I'm going to start with an apology, which should, if I do this right, turn pretty seamlessly into today's post. This has been a long time coming, and I'm sorry. I got busy on the weekend after my previous post, and since the idea for this was still taking shape, I figured "What the heck, I'll skip a week - nobody's reading, yet, and I have a good reason to be missing a week." My reason? I was writing an article for the university newspaper, helping a student with her research in the field, and getting a bunch done in the lab (yes, over the weekend - just because I'm not getting a degree out of this doesn't mean I have to stop working like a grad student). For the record - those are good reasons to be busy, but bad reasons to skip a post. But, how was I to know that a real reason would come up?
And sure enough, on Friday, November 15th (just before the weekend, which is my personal deadline for these posts), my reason came. I got a text message from my father. That's unusual, because they live overseas - our communication is mainly by email or Skype. It said only one thing:
"Keeg, if you get this and can get to your computer, can you Skype us? It's urgent, dude. Dad."
I had just finished touring a new student around the lab, and since I hadn't taken my lunch break that day (working through lunch is a great way to pretend that you work nearly-normal hours), I had some time to kill. Grabbing my laptop, I made my way downstairs to an empty lab we use. As I walked, all I could think was Don't let it be about Grandpa, don't let it be about Grandpa, don't let it be about Grandpa... I couldn't think of any good news that might get classified as "urgent", and that was certainly the worst thing on my mind.
I'll spare you the details of the conversation, but the point is, my Grandfather had had a stroke. There was a bleed in his brain that was weakening one side of his body, so he'd been taken to the hospital, and was asleep. Because of the leukemia, his platelets were low, and we all knew what it meant. The bleeding wouldn't heal on its own, and the doctors weren't prepared to perform brain surgery on an elderly, immune-compromised patient with terminal cancer that caused bleeding complications. There would be no operation this time, no chemical warfare to hold the disease at bay, and no miraculous remissions. He would never leave the hospital, and the odds were good that he would not even wake up.
My grandfather passed away at 2:30 PM on Friday, November 15th. He died in his sleep, with several family members at his side. My mother (his oldest child) was in the air when it happened, flying home to see him one last time. I was informed around 5:30 that evening - just before I was to tell my younger sister what was happening. The timing of that could not have been worse.
Shock, when it hit me, was like slowly lowering myself into a bathtub full of ice water. My body felt like it was made of lead, or like I was coming out of a deep sleep. My mind went numb, and colour drained out of my world. As I hung up the phone, my sister was opening the front door to her residence, and we went upstairs to her room. By the time we got to the top of those stairs, emotion was gone. I didn't feel sad in that moment - I felt hollow. By the time we reached her room, my ears were ringing and all I knew was that I had to tell her. She asked if her roommate should leave. I said I didn't know - and at the time, I honestly didn't. I wish I had told her yes, yes she had to go and stay away and this needed to be between just her and I and nobody else should be in the room.
I didn't say that. Instead, I mumbled that I didn't know. Then I told her everything in a flat, emotionless tone, in a stream of words too fast for her to process the gravity of what I was saying. I did all this knowing that it was wrong, that she didn't deserve to hear it this way, that I was hurting her by doing it... but I couldn't stop. I wish I had. When I got to the end, there was a moment's pause. Her eyes filled with tears, and when I got up to hug her, she turned and ran from the room. I found her out on the quad, crying on the grass.
I will carry the memory of those moments with me for the rest of my life. I relive it, in dreams that keep me awake at night. I can never express to her how very sorry I am, how I failed her as a big brother. It is our duty to protect our younger siblings, and to guide them - not to plunge them into pain.
My grandfather was a role model to me in many ways. He was a teacher, farmer, volunteer hockey coach, and a member of his local Lions' club. He had lived in his little town his whole life, and it was a rare day that he had a bad word to say about anyone. He treated his fellows with great respect, always making conversation if he could. He loved many things - the land, his family, his friends, good food, and certainly good coffee. I could tell a thousand stories about him, and I hope that, over the course of my life, I will. When the day of the funeral came, hundreds of people showed up. Extra chairs were brought in, and when the doors closed, there were too many for even that. As I stood at the pulpit to give a reading, I saw that the back of the room was crowded with standing men. He was loved and respected in his community. I miss him.
I'm sorry that I still haven't posted anything about science - you were promised that a month ago, and all I've been giving you is personal. What can I say? Sometimes things are rough. I've been going through some unpleasant times, and I'm trying like hell to keep my energy up.
If you do want to see some of my writing that's a little more to the point, check this out. That's a link to my contributor's page at the newspaper I've been working with. It updates with my articles as they're published, and I encourage you to read them if you're curious. I've been trying to focus on science articles, but the News Editor is a great guy, and we've been working together quite a bit, so it's kind of a mixed bag. I'm really trying to get this "regular blog post" thing into my schedule, but until then, that's a source of material for you. The paper's season is done until the new Semester, so if you like those articles, hold on until January - I promise that there will be more.
I'm going to be out of the lab by then, and I'm trying to grab as much writing experience as I can, so if I find any other gigs, I'll let you know. I have yet to get paid for anything, but I try to keep the quality as high as I can anyway. One thing I'll be doing is trying to turn my Honours thesis into a paper. If anyone has any interest in remote sensing and/or image classification, let me know, and I'll keep you updated on that, too.