Tag Archives: Life

Notes On Loss and Grief

5 Apr

Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of my partner and best friend, Wil Curry.

His death was sudden and unexpected. He was biking late at night to my apartment, and was hit by a car while crossing an intersection. I realized he was over an hour late, and my room mate informed me she had driven by a bad accident near his route. I called up his room mates and we had to go search for his body.

It sucked.
It really fucking sucked.

In the past 14 months, I have lost 5 people. My grandfather was first, followed by Wil, a close coworker named John, and two aunts. (And a pet snake, because at this point, why the hell not?) The grief induced by Wil’s death was a completely novel experience for me. And because I am a complete science dork, I began recording my observations of grief. In journals, notebooks, margins of textbooks, scraps of paper. Whenever a thought struck me, I had to write it down. As time progressed, I watched several of my friends go through losing close friends and family members, and continued taking notes.

So now, one year later, I give you a somewhat refined version of my notes on grief. This didn’t turn out as polished and cohesive as I wanted it to be, but it’s good enough for now.

1) There Are Only Two Appropriate Things To Say To A Grieving Person

(And an infinite amount of inappropriate things)

I cannot emphasize this enough.
People usually have no idea what to say to a grieving person, which often results in them saying a lot of inappropriate things. Before this experience, I was the same way. I had no idea what to say to a grieving person, because I had no idea what they were going through. After Wil’s death, I was on the other side of the scenario, and was truely appalled at how many inappropriate comments I received. Despite the fact they were all said with good  intentions, they were still incredibly hurtful.
The absolute worse one was when a lady told me:
He died because heaven needed more angels.”

I nearly punched her.
That’s something you say to a 5 year old after they accidentally stepped on their pet hamster, not a grown woman whose lost her partner. Knowing she meant well, I held my temper, immediately left, and screamed in my car the entire drive home.

There are only 2 appropriate things you can say to a grieving person:
1. I’m so sorry for your loss.
2. Let me know if there is anything I can do.
That’s it.
If you go any further, you run the risk of offending someone.
Say those two lines, hug them, and shut up.

2) Every Loss Is Different

So many people come up to me and say, “Oh, I know exactly what you’re going through. I lost my grandpa/uncle/aunt/distant cousin last year.”
I had lost my grandfather 3 months before I lost Wil. Losing a grandfather is completely different than losing a partner. Losing a partner is completely different than losing a child. Losing a child is completely different than losing a friend. Losing a friend is completely different than losing a parent.
Losing someone suddenly and unexpectedly is completely different than watching them struggle through a long and painful disease.
Every loss is different, and it is not fair to compare the two.
You simply can’t.
And for the love of god, don’t even try. If one of my friends lost their kid, I would never compare it Wil’s death, especially to their face. I wouldn’t even be able to fathom such a loss. Hell, even if my absolute closest friend lost her partner, I wouldn’t even try to compare it to Wil’s death, because every loss is different. I understand a lot of people say things like this because they’re trying to reach out and form a connection. And in a rational world, this would make sense. But grief isn’t rational.
And when grieving people are still in shock from losing someone, they honestly don’t give a damn about who you lost. They’re still in shock about their loss, and have yet to process it.

3) Everyone Grieves Differently. Don’t Judge.

Just like every loss is different, everyone has their own way of handling grief. Don’t judge. We often see in movies how some grieving character will isolate themselves from everyone else. Some people do this. But I was surprised to discover that I needed to be around people. I saw this over and over in people who lost someone close. I’m a fairly social person, but I do highly value my alone time. But it was completely different when I was grieving. It wasn’t that I wanted to be with people. I needed to be with people. I couldn’t handle being alone, not even for an hour, and actively sought out people to hang out with.

Grief also made me very, very reserved. I’m usually a very open and happy person, full of hugs and sarcasm. But I also hate crying in front of people, and as a result avoided all physical contact, like hugs, in order to keep from crying. As a result, I came across as very cold to a lot of people who didn’t know me. Some thought that my way of grieving was odd, or that I didn’t care about Wil all that much.
And in turn, I was confused as to why so many people posted on his facebook wall, telling him how much they missed him.
It’s simply not how I grieve, because I don’t see the point in talking to dead people as if they’re still alive. But it’s how others grieve, and to each their own. I don’t think less of them if that is how they have to express their grief.
Because when it comes to grief, everyone has their own way. Don’t judge someone simply because their way is different.

4) Keep Your Beliefs To Yourself

I’m not a particularly religious person. I’m joke that I’m a part-time Buddhist, somewhat like those Christians only go to church on Christmas and Easter. My spiritual beliefs are deeply private and I rarely talk about them, because they instruct me how to live my life, not how to run other people’s lives. At one point or another, all religions bring up the topic of death, which makes death painfully prone to awkward situations. Again, this goes back to rule #1: Unless you know, without any shadow of a doubt, 100%, that the person is of a praying faith, don’t say “I’m praying for you, You’re in my thoughts and prayers, The Lord works in mysterious ways, etc.
In fact, even if you know they’re religious, don’t even say it. Death can have a huge impact on a person’s spiritual beliefs. It may drive them to seek solace in their faith, or it may cause them to question it. Either way, it’s none of your business.
I repeat: Let them know you are sorry for their loss, and let them know you are there for them if they need it. This is all you need to say.
After a recent memorial service for a friend’s father, she and I got on the topic of of inappropriate things people say to those in grief. After he died, someone visited her family and walked into the back yard (which her father lovingly tended to for decades) and declared that she felt his presence there.
This is a huge fucking no-no.
Don’t do this.
Just don’t.

On the other end of the spectrum, if the person grieving talks about how they feel the deceased’s spirit in some way, and you don’t particularly believe in spirits, keep your mouth shut. Smile, nod, hug them if you want. Grief is no time for a theological debate. If the funeral is in a church or religious institution that teaches things that offend you or conflict with your own beliefs, get over it. Set aside your own beliefs and go to the funeral. Which brings us to our next rule:

5) Go To The Funeral/Memorial Service/Celebration of Life/Whatever

Seriously. Just go. Even if you didn’t know the deceased.
You see, funerals (and memorial services, wakes, celebrations of life, etc) aren’t actually for the deceased at all. They exist for the living. They are a way for people to come together, express their grief, and find solace in each other. And when a friend of yours is grieving, they need support. I hardly knew anyone at Wil’s funeral. There were a few people I knew through him, and a few of my family members, with whom I am not particularly close. None of my closest friends attended. Words cannot describe how devastating that was, because that was when I needed my friends the most.
Ever since, I’ve made it a point to attend funerals, even if I didn’t know the deceased. I’m not there to remember the deceased. I’m there to support my grieving friend. Always go, no matter what.
I guarantee they will appreciate it, because:

6) Grieving People Are Vulnerable.

 A few weeks after Wil died, I went to a friend’s house for a movie night. We were watching Doctor Who (because it’s awesome) and he insisted that we watch an episode titled “Father’s Day,” where one of the characters goes back in time and witnesses her father being hit and killed by a car (repeatedly). It was a very well-written and emotionally powerful episode. However, since weeks earlier Wil had been hit and killed by a car, it was also a really shitty episode for me to watch, and I ran out of the house in tears. Grieving people are emotionally and mentally vulnerable. And while that incident was just due to sheer thoughtlessness, there are plenty of bastards out there who will jump at the chance to take advantage of the grief-stricken.
Tim Minchin eloquently illumintated the issue: “By the way, why do we think it’s okay for people to pretend they can talk to the dead? Isn’t that totally fucked in the head? Lying to some poor woman whose child has died and telling her you’re in touch with the other side; I think that’s fundamentally sick.”
I noticed this in numerous ways, the worse of which was when I passed out on a couch and was sexually assaulted. Wil’s death was just as I was prepping to take my finals and start my clinical rotations. I threw myself into school, and within a month was exhausted in every way. Emotionally, mentally, physically. Adamantly against driving while tired, I crashed on a couch of a couple I used to live with, where I was later sexually assaulted by a mutual friend. It permanently destroy one friendship, and damaged several others.
And that was rock bottom. My entire world had been shattered with Wil’s death, immense grief, PTSD, the stress of finishing my finals, preparing for my clinicals, prepping for certification, and betrayal. As the dynamic of so many friendships changed, I gained new perspective on friendship, begrudgingly admitting to myself that yes, sometimes people are jerks who will try to take advantage of your vulnerable state. But for every jerk I came across, there were dozens and dozens of good and kind people in my life. It’s hard to be cynical when faced with those numbers.

7) Don’t Fight The Grieving Process

I mentioned earlier how I would refuse hugs from people because I hated crying in front of people. You get lysozyme and IgA all over your face and it’s super gross. A stubborn part of me refused to do so because I believed that I had to be strong. And while I am by nature the kind of person who likes to get things done first and then emotionally process them later, it wasn’t until 11 months later did I realize I wasn’t being strong at all. All I was doing was trying to avoid my grief, and in the end such action only prolonged it.
I was also surprised to discover that many people think the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – happens in that order, one at a time. It doesn’t. Those steps can occur in any order, simultaneously, or a person may not even experience one of them.
I also learned that grief is so emotionally draining that you have to take breaks. A few days after the death of her mother, my professor and her sister went to an amusement park, just because they needed the break and distraction. It’s healthy to take a break and seek distraction. Just remember that grief is something that eventually you’ll have to work through and process. Grief will never fully go away; It’s something that you always live with. But over time, it fades and becomes bearable. But whether you like it or not, it is something you eventually have to process and work through.

Those Stars Were Kind Enough To Explode

4 Apr

“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements – the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution and for life- weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.”

– Lawrence Krauss

Flower Child

25 Mar

There is a flower in my hair.
It looks delicious.
I bet it tastes like sunshine and chlorophyl.

Seven Reasons You Should Reach Out To Every Person Ever

22 Mar

I found this post at Hello Giggles, written by the lovely Amanda Olsen.

1.)  We’re all alone well, kind of.  This sounds grim, but it’s not! There is a freedom in realizing and embracing the fact that at the end of the day you’re sitting in your own skin with your own thoughts and realities.  One of the most beautiful parts of being alive and continually pushed into the world is knowing that every single person on the planet also goes to bed in their own skin, with their own thoughts and realities.  Learning and exploring new people offers you the opportunity to change some wobbly realities you’ve created and equally allows you to challenge someone else’s.

2.)  Everyone wants to be loved. I believe this from the very bottom of my heart.  Some people spend whole lifetimes trying to deny themselves the magic and wonder of being loved.  The world is weird, man.  People are becoming increasingly disconnected from other people and I can only conclude that this is because of an underlying fear of really sharing ones self with another soul.  Its scary, but even if you open that door and subsequently have to shut it, I guarantee your heart is better for it.

3.)  People are really weird. Some of the most amazing and inspirational people I have ever met are also the weirdest.  The old saying “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” couldn’t be more true.  Some people who appear to be so transparent can sometimes end up being the most hidden.  And some of the most nondescript can end up being the most magical and unhinged.

4.)  You’re not better than anyone. This is not a race, y’all.  I had a crash course lesson in this when I was 16 years old.  Suddenly I realized that competing against the world at large would only bring me misery, and worse off, would be a complete waste of my precious time in this brilliant and bizarre world.  Quit comparing.  Quit hiding yourself.  There’s always someone who is more _______than you.  Find yourself and love the s**t out of it.  If you can’t- who will?

5.)  Mean people are just fearful. It’s hard to not return rudeness with rudeness.  I’ve slowly learned this since moving to the east coast.  But if she’s rude to you, and you’re rude to her where do you end up? Next time someone is mean to you or cruel, remind yourself that that person is just fighting a battle they haven’t overcome yet and that most likely, that s**t aint yours to bother with.  Let it go and it will let go of you.

6.)  Everyone’s a teacher. At some point you realize that you’re an eternal student. People all around you are here to show you something new.  Listen to other people.  When you are most convicted about your own beliefs it is a prime opportunity to step back for a moment, truly listen to the other side and work out whether or not you subscribe to their belief or sentiment. You’ve changed people’s minds about a lot of things, let them change yours.

7.)  Being tender and open is beautiful.  As a woman, I feel continually shhh’ed.  Too sensitive.  Too mushy.  Too wishy washy. Blah blah.  Don’t let someone steal your tenderness.  Don’t allow the coldness and fear of others to tarnish your perfectly vulnerable beating heart.  Nothing is more powerful than allowing yourself to truly be affected by things. Whether it’s a song, a stranger, a mountain, a rain drop, a tea kettle, an article, a sentence, a footstep…feel it all – look around you- all of this is for you.  Take it and have gratitude.  Give it and feel love.

Job Hunt, Part I

21 Mar

Yesterday I woke up, settled in with a delicious cup of pressed Ethiopian yirgacheffe (my absolute favorite coffee),  and knocked out three job applications before noon (like a boss!). Literally five seconds after submitting my third application, I received a phone call from the hospital I interviewed at last week. They said that I didn’t get the job  I had applied and interviewed for, but they did want to offer me another job:
Day shift in the microbiology department.

I was completely stunned. I was completely speechless as the cheerful human resources lady rattled off the benefits of the job, which were far greater than I had ever hoped for in a first job. Of course,  there were a few downsides. I told her I would need a couple of days to consider the offer before deciding.

So here is the good, the okay, and the bad:

The Good:

  • A lab with windows!!!! This is rare for hospital labs, especially in this state.
  •  $20,000 loan forgiveness, paid in $6,000 increments over 3 years. The money actually doesn’t have to go towards student loans. They don’t require a receipt, so it’s actually more of a bonus. It will be going towards my loans though.
  •  Full health benefits from a very reputable company
  • Paid time off, of which I can accumulate 23 days in a year, and use up to 20 of those days at a time.
  • $26/hour
  • The microbiology department manager seems incredibly intelligent and kind, and would make a good mentor. This is something I really, really want, more than anything else, in a first job. I don’t want to be stuck in a lab where everyone does their job and goes home. I want a lab where the coworkers aren’t afraid to teach, challenge, and nurture me. This may sound needy, but this is a field where there are only 2 people entering the field for every 6 retiring out of it, and has a huge generation gap (workers are either over 50, or under 30. There are very few in between). I believe that it is imperative that mentorships be formed, so that the knowledge of those 40+ years of experience can be passed on to the upcoming generation, who lacks such experience.  I seemed to impress the microbiology manager when I mentioned  Richard Lenski’s experiment with E.coli evolution, which caused one strain to utilize citrate.
  • The city is home to a university with a very impressive science program, so I can expand my education.

The Okay:

  • The shift is a day shift, which would make taking the university’s science classes rather difficult, unless I could eventually  a few weekdays off. There are very few evening science classes at this university. I may take a few evening art classes first, so I can meet people, and then after a semester or two, ask for a few days off to take daytime classes.
  • Microbiology department: I have a love-hate relationship with clinical microbiology. I absolutely love microbiology. The day-to-day of clinical microbiology can be frustrating at times. I am very inexperienced with it, and don’t catch on with it as quickly as I did bloodbanking. The perk is that it would allow me to specialize at the very beginning of my career. The risk is that I may struggle in the beginning. Also, as one microbiologist pointed out, it is much easier to transition out of micro into the general lab, than transition into micro from the general lab. There is an overwhelming amount of information you have to know at all times in the micro department, which is easily forgotten if you’re in the general lab and not using it. It’s easier to start in microbiology than trying to move into it after years of not doing it. This opportunity in microbiology, though challenging, would also make me a better candidate for Doctors Without Borders, who prefer medical laboratory scientists with a microbiology background.

The Bad:

  •  This is a 3 year contract.
  •  The city has extremely cold winters (-50F)
  • Even worse than the cold, is the darkness.  I am already prone to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and depression runs in the family. However, a few of my friends who have lived there assure me the darkness isn’t that much longer than the winter darkness of my current location.
  • I wouldn’t be in blood banking, which is one of my biggest passions. (I do have a passion for microbiology as well)
  • I will be in a city where I know nobody, and loneliness is my biggest fear. I sometimes have trouble making friends, as I can be shy at times (unless I’ve consumed enough coffee). Also, many people initially don’t know what to think about a woman who thinks E.coli and blood cells are cute. Apparently it’s not a common sentiment.

I’ve asked friends their opinion of my offer. The feedback has been enormous, and mixed. Most people in  my current location loathe the city where the job is located, because of its severe winters. Many are encouraging me to go. Others are jealous of the benefits, as well as a new grad getting a day shift (rather unusual in my field).  Some think that I should focus more on my life-long dreams of working abroad. Some think I should pursue blood banking, though others are quick to point out that blood banking jobs in my state are currently rather rare. So are micro jobs, and for me to have one like this is incredible. Some pointed out that having 3 years of experience on a resume will be impressive, especially in microbiology. They’re right. If I stick with this for at least three years, it will open up a lot of doors, especially if I want to pursue a masters degree in epidemiology.

The Most Astounding Fact

12 Mar

Absolutely stunning.

Taking Comfort

12 Mar

I love a good piece of inspirational writing. This past year has brought an immense amount of difficult change into my life. For the first time in my life, I am facing serious unemployment. Not the “Oh, I left my job so I can focus more on school” kind of unemployment, but the “I’ve just graduated and need to start a new career where I am competing against applicants much more qualified than I am, and how the hell do I get experience when all the jobs require previous experience” kind of unemployment. I have an unpleasant amount school debt. I’ve endured multiple deaths, including that of my amazing boyfriend, my favorite grandfather, a wonderful coworker, a beautiful aunt, and my super awesome red tailed boa (Rest in peace, Mr. Cupcake). I may potentially move to a new city, where I know no one and will have to endure -40F temperatures.

So yeah, waking up to a great cup of coffee and this beautiful piece of inspirational writing by comedy writer Sarah May Bates was a wonderful way to start my day. I hope it brightens your day as well.


by Sarah May Bates

We can all take comfort in the simple knowledge we have. Sometimes we just have to allow ourselves to. It’s a part of being self-protective, self-sufficient, proactive: to get wrapped up in solving things and controlling or predicting the outcome of our lives. To know too much about people and how they work can sometimes help us, but more often, it drives us a bit mad. A mantra of sorts that can help you to let go of the things you can’t but want to control is simply “take comfort”. Take comfort in your self, your awareness, and that which is concrete.

Whether it’s a first date you’re preparing for and you feel yourself already worried about if the relationship one day ends, or you’re obsessed with the idea that something you said wasn’t right, take comfort in the facts and let it go. When I begin to obsess about the “what-ifs” of a situation, when I feel I can see something on the horizon or I’ve been able to sense something through subtle cues, I know I cannot act on that information, and in order to get to the right place, meaning a place where I’m not going in circles, I have to rely on the simple truths. A simple truth being: “I trust this person.” “I will figure out what to do if X scenario happens.” “I am kind and loving, and human.” Or “I want to enjoy this, regardless of the future, which I cannot know.”

You can hold tight to facts or truths that you know, despite the buzzing “what-ifs” that fly around you. In a way, you can walk forward stronger and more assured because you are putting faith in yourself being okay with any outcome. You can’t control people or what they do, and you can’t make everything happen perfectly in life. You can however, assure that you feel okay and peaceful throughout all of it.

Take comfort in the knowledge that you will be okay. No matter what. You are strong, you will take care of yourself and heal, and you will grow stronger every day. It’s a simple mantra, but I offer it with the hopes that it works for you too.
Happy Monday, love to you all.

– xox Sarah


You can read the original here, as well as explore more of Hello Giggles, a wonderful website for women.

Taking a Break

8 Mar

Unemployment is stressful, especially when you have a cloud of student debt hanging over your head. And especially when you love your field. I haven’t played with blood cells and bacteria in months, and I truly miss it. Every job application I fill out simultaneously fills me with more hope and stress, and it gets pretty exhausting after a while.

I decided to take a break. Not just a break from job searching, but a break from anxiety. I was fed up with the constant worry and doubt, and just needed a break, if only for a day. One day of not worrying about finances and job applications and future job interviews and cleaning the apartment and relationships and to-do lists and any other thing that could cause me stress.  So I settled in to my favorite coffee shop, surrounded with newspaper, coffee, chocolate croissants, yarn, a book, and a computer full of music.

My book of choice was a borrowed copy of “Headless Males Make Great Lovers,” by Marty Crump. It’s an charming book full describing peculiar animal mating rituals and habits, cleverly written and filled with the kind of enthusiasm I usually reserve for   blood antibody systems. So while attempting to crochet what will one day hopefully resemble a scarf, I took breaks to read about elephant seal harems and headless praying mantis sex. I haven’t gotten very far, but I absolutely love it. My attempt at a scarf is less entertaining, and looks like the work of a demented, drunken octopus. Mostly because I just let my mind wander and forget to count the stitches.

I suppose I’m taking the honey badger approach, where I just don’t care about the damn number of stitches. It’s just a silly scarf. The whole point of a scarf is to keep your neck and face warm, so who cares about the number of stitches or if the edges are straight? Today is my break from reality, so here I sit, contently crocheting away while humming The Cigarette Duet, which has been stuck in my head for days.

I certainly feel better, calmer, and ready to take on the world again, armed with biology books and happiness ^_^