Monday, March 30, 2009

people who share too much?

He asked how it was going, and I replied that things were okay, I couldn't stop sneezing, and maybe allergies were the problem. I asked "how are you" reciprocally, and he started to tell me about his father's poor health, being in and out of the hospital several times to avoid death, paperwork, notes from doctors, dealing with employers, medicare, disability, jury summons, moving, mailing addresses that banks and other organizations had that needed to be changed.

All this via instant message, initiated by him, the first time we had talked in almost 2 years. It's not that I don't care (at least I don't think it is), but to dump all that on someone who you were never particularly close to in the first place and after a few seconds in online chat? I guess I just don't feel comfortable with that level of sharing.

Monday, March 23, 2009

still early

I have been waking up too early, relative to other members of this household. I suppose I have also been going to bed too early as a result. And I don't like waking up before the sun comes up.

Right before I woke up this morning I had been in the middle of a bad dream. I think it was set in the present because everyone around me was the same age they are now, and I seemed to be the same age as well. But it also felt futuristic in that culture and social norms had changed to an extent. Basically, in this world in my dream it had become acceptable for people to decide to end their lives. I knew because one of my parents had decided it was time, and as a family we were making preparations for the appointment day. I found it to be incredibly disturbing that someone so close to me would choose this, but I was even more bothered by the fact that everyone seemed to think it was no big deal. That life should just go on.

At the same time, a substantial portion of my dream involved preparation. Making arrangements, gathering mementos, getting ready to say goodbye. You don't get that every day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

5 things I am thankful for

Keeping a gratitude journal is supposed to make people happy or something. Here are my five for the day:

1. Being employed, getting a paycheck.
2. Rats that are super cute and sweet and non-biting. They even come when I call.
3. Good health -- yeah I'm getting over a cold, but the experience just highlighted the fact that it's pretty rare that I get sick.
4. Good students, the ones you want to teach.
5. Husband who will squash bugs, and fix things, and make bread. (Not all at once.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

attitude is everything

It's weird how your attitude towards things can change so quickly. In the past couple of weeks I've come to find ordinary household tasks and chores something of a relief to do. Initially part of my change in attitude towards making the bed, doing dishes, and generally picking up was due to the fact that I found them comforting due to their ability to distract my mind from dwelling much on grief. But there was also another thing. Whereas previously I had found myself keeping tabs on how much housework I'd been doing (particularly compared to others in the house who were less cleaning-inclined), it has since seemed so meaningless to waste energy and emotion on that sort of thing. At least compared to issues that are literally life and death matters, keeping score of bed-making and dish-washing is a waste of time.

I am so proud of my 4-year-old niece (who is not technically my niece but that is besides the point). She is a wonderful, bubbly, bright child. She was amazing through all of the events surrounding the funeral. Instead of hiding shyly from hundreds of people or crying for her mother, she sat quietly on her father's lap, handed her grandfather a tissue and held his hand. Last Monday her play room and bedroom were a bit of a mess, so I suggested we clean them up. Whereas I would imagine cleaning up to be an unpleasant task, she takes pride in being able to put things where they belong. She enjoys knowing where each toy, each piece of clothing goes. She put her jackets back on their hangers to put in the closet, and I got to show her a neat little trick -- that the jackets stay on the hangers much better if you zip them up just a little bit. She hadn't done zippers before, but she figured it out really quickly and seemed satisfied at having gained competence at a new task. Attitude is everything.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

things that are not helpful

Overall I haven't told people at work what happened, even less details of what occurred. Mostly I don't want to put people into the position of having to respond to the information or having to come up with something to say.

I don't know what it is about people finding out that you have lost a family member that makes them want to immediately tell you about someone they knew who also died. This is not helpful to me.

It's likely that what happens is that he or she will tell me that they had a grandparent pass away and how difficult of an experience that was. But 1) we expect people to die when they are old. If the person managed to reach a state of having grandchildren who are full-grown adults, I figure that they have lived a pretty full life. And 2) is that really supposed to make me feel better? to be reminded that, yes, people die, and it sucks for everyone around them?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

pop music dependence

I find pop music strangely comforting. It fills the silence but fails to evoke real emotions.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

parental wisdom

Growing up it was very easy for me to cry. I don't know whether I specifically cried a lot (that would be the assumption), but my dad told me that my tears flowed too easily. He told me that I should cry more sparingly, or else my tears would become devalued. Today they started coming during office hours when my student asked me how I was doing. I managed to regain my composure as I pressed a tissue against my eyes. But I feel as though I am constantly at the edge, and the smallest things can start me again.

Monday, March 9, 2009

a tribute

Given for my dear cousin Shirley Ming Chang-Divadeenam, whose life we remembered today.

I’ve known Shirley since before I can remember. Our mothers are sisters, so Shirley is my cousin. But she’s the closest thing to a sister I’ve ever had; and I have been blessed to have her in my life. Although I’m sure there were times when it wasn’t cool to hang out with her six-years-younger cousin, Shirley never let me know it. I looked up to her, and she took care of me and always made me feel welcome.

Shirley taught me gentleness when I was six. Shirley had some small bird figurines made of fuzz and wire. I had similar ones, shaped like baby chicks, but she also had a rooster and a hen. I wanted the whole set, so I took them. But kids aren’t very good at stealing things, so it was obvious I took them. Shirley asked me about her missing chickens, but she without accusation or anger. I felt sorry for what I’d done and started to cry. She comforted me, and I gave the birds back.

When I was in junior high, Shirley took me to Six Flags Magic Mountain, a theme park with roller coasters. Magic Mountain was the big kids’ park compared to Disneyland, which was obviously for little, elementary school kids. Shirley was the first person to take me to ride roller coasters. She was old enough to drive but nice enough to bring me along.

Three years ago I was engaged to be married. For whatever reason I had not been interested in wedding dress shopping, although some girls are, even before they have any plans to get married. A couple of months were left before the wedding, and when we were in Kansas visiting, Shirley learned that I did not yet have a wedding dress. She let me borrow hers, which had been preserved and boxed. Even this, she was willing to share.

Of course, over the years our relationship has changed in subtle ways. For one, we were no longer just an hours’ drive away from one another. Perhaps more significantly, we took on new roles and responsibilities as adults. But throughout my life she has always made me feel that I am a valuable person. Through her kindness, she always demonstrated her love.

I expect this is why I liked spending time with Shirley so much. When I was a child, her family would drive to our house in the morning, and after dinner, they’d be ready to drive home. Often I begged them to spend the night so that I would have more time to spend with my cousin. Occasionally I would successfully persuade her parents, and they’d stay over until the next day, but eventually they would have to leave. I would stand at the curb as they got into their car. We would exchange our goodbyes through the rolled-down car windows. The car would start to pull away, and I would follow it down the street and around the corner, running and waving.

Today, as I felt back then, I miss Shirley very much. The friends and family she leaves behind have experienced a tremendous loss. But I tell myself that she had somewhere to go, and seek comfort in knowing that one day we will meet again.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

the lunch routine persists

I am at my desk, eating the same thing I always eat for lunch on Thursday between noon and one. Routines bring comfort, though spontaneity may bring excitement or interest.

Monday, March 2, 2009

some observations on grief

1. It is just like it is on TV.
In Season 2 of the West Wing, President Bartlet's personal secretary, Mrs. Landingham, dies after getting hit by a drunk driver. In the season finale episode, "Two Cathedrals", President Bartlet's memory flashes back to particular moments in his life with her at random points during the day. The particular interactions, things remembered, things said, interrupt you without warning. It is just like that.

2. So much seems so trivial.
When something of actual consequence happens, you realize that everything else is so trivial. I log onto Facebook due to habit, and looking at status updates I'm completely unmoved. I've had the book, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff, for probably a decade now. For several weeks it has been sitting in my bathroom. The book talks about how not to get angry when you're in the car and another driver cuts you off. Unless someone is being born or dying, emotions seem wasted now.

3. I find that I have to constantly do something. It doesn't matter whether it's washing dishes, cleaning up, surfing the web, or (most beneficially) working. I have to keep myself busy because if I stop for a minute and let myself think, the memories, the questions, and the pain creep into my consciousness. More generally, I can only describe my state as a complete lack of understanding. And I can't hold back my tears.