughing about funny vegetarian stickers and sharing a plate of veggie ribs with my kids. I received a call from a police officer saying that my mom had been found unresponsive, and I needed to get to the hospital ASAP. We flew out a few hours later (the drive would have taken about 14 hours), and once I arrived at the hospital I got a quick crash course in what it meant to be the only child of a single woman. As the nurse worked the manual resuscitating bag (because my mom was not stable enough on the life support machines), she told me that I held the de Facto Medical Power of Attorney and could ask her to stop the bagging at any time. The nurse worked the manual bag while I sobbed and reminisced and played Motown music for hours, and then my mom stabilized (relatively).

At this point, my mom had suffered severe Anoxia, almost to the point of brain death, in the time before the paramedics were able to resuscitate her. She was in Acute Respiratory Distress, or ARDS, and had not been able to breathe for herself since her resuscitation. Her heart had suffered in the time it had been stopped, and her lungs were stiff from contaminated fluid. Over the course of the week, the only response she gave was an infrequent pupil dilation in response to light shown in her eyes.

The life support situation was complicated by my mom’s attitude toward sickness. In fact, my mom had fought her way back from a coma, against all odds, before. In 1999, she had emergency open heart surgery for a dissected aorta. She defied the odds by surviving until the surgery, and then again for surviving the surgery, again for surviving the post surgery coma and a a stroke, and then again by recovering to live independently afterward.

But this (2012) coma persisted. She never woke up. She continued to have bouts of stability and instability. She was bleeding from her lungs and stomach. I cried over her and talked to her and had long talks with her friends. On the 3rd day, my kids flew back to their dad.

On the 6th day, things finally came together. I spoke to the paramedic who had answered her 911 call and discovered that she had taken her last breath on the phone with them, at least 10 minutes before she was resuscitated. My husband found her medical power of attorney forms, which had a ‘no heroic measures’ clause and gave me the power to withdraw her feeding tube. And we found out why she had left the hospital the previous week and refused to call 911 afterward.

After my mom’s health ordeal in 1999, she was told that she had a second aneurysm, and her remaining life would be limited. She was told that the 2nd aneurysm was inoperable. She often referred to her life as a “ticking time bomb.” I had learned not to hear this talk, as children do. But she had repeated it hundreds of times. It turned out that after over a decade of stability, this aneurysm had started to dissect in 2012. Instead of telling anyone about this, she booked the cruise and devised a bucket list.

That day in the hospital, I learned that she had discussed her bucket list with a few close friends, and she had discussed her wishes regarding life support with other close friends. I put the pieces together and saw that she had expected to die from the pneumonia, and she had put as much of her affairs in order as she could.

It was under the weight and disbelief of this realization that one of her favorite friends, a former political reporter, came to visit the hospital. We had a really wonderful conversation. It was cool to be able to merge my childhood memories of making poll calls on TV on election nights with his cool underlying sampling methodologies. I imagine that if my mom, who had been very active in politics, had been able to chose a conversation to hear while bedbound in a coma, that would have been the conversation.

That night, she had periods of instability, and the next morning she was more unstable. Her lips had started to bleed around the tube. She still hadn’t woken up or breathed on her own. It was too dangerous for her to get a scheduled EEG, and it was too dangerous for her to be turned or cleaned. I decided that I couldn’t let her suffer like this anymore. I met with every doctor, nurse, clergy and social worker who would talk to me. One of the nurses had repeatedly told me that I wouldn’t have to make any end of life decisions, because I could just listen to her body. She agreed with me that mom’s body was loudly and clearly saying it was time. We removed all of her tubes except for the breathing tube. I had no doubt that this was the right decision, but it was still an emotional one.

At this point, we started to call as many friends and family members as we could, allowing them to say goodbye. But we couldn’t reach her grandkids (my kids). Some of her friends in the room noticed three white doves outside the window. I was overwhelmed with a wave of exhaustion and put my head down on my mom’s arm, where I was flooded with memories of our life together. When I put my head up, I felt absolutely peaceful. At this point, we reached the grandkids, who each said goodbye. Then they sang a song for her (Katy Perry’s Firework- one of their favorites). I put them on speakerphone, and everyone in the room was crying. When they hung up, I asked everyone to say their goodbyes and leave my mom and I alone. Once they had left, the nurse removed mom’s breathing tube. She never breathed. Over the next few minutes, I held onto her and cried and told her that I loved her, that I would miss her, and that I forgave her. Then I told her that she deserved all of the riches of heaven, and that if she saw a light, she should go to it and know that she deserved it. As I said that, the most peaceful expression washed over her face, and her heart stopped beating under my hand. She was gone, and I felt absolutely peaceful, even a little joyful. After a week of crying and talking and carrying on, of all of the suffering we had been through, she had found such a peaceful and happy death. I knew without question that she was free.

Now, a couple of weeks later, I am in another phase of adjustment. We cleaned her house and put it up on the market. We organized all of her paperwork and began to work with the court. We had a beautiful funeral for her in her state and a wonderful remembrance for her in ours. And I’m left trying to fathom our new lives.

I am struck by the transformative power of events. Some transformations have names: woman to mother, fiance to bride, fetus to baby, student to graduate. But there is no name for the transformations that grieving brings about.

I found a reference that put a lot of my thoughts about this into words:
http://www.cappe.org/ed_mod/iii.%20Loss%20&%20Grieving%5B1%5D.pdf

Here are some highlights. I didn’t rewrite them. They aren’t mine to rewrite:

“The grieving process is to experience the pain of the loss while accommodating to a changed world and struggling to regain some degree of equilibrium.

Beyond the immediate urgency of surviving the traumatic impact of loss of life is the task to incorporate the death in the family story. At this point the focus is not so much on feelings than on thoughts through reconstruction and relearning one’s place in a changed world.

o  reconstruction and continuity
…“the end point of successful grief work is not relinquishment of the lost relationship but the creation of a new bond, one that acknowledges the enduring psychological and spiritual reality of someone we have loved and made a part of ourselves” (1994, 41,42).

o  The grieving person is not a passive recipient but rather an active agent in organizing and interpreting the meanings of his or her experience of loss and separation.

Grief follows a developmental, systemic process rather a linear progression of successive stages.

Grieving requires active personal engagement rather than submission to a predetermined healing process.

The goal of grieving is towards incorporating rather than recovering from the loss.”

What is striking to me about this resource, and about my experience, is the transformative, healing power of narrative. Putting a cohesive story around these events empowers my mom, empowers me to trust her, assures me that I made the correct and inevitable decisions, and gives me the confidence that she and I and our family will be able to rewrite these pieces into a cohesive, albeit different, future.

I sincerely hope that sharing my experience is as healing for you as it is for me. I edited out some of the parts that are most relevant to this blog in order to open it up to a different audience. I will probably discuss some of these parts in further blog posts if I’m able to move forward with them.

Thank you for reading.