Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Friend from the future returns to the past... and I’ll take 4 servings of depression and change, with a side of irony, please.

And, with the “Facts of Life” theme song stuck in my head, I decided it was time for an update on my life as it stands today. On the eve of my 29th birthday, I look back at the previous year of craziness, sadness, and opportunity. February began a year that would change my life forever, mostly for the bad, some for the good. Like living a real-life soap opera, almost every 3 months brought a great deal of change.

February 1 of last year, my parents had a kitchen fire to kick off the craziness. The damage was restricted to the kitchen, yet the smoke damage was vast. We didn’t really see the impacts until the house was emptied later in the month and reconstruction of the kitchen as well as repainting the house, replacing carpet, updates etc. began. During this time, decisions were tough for my family as my grandmother was falling deeper into dementia, each time I saw her she was exponentially worse. My mom and sister were struggling through seeing the decline in her, while living in a rental house, with a declining dog, pressure from our insurance company and contractor, and the stress of having a fire.

Later in February, on my birthday, I had a phone interview with a potential PhD advisor at Massey University, in Palmerston North, New Zealand. At the end of the phone interview, I was told that I would be a great fit for the program and they wanted me to come. What a birthday gift! With that excitement, I had a great opportunity in front of me for my future and a great adventure. In March I decided that New Zealand would be a great choice for me, over Pittsburgh, and began to fill out paperwork and work on proposals. Life was starting to look up for me, so I thought.

In late April, I went home to see my Grandmother (Bubbie) for the last time. We all knew what was written on the walls, but that made it no easier. She had been in a nursing facility for months at this point and was put in Hospice for a marked decrease in weight. She no longer ate, was no longer drinking fluids, and could not take her meds. Toward the end she was her speaking was nonsensical and she was in and out of consciousness. Every so often, my sister could bring her back to reality singing “Bye, Bye Blackbird;” ironically, she was always referred to by my great grandmother as the Shvartzi (“black”) due to her black hair, the only one of my great aunts and uncles with black hair. She did humorously break out into a Christian psalm part way through “My Country Tis of Thee” (which we used to play together on the piano). My Bubbie died on May 12, and was buried on my parent’s Anniversary May 14.

After my Bubbie’s funeral, making decisions was even more difficult for the family and pressure continually increased to get the house done. While this was going on, my 14 year old dog was beginning her decline in life as well. A bit more irony here… my dog always had a special relationship with my Bubbie. When she was receiving radiation for breast cancer 9 years ago and stayed at my parent’s house, Pelle never left her side and even led her to the bathroom at one point, waited, then led her back to her bed. When she was a puppy, my Bubbie knitted her an afghan which through her growth became too small. Bubbie took the afghan to count stitches to make it bigger and Pelle, being the possessive pup, took hold of the afghan in her teeth and slowly pulled it back, never took her eyes off my Bubbie, and gave her a thank you lick when she let go. Pelle had to be put to sleep as she lost her ability to use her hind legs and was in great pain at the end of July.

August was full of stress and apprehension of the impending move to New Zealand, wrapping up loose ends of my life in the UP and moving all my things to storage in Detroit. The end of the month was a bittersweet time for me, saying goodbye to my friends and chosen family in Marquette. I then spent 3 weeks at home downstate with my family before crossing the globe for school. Apprehension mounted and I began to fall into culture shock (I never knew it could begin before embarking), but I tried to see people as much as I could and see my family before I left. Little did I know that would be the last time I saw my brother at the airport before my flight to New Zealand on September 23.

October 22 (NZ time), I got a call from my sister that my brother had died. I had been on my way to Kmart to buy hiking boots for a field trip to the volcanoes, with a half eaten apple in my hand, at the crosswalk of the Square and Broadway. My world pretty much stopped and I moved into mission mode. I knew I had to come back to the States, no question, for the funeral and be with my family. I went back to my room and made a Skype call to my friends, who I really needed at that moment, contacted the school to figure out what to do next, and started to pack. My supervisor, Gert, and his partner, Anja, took me out to the Tasman Sea for a couple hours with their neighborhood dog, Ziggy. This was some much needed time to think and breathe a bit, although it began a flurry of thoughts in my head of what to do next.

After a desperately lonely 30 hour flight back home, and bumming a couple cigarettes on the road (once an addict, always one), I arrived back to see my family in Detroit. The funeral and shiva for Sean were depressing as hell and began a very long process of reflection and soul searching. Over the next few weeks, I helped sort out all our stuff in boxes after the fire to distract myself and when not doing so, I debated and debated on where to go in my life. I didn’t want to let myself down, or the school, my family, or friends. While I don’t know how much I may regret the decision in the future, I decided to stay in the US and return to work. I wanted to be closer to home and have the support of my friends and family; I couldn’t even imagine going back to New Zealand as I hadn’t yet settled in and felt the chaos would have been too much for me to handle.

I concluded that my path in life no longer requires my obtaining a doctorate as I no longer have a drive to be in academia. With no desire for a life of academia, the path to a doctorate seemed excessive. I long for the people and adventure of New Zealand, the visiting of numerous volcanoes, the potential of trips to study exotic locations (like Indonesia), conferences in various places (like the upcoming Austalian hosted IAVCEI meeting), the cutting edge research, and the experiences of a new culture. Ultimately, without the desire to obtain the doctorate, it’s all a moot point.

A year later, on my 29th birthday, I will be returning to work in Marquette for my old company. I feel at home in Marquette and am blessed to have amazing people in my life here. The chaos of my life in the last year is balanced by these wonderful people and the knowledge that my family is only a few hours away. I have also resolved to make it a point to be present for more events with family and friends, so I don’t lose touch like I have in the past. Life is far too short for that. I will forever remember my time in New Zealand, and hope to return to explore more in the future. But, I have returned to the ‘past’ and am grateful for the normalcy which it provides.


  1. 2010 was a hard year. I'm sorry for you loss, but grateful that you have a soft place to land. Marquette has always been a haven for me. I hope it's one for you, too.

  2. Sorry to hear that 2010 was so rough, but glad to hear that you've been able to have time to reflect, rejuvenate somewhat and reevaluate what's important. Sounds like you're working to make 2011 a much better year...keep your head up and good things will come. Go Jason go! :o)