Two years on

It has been two years since my father died.  Some days it feels like a moment; other days like a decade.  There are days I don’t think of it much–and I feel like I’m moving on–and then I feel a jolt of guilt.

Many people said the second year of bereavement would be worse than the first.  It has not.  It has been easier.  I have forgotten a lot.  I was terrified of forgetting, but I guess forgetting is the only reason that time heals…as you get distance, you forget the details, good ones and bad.

As a working mom of two and a medical wife, life has sometimes been too busy and stressful for me to focus on grief.

People said there would always be a hole; that things would never be the same; that the pain would never completely be gone.  That has been true.  However, now having lived through it I also see how people can learn to live with a big part of their soul missing, and that the missing piece does not prevent them from being happy again.

The tenth anniversary of my dad’s death is also the tenth anniversary of my PhD defense.  It’s funny; I remember my defense very clearly.  I’d bought a suit the day before.  I never in my worst nightmares knew what would happen eight years later, to the day.

I miss my father.  The grief and loss are still present.  For the most part the acute pain and the horror are not.  Things that bothered me before it all happened (e.g., being passed over for promotions) seemed like small potatoes for a while, but I notice now that they’ve started to bother me again.  I still miss my dad and a part of me still looks for him on the street, when I pass the old bus stop.  I’m afraid to ever move away and leave behind the places that he was.   I still wonder what happens when we leave this world; whether I’ll ever see him again.

I just remembered how he would keep some cloves in his pocket to freshen his breath, and how they would break into little pieces and shake out of his clothes.  Little memories like that bubble up from time to time.

And that’s the way life is.  Terrible things happen, and somehow life goes on.



I keep having anxiety dreams about graduate school.  I think it was the first time in my life where I really failed and crash-landed.

I’d attended a state school for college, so graduate school was my first time being very far away from my family.  It was cutthroat competitive.  I was very lonely, and ultimately tired of being single.

I realize in retrospect how depressed I was.  I really needed help.  I was in a male-dominated field, so I had few close female friends.  I struggled aimlessly under a terrible, negligent PhD advisor who did not feel any responsibility at all toward his students, and would disappear for years at a time.  Some of his brightest students were stuck there ten years.  Years later, he turned out to have had a slow-growing version of the same brain tumor that my father had–one whose symptoms for my advisor manifested as apathy.

I failed romantically.  Lonely and depressed, I fell in love (I thought) with someone and held onto him as though he were the only raft in the ocean.  Well, the “someone” turned out to have severe mental health issues of his own.  Long story short it went as poorly as a romance could possibly go–and worse, it dragged on for several years.  He never did marry anyone.  Meanwhile my advisor has not managed to send a single PhD student into an academic career in fifteen years or so.

Anyway, I didn’t fail entirely.  Despite it all I managed to publish a couple of useless papers, graduated with a shiny degree, and found a postdoc where I worked for a very good advisor and blossomed, and did very good work.  The problem was that I didn’t start with a solid foundation from graduate school, and that made it hard to find academic jobs.  I did find one, finally; it was unsuitable, and I left.

Looking back at it all, whenever I failed I always kept going.  Writing it all out for the first time, I realize that maybe it wasn’t failure after all.  I didn’t end up quite where I’d planned to go, but I did end up somewhere.  Possibly somewhere better for me.

If I’d stayed an academic, I wouldn’t have been around for my parents when they needed me.  I don’t know whether I’d have managed to get married and have kids.  I’ve seen women do it all, but I’m not sure it would have worked out for me due to the timing, and due to various other factors.

Looking back, I can also see that although I blamed myself for not ending up quite where I wanted, a lot of the things that affected my life and career were pure bad luck and external circumstance too.  One thing I’ve tried to learn is not to care what you look like from the outside.  Nobody is as invested in your life and career as you are.  Maybe somebody Googles you someday and says “oh, s/he succeeded,” or “oh, s/he failed” and for a moment they feel either jealous or schadenfreude.  But that’s a moment.  You have to live your entire life, 24/7.

So you may as well be true to yourself.


Great column by Carolyn Hax today, here.  In summary,

● You can’t keep bad things from happening to you, but you can make the best choices available to you at any given time.

● You can’t keep bad things from happening to people you love, but you can be there so they don’t have to go through them alone.

I feel like I did do this for my dad.

My dad’s birthday

I’m not sure how to celebrate. I miss him.

This time, two years and a lifetime ago, he was probably close to beginning hospice. I remember he was able to come in my house one last time on his birthday, or just after. My mom had brought roses. I still have the roses, in a box.

It’s almost two years since he died.

This morning the triggers have been fast and hard. I was invited to a neurooncology seminar. My husband mentioned lymphoma. I met a woman who used to ride the subway with me and my dad. She remarked on the special subway-riding trick he taught me, and I taught her–exactly where to board so that when you exited, the train deposited you right near the escalator, and you didn’t have to push through a crowd. I had a work event at the convention center where I’d given a talk once and he’d dropped me off, before things all went wrong.

I visited a bunch of brain tumor sites again. I shouldn’t have. It brought back a bunch of really bad memories.

If he had just lived a year or two, he’d have seen both my children. But I guess in a way it’s merciful that it happened fast. I don’t know how I’d have lived for years with the knowledge that his days were numbered but that the number hadn’t come up yet. I guess all our days are numbered, but it’s really different when you know the number.

I miss my dad. There is a constant ache in my heart and he’s always on my mind. What I’d give to have a day with him; a day where we could chat, where he could tell me what it felt like to be diagnosed, what it was like to get the chemo, what it felt like once he knew (assuming he knew) that he was going to die. He lost his speech, memory, and communication abilities on diagnosis, so I never knew. If I had just one day with my dad, I could show him my daughter and son. They could interact with him as a human being and not as a set of photos. For a long time I was almost better, but somehow for the last few days the grief and pain have been unbearable again, and the fear for my own future and what may lie in it…more illness for myself and loved ones, more loss, more pain. I keep thinking how I’ll be 40 in the next few years; that if I go when my dad went, the midpoint of my life is in the past. I wonder where my youth went.

The loss of my dad changed me…the first half of my life was mostly about gaining things: Degrees, relationships, jobs, kids. Now I feel like the descent has begun.

But anyway, when you remember bad events, the memory isn’t quite as sharp as living the event itself. That’s how it’s better. And it is better.

Dad, I miss you. I’m hoping against hope that you still exist somehow in more than my memory, and that someday when my time comes, we can be together again in some more meaningful way than both being stardust that has gone back to the stars, or whatnot.

All my love, and my babies. They recognize you from your photos.

My son turns 1

Today my son turned 1. I tried to videotape and photograph it all.

He looks eerily like my father in some photos.

I never thought I would feel so much nostalgia for my kids’ infant days, but I do. I love getting to know them, watching their personalities form, but they change so fast, and the time that’s gone doesn’t ever come back.

I know how exhausted and drained I was when they were newborns (especially my daughter). And still, still I miss those days. And someday I’ll look back, and miss these days, too. So I’d better make the most of them.


It’s coming up on two years since my father died. There’s about a month to go. February (the anniversary of when he got sick) seems like a long time ago. I guess he was sick for a short time, but it was a long time, if that makes any sense. Meaning, February to September is a long time to deal with what we dealt with.

Some days I don’t think about it all. I’ve accepted life without my father. It’s hard that I’ve accepted that.

My husband is applying for fellowships. It wasn’t that long ago he applied for residency. It is a tiring, grueling process. He had five straight months of difficult rotations, because my son was born last July and we arranged his year so all the light rotations were early. When my husband is on duty, I’m on duty because I am doing solo childcare. I hear people talk about going back home when their spouses are done training to live near family. I wish I had more family to live near.

I kind of feel like I’ve been struggling my whole life. Every day is very hard. I go to sleep tired and seem to wake up more tired, because my son still wakes up now and then at night.

I don’t know if it’s better or worse for my husband. He has a rough job and a bad commute on top of it. If I had to trade, though, I’d probably rather be in his position…I’d rather have a long commute and a tough job but the feeling that I was making progress in my life, and a spouse who was reliably home.

Some days I just want to quit working and stay home with the kids. Ten years ago, I never thought I’d say that.

Various milestones

I haven’t been blogging much. When I go back to all the posts about my father, I feel tired.

As of July 1st, my husband will be half finished with his residency. Even in retrospect, it didn’t go by fast. It feels like a long time. And a short time…it feels like my dad just died, and that was two years ago too.

Work goes on. I was passed over–on my 37th birthday–for a promotion in favor of somebody who is probably less qualified. I spent the entire day crying. I regret it because I must have made my mom sad. I don’t want to remember my birthday like that. Anyway my new boss has two kids just a little older than my two kids, and puts up nice photos of them with his dad in his office–photos that grate on me, because my only photos of my dad with my daughter show my dad dying of brain cancer.

I’m tired. I used to be an overachiever, but after everything I’ve been through these last couple of years, I can’t really bring myself to go above and beyond at work any more. Sometimes, I feel like I just want to hide and be invisible.

On a happier note, my son will turn 1 soon. He’ll be 11 months in a few days, and yesterday he just climbed all the way up our townhouse stairs by himself (with me hovering behind him). Yesterday evening he was crawling around and then came and snoozed in my lap, and I rubbed his back until he fell asleep. He is very affectionate and loving. He also likes to pull my hair, which is now noticeably gray. He is very soft. His feet are getting less so, as he’s been standing, but still. He is starting to say “Ka! Ka!” which might or might not mean “car,” and he seems to know the words for “nose” and “ear.” He still nurses vigorously, which is great, but I hate pumping. He’s started mostly sleeping through the night, though he wakes up very, very early (6 a.m.) I’m not sure how I’ll manage weaning.

My last A1c at the lab was 5.3. I have lost a total of 40 lbs from my most overweight point, by doing mostly low-carb. It’s been a year since my gestational diabetes diagnosis. I now have a “normal” BMI–though apparently if you are South Asian you ought to have a BMI under 23, not 25, which means that I still have a few pounds to go. I feel a little embarrassed when people point out my weight loss, because it just brings home for me that I was so overweight to begin with. I haven’t really noticed people treating me any better–in fact while I was overweight I seemed to get every job I interviewed for; now I don’t. Maybe I take more risks now? But I don’t know–I took plenty of risks then too. Maybe back then I didn’t have kids, and was less tired. I do have one friend at work who, now that I am a normal weight, has started talking about fat people as though they are some other species that neither of us belongs to. That’s been weird. I wasn’t always overweight–in grad school I weighed as much as I did now. So…my weight has been up and down, and I haven’t noticed much difference in how anyone treats me.

I don’t think I could handle more kids, but sometimes I feel wistful that I won’t be pregnant again. My first pregnancy I was anxious and sick, but I actually enjoyed my 2nd pregnancy a lot, until I got GD. I guess the GD made me healthier, on the whole. Without it I would not have known about blood glucose, or how to lose weight, and I’m not sure my glucose issues would have been picked up on.

I’ve started writing some speculative fiction. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Take care!