Thursday, October 15, 2009

Docking at low tide

A loss, even when expected, is still a loss.

My grandfather was in the hospital for the past few weeks, battling a pneumonia that would not respond to antibiotics. At 96, the effort to heal exhausted him and breathing became difficult. To ease his suffering, he was sedated and put on a respirator for the past week. He continued to heal, and we waited. The sadness and anxiety were overwhelming at times - especially across the equator. The fear of not seeing him again, or hearing his voice on the phone while he tried to get a word in between my grandmother's chatter, constricted my throat and sent tears to my eyes. But we should not mourn the living...

The image that came to me again and again this past week was of our sailing trip last year. We spent a week sailing on the Chesapeake Bay with my in-laws. On the last day the wind waned and to make it to harbor at a decent time to drive back to their house, we brought down the sails and motored home. When we arrived the tide was too low to dock, so we sat in the cockpit waiting for the tide to rise enough to get into our slip. We could have been sailing, we should have been on our way home... Instead we were siting around waiting.

Waiting... and thinking - this week in the same manner, not at sea and not at dock. I have been remembering the good moments spent with my grandfather: how happy he was at my wedding; how he enjoyed his last visit to the US, just in time for the birth of my oldest son. I am immensely gratified that Dada and I were able to take the kids to see him in Brazil last May, and celebrate together his 96th birthday. He was having a great year, all four of his great-grandchildren came to visit! Yesterday the doctors decided to take my grandfather off his sedatives and give him a chance to wake up. However, he did not make it - he could not breath on his own. The mingled feeling of sadness and relief can be both numbing and overwhelming. I alternate from a state of tears to a sense of peace in minutes.

He had a life worth remembering, even if all I have are snippets of it in my mind: A veterinarian who hated cats & dogs. He married my grandmother in an arranged marriage, 13 years her senior - she accepted him because he liked tomatoes. He walked around the neighborhood daily, stopping to pull off vines and low branches from the trees in his path to help them grow. He saw a brother exiled for 15 years due to the military dictatorship that took over Brazil, when our famous scientists were kicked out of the country. After he retired he started compiling the history of veterinarians in Brazil, backwards through time - when he reached the early days of colonization he moved on to the rest of South America. He outlived both older and younger brothers. He lived a long life, embraced in a tight-knit family - even when spread across the globe.

After his 96 years of sailing through life, it was time to dock with the tide...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A small collection of forks

Looking back into my early years, there were not many major decisions I had to make, but they most definitely had a distinct impact on how my life has turned out. There were a few major forks in my path, some minor ones, and those daily decisions that can go unnoticed. As much as I am convinced I took the best path, there is no telling if going the other way would have had a positive or negative effect on my life. Albeit, it would certainly be a different life...

My strategy for deciding which path to follow also varied greatly depending on the situation. Most of the time I followed my 80% rule, including the stroll I am taking through the family lane. Nevertheless, some forks presented agonizing choices, which at the time needed stringent consideration and/or alternative tactics. When faced with the decision to continue my education in the US or return to Brazil, I settled the debate with a gamble. When deciding where to pursue my PhD, I followed my heart. In both cases I never looked back, and probably would have made the same choices if faced with similar options.

However, many of the minor choices I made hardly seemed like there was anything to consider at the time, but now I can see how I could have followed a hidden path. The one that comes to mind these days relates to when I fell in love with history of science as a junior in college. I felt that it was too late to become a history major - I was set on a career in biology since high-school. I vaguely remember considering a change of path, but not more than making an off-hand comment to my parents on the phone. Once my Dad pointed out that I could enjoy history as a hobby but that biology was a full-time deal, I was back in gear towards the career I had sought out to pursue. I am happy with my choice, but I always think of history as a "plan B". If I ever need a change... Amazingly, going back to school and taking a different path does not seem scary at all.