Posts Tagged ‘grief’

Words, like eyeglasses, blur everything that they do not make clear
Joseph Joubert

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today is my Mom’s 60th birthday. Congratulations, mom! Since she isn’t a real spotlight stealer, she and my Dad traveled away for a few days to celebrate the occasion. Tomorrow, when they come back, I’m planning on baking her a birthday cake and having them over for coffee after I pick them up from the airport.

In addition, my fiancé’s mom (who is a friend of my mom’s as well) had an idea of a birthday present for her from the both of us, and it will be waiting on the kitchen table when they get home. I like setting up surprises. 🙂 I know she won’t be reading this, since she doesn’t really read English, but I’m paranoid enough not to spill the beans about the present itself in case she finds out about it before she should.

The Jargonator is running on empty

I finally finished writing the assignment on Language and Identity. Deadline today, before midnight. Despite the fact that I actually had something to say about the articles and my research plan, most of the text ended up being rehashed jargon. On the other hand, I sort of had to rehash the material so the teacher knows I read it.

I do realise it’s my own fault that I didn’t start reading for the portfolio early enough. It’s too bad, though, that I left it until the last minute, since I could’ve really had something unique to say had I not been deathly tired with caffeine jitters. I’m pretty sure I’ll get a pass, though, since I finished each required task and hunted out the technicalities I was supposed to. It’s the discussion and conclusions that were more on the weak side in the portfolio.

This is sad. Having the luxury of great teaching and resources to learn and help create new scientific knowledge, and then… resorting to rehashing technicalities because, well, it’s enough. True, it’s not my Master’s Thesis field and I probably won’t pursue that kind of research further, but somehow I still feel that there’s more to me than what I created.

This is obviously an issue between my perfectionistic and passionate persona on the one hand, the one that wants me to become a researcher in everything, and my realistic persona on the other, the one that knows I can’t spread myself too thin or I’ll break.

The passionate perfectionist is fantastically interested in pretty much everything, but doesn’t have the stamina to read through hundreds and hundreds of pages to actually know about it all. The realist tries to remind me that I can become world class anything as long as I give up everything else, and that I really don’t want to give up everything else.

Breakups between grownups

Our band’s bassist quit. No drama, and he had good justifications to make his choice. This was two days ago. And as is customary when social units break up, the rest of us had a crisis meeting – complete with coffee and chocolate.

It seems that somehow the solemnity of the situation helped us all talk about the band in a much more direct tone than before. We had to decide if the rest of us wanted to keep going. We had to talk about the reasons our bassist had given for leaving, and the ways we could minimise those circumstances. It was one of those Cleansing Conversations.

It’s funny that you’d have to tiptoe around some topics with people you see almost every week. Then again, during my sister’s last few weeks, all of us tiptoed around the fact that she would not get better, ever. The day she passed was the first time we were able to talk about her death directly.

It seems crisis mode opens up communication for two reasons. One, in most cases the worst that can happen has already happened, or is so imminent that it has to be considered. It’s impossible to undo by not talking about it. Two, crisis mode creates a new kind of dynamic where something new has to be done since the old way either didn’t work or is no  longer available.

So if you happen to be or know a good bassist looking for a band in the Helsinki, Finland region, pop me a comment and we’ll see what happens. And until next time – keep catching your own insightings!



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I have found that if you love life, life will love you back.
Arthur Rubinstein

December 16 is my sister’s birthday. K would be 34 today. This is our first December 16 without her to celebrate, as she passed away in January 2008.

I could pour out all the hurt and the longing and the trauma and the whole story about her illness for you guys to read. Instead, I’ll take a moment to celebrate my sister’s life and think about the life lessons I learned from her. Some of these might be universal, some not as much.

1. Be yourself

My sister was no saint. She could be a mean big sister, saying things just right to make me feel like a useless speck on the lense of life. She could also be a wonderful listener, a warm friend, a loving role model and daughter to Mom and Dad.

At the memorial service, a lot of people stood up to share their memories of her. The one thing that everyone said was that K spoke her mind, in good and bad. She would never beat around the bush in the office, with her friends, or with the family. It was heartwarming to hear we all knew the same K. No pretense, no facades, just her bubbly, vivacious personality.

There was one stage in her life, though, when she couldn’t really be herself. She was in a relationship with someone who didn’t appreciate everything about her. As a result, she’d stifle some areas of her personality to keep the peace. The relationship eventually ended. She later talked a lot about not being herself as she was with him, and how difficult that was.

This brings up two rules of thumb for me to live by.

One, be yourself.
Truly, consistently and with everyone. Hiding your personality, interests and thoughts wears you down fast.

Two, if you feel you can’t be yourself, you’re hanging out with the wrong people.
There are, what, a hundred thousand people in your town, district or block? A few million in your country or city? Six billion in the world? If you feel stifled by someone, they’re draining your energy. Try to shift the mask and see how they react. If they accept you, it might be time to lower the defences.

If they don’t love you the way you really really are, they’re not a good person to hang out with. It’s not like they’re the only person on this planet or even in your country or city that could possibly love you even just a bit. On the contrary – chances are that if you really show your true colors to others, the right people will notice and want to hang out with you. Not with your mask, you you.

2. Have a safety net

On the surface, my sister had it all. A wonderful career in the UK, qualification studies under way, a handsome man she was living with, a beautiful home, friends in both Finland and the UK, looks, smarts, and a runner’s body.

Then, in a matter of a few months, several things happened. First, the relationship ended and she moved out. Scratch the man and the home.

A few weeks later she started to feel funny when getting up a flight of stairs and went to see a doctor. Diagnosis: cancer, inoperable but they could try chemo. Scratch running.

She thought about the options and decided to move to Finland for her treatments, since the cancer research is very good here. Scratch job and studies – she couldn’t do either while she was in another country.

Many people would have crumbled at the loss of just one.

What did she have left?

She had her parents, who took her under their roof for the entire duration of her treatments so she wouldn’t have to spend any more time in hospital than was necessary.

She had her friends, who kept in touch and kept her up to date with the office gossip and other important stuff. When she was strong enough to get around town, she’d take her friends to dinner and spend quality time with them.

She had her intelligence. She took up knitting, bead work, sudokus and other activities for the times when she was too weak to get out of the house.

This resonates with something we’ve been talking a lot about on confirmation camps:

Build your life on a solid foundation of strong values.

If your life is all about your job, and you get fired or have to stop working for other reasons, what is your safety net? If you value your health and body above all else, diligently maintaining a strict diet and exercise regime, and you get cancer or some other serious illness? If your self-esteem is directly proportional to your bank balance, and Wall Street goes bankrupt?

By strong values, I don’t necessarily mean “good” or “bad” values. Health is a wonderful value, yet you might lose it in an instant. Family is a wonderful value, but it’s also something you might lose.

3. Don’t let yourself off easy

As I mentioned, my sister worked in the UK. She first went there on an exchange program within the corporation she worked for in Finland. After a year and a half, she came back to Finland. She was then personally invited to work in the UK office. And she went. All alone. No specific education for international business.

She was good. So good, in fact, that when the company had to send someone from the UK office to a project in Asia, they sent her. The Finn. The woman, for that matter. And off she went, again. All alone.

Time passed, all the nasty stuff happened, and she came to Finland. She struggled through the chemos that didn’t really seem to do any good. Then the Finnish specialists suggested surgery, and she eagerly took up the chance.

She had her operation in March 2007. Five weeks later my band was performing at the final of a national band contest. She was there. Five weeks after an open lung surgery. It took her twenty minutes to get up the stairs to the balcony of the venue, but she was there.

A week later, Finland hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. K had bought tickets in February, long before she ever knew about the surgery. Boy was she there. Two evenings, for both the semifinal show dress rehearsal and the final show dress rehearsal. I’m guessing no-one else in the audience ever knew anything was out of the ordinary.

Life lesson:
There’s only so much you really can’t do.

After witnessing my sister do all of these things and do them with such strength and courage, I have a hard time believing people’s can’ts. I’m also very critical of my own can’ts. If you don’t want to do something or choose not to try, that’s different. But oh so many things are truly possible if you really want to do them.

4. Laugh

K had an awesome sense of humor, and she wasn’t afraid to show it. She wasn’t one of those people who, upon hearing a funny joke, look around to see if it’s safe and cool to laugh now. No, she’d laugh until her eyes watered, and then some. She also had a contagious laughter – you couldn’t really stay serious once she got on a roll.

Especially during her illness, she was determined to find joy in her life and have something to laugh about. When faced with something as serious as a life-threatening illness, she wasn’t going to put up a serious face about things that were really quite hilarious. It was also a surival strategy.

We were out shopping one afternoon, and a salesperson at a store complimented K on the lovely job her hair colorist had done. K thanked her for the compliment, and we barely managed to avoid looking at each other so as to not burst out laughing before we got out the store – K was wearing a wig as she’d lost her hair in chemo. We contemplated how the woman would’ve reacted if K had offered her the wig for a closer look. 🙂

Life lesson:
There are massive amounts of funny things around you every day. Relish them.

Of course, you need to consider the situation before laughing out loud about something or remarking on an absurdity. We didn’t point out to the lady at the store that she had complimented K on hair that wasn’t hers, strictly speaking. She might have felt embarrassed, shocked, or offended, depending on her own background. Besides, there was no need for that. We didn’t need an extra audience for the humor to be valid.

In a similar way, I often notice funny things as I’m listening to a speech or a lecture. I make a mental note of them, but don’t really need to tell anyone – my own private chuckle is enough. If the situation allows it, sharing funny insightings is great, of course.

5. -> and plenty of tidbit insightings

I suspect I’ll keep realizing things I’ve learned from K throughout my life. One day, maybe, I’ll also be able to look at the things I’ve learned about myself during and after her life here. I promise to get back to you on that.

Today, I’ll light a candle for K and reminisce.

Until we meet again – keep catching your own insightings.



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What Will Never Be

Some think it’s holding on that makes one strong; sometimes it’s letting go.
Sylvia Robinson

So two major things happened during the past year.

First, my only sister lost her battle against cancer and died January 10, 2008, at the age of 33. Once I’ve gotten to the stage of the process where I can say I’ve actually learned something from that whole thing, I’ll tell you more.

Second, in July 2008, my boyfriend proposed to me, and we’re getting married July 25, 2009.

Both of these things were emotionally extreme, although almost exact opposites. Both are also things that are quite final in some sense, and thus close a lot of doors. I know marriage is not nearly as final as death, but since we’re vowing to be together for the rest of our lives, I want to see it as a total commitment. I’m also noticing some parallel emotional reactions as I’m preparing to be a wedded wife.

What do I mean by closing doors?

Glad you asked. Whatever happens in this life, I will never have a sibling again. If we ever have children, they won’t have cousins from their mother’s side, and my children will be the only grandchildren my parents ever have. Our family celebrations won’t be filled with stories from Auntie K about how I used to do this and she used to do that.

On the other hand, by choosing to commit to my now fiancé for the rest of my life I’m automatically ruling out a bunch of possible future spouses (sorry, Orlando…), as well as possible extended families. I love my future husband, as well as my future in-laws, but it still seems all so… final.

Even if I meet someone that I’m really really in synch with, mentally and emotionally and physically, I’ll be unable to do anything about it. Or rather, I’ll choose to not do anything about it and silently suffer the pain and anguish of letting go of that possible love affair.

There are some things that have helped me cope with this whole boiling pit of sticky emotion about What Will Never Be, and may help you if you’re struggling with something similar.


First, I’m trying to let myself grieve over the loss. Because it is, in essence, a kind of loss, even if you’ve never had what you’ve lost. If you can imagine it, it is a possibility. Having to dismiss something as impossible the moment you imagine it is sad and painful and horrible.

The grief process around the death of my sister has dealt with the things I’ve lost from my life as she is gone, but also the things that will never be, such as summers at the family cottage or crazy girls’ nights out.

I think it’s easier to grieve What Will Never Be if the finality arises from something sad, such as death. I was really surprised when, at the midst of this pink engagement cloud, I started to feel resentful, wistful, sad and trapped. I was also having some unexpected crushes on my male friends. Not the stuff you’d expect from a newly engaged bride.

I probably wouldn’t have realised what was going on if I hadn’t recognised that there was a similar process happening in the part of my brain where I was grieving for my sister. After I figured out the connection, I could give myself a mental hug and let my emotions run wild without them really affecting my behavior.


The second thing that helps me is dreaming. Just because it won’t happen in real life doesn’t mean it can’t happen in your imagination. Sometimes indulging in a vivid mental improvisation of your dream house, family, job or career is even more entertaining than actually having those things.

You can imagine yourself as a rockstar onstage in front of thousands of people – and ignore the endless sound checks, stressing over ticket sales, fretting over costumes and getting to bed at dawn. Just be sure that you don’t spend your life fantasising while the chances to fulfill other dreams pass you by.

Then again, as you fantasise about your impossible dream, focus on the things that really appeal to you. Is there something you could actually incorporate in your life?

Finding the nucleus

My sister was one of my closest friends, and I keep a photo of the two of us on my nightstand and another next to my computer. I constantly find myself using idioms, phrases, and intonations that she would have used, and whenever I come across a movie, book, article or tv-show she would’ve enjoyed, I make a mental note of it. In a way, she is still a part of my life, and I’m sure she always will.

Even if I can’t have my sister around anymore in a real sense, I can hold on to the nucleus of what made her so important to me. I still remember the fights and resentment we used to have, and I loved her in spite of all that. It’s not nucleal for me to remind myself of that, though.

As for Orlando and all the other fascinating men, I’m willing to sacrifice the physical and the emotional for the other stuff. The people I find most drawn to are the ones that share my sense of humor, my appreciation of music and arts, and my interest in constructing hypotheses out of thin air.

Fortunately, sharing that nucleus doesn’t require an exchange of bodily fluids or whispered sweet nothings.

Or take the aspiring rockstar. Is it the music? Learn to play one song on the guitar, join a group, or find a karaoke bar with the right atmosphere. Is it the show? Try finding an amateur theater group you could join. Or you wanted to be a flight attendant? If it was for the outfits, start wearing high heels and silk scarves to work – even if you’re working from home. The customer service? Ask around and find out if you could incorporate some customer service into your work. And so on.

Such is life.

There’s not really a good way to wrap up this post, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll wish you well and hope this helps someone somewhere. If you have suggestions of what might help, or what helped you in a similar situation, feel free to comment.

Until we meet again – keep catching those insightings.



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