September 27, 2012
This is not a post about programming, or being a geek. In all likelihood, this is not a post you will enjoy reading. Consider yourselves warned.
I don't remember how I found this
Moth video of comedian Anthony Griffith.
It is not a fun thing to watch, especially as a parent. Even though I knew that before I went in, I willingly chose to watch this video. Then I watched it again. And again. And again. I watched it five times, ten times. I am all for
leaning into the pain, but I started to wonder if maybe I was addicted to the pain. I think my dumb programmer brain was stuck in an endless loop trying to make sense out of what happened here.
But you don't make sense of a tragedy like this. You
can't. There are no answers.
My humor is becoming dark, and it's biting, and it's becoming hateful. And the talent coordinator is seeing that there's a problem, because NBC is all about nice, and everything is going to be OK. And we're starting to buck horns because he wants everything light, and I want to be honest and tell life, and I'm hurting, and I want
everybody else to hurt. Because somebody is to blame for
The unbearable grief demands that someone
must be to blame for this unimaginably terrible thing that is happening to you, this deeply, profoundly unfair tragedy. But there's nobody. Just you and this overwhelming burden you've been given. So you keep going, because that's what you're supposed to do. Maybe you get on stage and talk about it. That's about all you can do.
So that's what I'm going to do.
Five weeks ago, I was selected for jury duty in a medical malpractice trial.
This trial was the story of a perfectly healthy man who, in the summer of 2008, was suddenly killed by a massive blood clot that made its way to his heart, after a surgery to repair a broken leg. Like me, he would have been 41 years old today. Like me, he married his wife in the summer of 1999. Like me, he had three children; two girls and a boy. Like me, he had a promising, lucrative career in IT.
I should have known I was in trouble during jury selection. When they called your name, you'd come up from the juror pool – about 50 people by my estimation – and sit in the jury booth while both lawyers asked you some questions to determine if you'd be a fair and impartial juror for this trial. What I hadn't noticed at the time, because she was obscured by a podium, is that the wife was sitting directly in front of the jury. I heard plenty of people get selected and make up some bogus story about how they couldn't possibly be fair and impartial to get out of this five week obligation. And they did, if they stuck to their story. But sitting there myself, in front of the wife of this dead man, I just couldn't do it. I couldn't bring myself to lie when I saw on her face that her desire not to be there was a million times more urgent than mine.
Now, I'm all for civic duty, but five weeks in a jury seemed like a bit more than my fair share. Even worse, I was an alternate juror, which meant all of the responsibility of showing up every day and listening, but none of the actual responsibility of contributing to the eventual verdict. I was expecting crushing boredom, and there was certainly plenty of that.
On day one, during opening remarks, we were treated to multiple, giant projected photographs of the three happy children with their dead father – directly in front of the very much still alive wife. She had to leave the courtroom at one point.
The first person we heard testimony from was this man's father, who was and is a practicing doctor. He was there when his son was rushed to the emergency room. He was allowed to observe as the emergency room personnel worked, so he described to the jury the medical process of treatment, his son thrashing around on the emergency room table being intubated, his heart stopping and being revived. As a doctor, he knows what this means.
On day two, we heard from the brother-in-law, also a doctor, and close friend of the family. He described coming home from the hospital to explain to the children that their father was dead, that he wasn't coming home. The kids were not old enough to understand what death means, so for a year afterward, every time they drove by the hospital, they would ask to visit their dad.
I did not expect to learn what death truly was in a courtroom in Martinez, California, at age 41. But I did. Death is a room full of strangers listening to your loved ones describe, in clinical detail and with tears in their eyes, your last moments. Boredom, I can deal with. This is something else entirely.
As a juror, you're ordered not to discuss the trial with anyone, so that you can form a fair and impartial opinion based on the shared evidence that everyone saw in the courtroom together. So I'm taking all this in and I'm holding it down, like I'm supposed to. But it's hard. I feel like becoming a parent has
opened emotional doors in me that I didn't know existed, so it's getting to me.
Sometime later, the wife finally testifies. She explains that on the night of the incident, her husband finally felt well enough after the surgery on his right leg to read a bedtime story to their 4 year old son. So she happily leaves father and son to have their bedtime ritual together. Later, the son comes rushing in and tells her there's something wrong with dad, and the look on his face is enough to let her know that it's dire. She found him collapsed on the floor of her son's room and calls 911.
A week later, I was putting our 4 year old son Henry to bed. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was the first time I had put him to bed since the trial started. Henry isn't quite old enough to have a stable sleep routine, so sometimes bedtime goes well, and sometimes it doesn't. It went well that particular night, so I'm happy lying there with him in the bed waiting for his breathing to become regular so I know he's fully asleep. And then the next thing I know I'm breaking down. Badly. I'm desperately trying to hold it together because I don't want to scare him, and he doesn't need to know about any of this. But I can't stop thinking about what it would feel like for my wife to see pictures of me with our children if I died. I can't stop thinking about what it would feel like to watch Henry die on an emergency room table at age 38. I can't stop thinking about what it would feel like to explain to someone else's children that their father is never coming home again. Most of all, I can't stop thinking about the other 4 year old boy who will never stop blaming himself because he saw his Dad collapse on the floor of his room, and then never saw him again for the rest of his life.
Somebody is to blame for this.
Somebody must be to blame for this.
Now I urgently want this trial to be over. I'm struggling to understand the purpose of it all. Nothing we see or do in this courtroom is bringing a husband and father back from the dead. The plaintiff could be home with her children. The parade of doctors and hospital staff making their way through this courtroom could be helping patients. The jurors could be working at their jobs. My God how I would love to be doing my job rather than this, anything in the world other than this. A verdict for either party has immense cost. Nobody is in this courtroom because they want to be here. So
I don't know these people. I don't care about these people. I mean, it's in my job description as a juror: I am fair and impartial
because I don't care what happens to them. But finally I realized that this trial is part of our ride.
We get on the ride because we know there will be thrills and chills. Nobody gets on a rollercoaster that goes in a straight line. That's what you sign up for when you get on the ride with the rest of us: there will be highs, and there will be lows. And those lows – whether they are, God forbid, your own, or someone else's – are what make the highs so sweet. The ride is what it is because the pain of those valleys teaches us.
Sharing this tragic, horrible, private thing that happened to these poor people is how we cope. Watching this play out in public, among your peers, among other fellow human beings, is what it takes to for all of us to survive and move on. We're here in this courtroom together because we
to be here. It's part of the ride.
I've heard and seen things in that courtroom I think I will remember for the rest of my life. It's been difficult to deal with, though I am sure it is the tiniest reflected fraction of what you and your family went through. I am so, so sorry this happened to you. But I want to thank you for sharing it with me, because I now know that I am to blame. We're all to blame.
That's what makes us human.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
Only thing I can write is "I should have heeded to your warning".
Without wishing to appear callous, the question at the top of my mind is this: why do the lawyers feel that they have to manipulate the jury's emotions so completely to get the result they want?
Under these circumstances, I just don't understand how it's possible for an impartial verdict to be reached. We're all human. If this is a case of
medical malpractice, how is the (shocking and cruel) fact that the victim left behind a family in the slightest bit relevant to what the surgeons did or did not do on the day?
As humans we're simply not capable of completely subsuming our cognitive biases, and only one side here has the freedom to take advantage of them. Regardless of the merits of the case, that's simply wrong.
You, and the family involved, have my sympathies.
I have two little girls. One is two and a half and the other is almost one. These kind of things terrify me, and I have this morbid mentality where I often find myself following the train of thought down a tragedy to mentally prepare myself for how I would deal with it. What I always realize, when it comes down to it, is that this is what gives me hope:
It's what calms my fears and gives me something to hold on to, especially the promise of eternal families.
I've been reading your blog for a while now, and have never felt the need to comment on your excellent articles, but I just felt impressed to share this. Thanks for your wonderful insights.
Thanks Jeff, now my face is a big :(
But seriously, it's good to share this stuff. You can't bottle this level of emotion indefinitely or it will just burn you up. You need to talk about it so you can reason with it and understand what you're feeling.
The Moth Stories video of Anthony Griffith is the most real thing I think I've ever seen on the internet. By that I mean I don't think I've empathised so strongly with anything.
It also disgusts me.
It was recorded almost ten years ago, describing an event well over ten years before that. I can't, wont comprehend just how somebody can have something like that inside them for thirteen years. When you watch the video, you're witnessing thirteen years of the most horrific torture compressed into a few minutes. I want to flinch but I can't. This record of his pain will always be there and I can't do anything to stop his pain in it.
Then you start to wonder:
does he Is there a corner in his mind that he can't start to talk about without shouting, without crying, without reliving every precious minute of those years where he both gained and lost everything? still feel this way?
It actually scares me. To suffer the initial pain is bad enough but that's life, that's the ride. But to be trapped in the pain for decades like some sort of Sisyphean loop... Well, it's unimaginable.
Reminds me of the time I was a juror on a rape trial. Oh happy memories of youth.
There are no words.
But there have to be, in time.
Right now there aren't.
I would try to talk you out of the way you are feeling, because it is hard to see other people's sadness, and it would help me avoid confronting my own mortality. But that would be the wrong thing to do.
It's just tragic.
I don't thing that there is always somebody to blame. Bad things happen to nice people. In this particular case you could possible blame the doctors, nurses or hospital. Are they really to blame? Do they wanted to harm this man or his family? Look it from their perceptive. In every medical action there is statistical risk of something going wrong. It could be 0.1%, 1% or so. Doctors are humans and make mistakes; bad practice from doctors is also included into this percentage and shouldn't be left out of the equation. Should we blame doctors every time something goes wrong? Do we have to put the family, the accused doctors and jury through this painfully process? (How happy was the family, look at the children now). Of course the doctors and hospital shouldn't just go away, but they should pay an amount to the family. But this should be judged on purely technical matters. How bad their practice was, what is the likelihood of this happening, have they properly informed the patient about what might go wrong and so on.
And as a side note. Would you have been writing the same length post if the man has died of some more natural cause? Like a car accident or a disease? Something that there is really no one to blame for?
In my opinion looking for someone to blame for, doesn't really help the family to deal with their loss. People must understand that we aren't here for ever, we must not hang on the past and we should *live* every moment of our lives. That is what our lost beloved would want us to do.
So your point seems to be that the family is justified to waste so much time for everyone because blaming someone makes it easier to cope with the pain?
A thought provoking piece on the impact of someone's death through an accident. I think about this sometimes; how would the wife and kids be if I was killed? Commuting to work (in the UK) on a bicycle every day I get plenty of reminders just how realistic this possibility is with the small minority of drivers who don't see me, don't care about me or are just deliberately aggressive. Maybe if they realised the impact someone's death has, they'd be a bit more careful.
Reading Kostas' comment maybe those drivers wouldn't be more careful. Maybe they'd just think it was an unavoidable 'accident' if they hit me while they were on the phone, or were over the speed limit, or simply not looking where they we're going (all of which have happened to me in the past, luckily without serious injury so far). Bottom line - people need to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
"We get on the ride because we know there will be thrills and chills. Nobody gets on a rollercoaster that goes in a straight line. That's what you sign up for when you get on the ride with the rest of us: there will be highs, and there will be lows. And those lows – whether they are, God forbid, your own, or someone else's – are what makes the highs so sweet. The ride is what it is because the pain of those valleys teaches us."
My first boyfriend and I were together just shy of nine years. He died suddenly last year. He'd be 35 now.
It hurts. It fucking hurts and you can't fix it. It's like an exposed live wire in your brain. You get better at avoiding it; you can even forget it sometimes, you're so well-practised at dancing around it; but it's still there and will still hurt you if you touch it. All you can do is slowly learn how to be happy again without feeling guilty that you're still here, learn to keep living and feel good sometimes and do all the things he should be able to do too.
Perhaps I'll change my mind one day. But right now? No. I disagree, Jeff. You don't need those lows to treasure the highs. I don't appreciate life any more. I don't feel that I've learned much from the experience. It just fucking hurts and I'd be happier if I didn't have that.
This wife will feel sad for a long, long time, I think. She will do her best to keep things together for her children, and eventually reach a place where she can feel happy again for a few days at a time without crashing against the gut-wrenching sadness of losing a husband. But I don't think it will make her happiness any sweeter.
If there's a lesson to take from this, Jeff, it would be to look after yourself and your family, and bring them as much happiness as you can right now, every day. Because when something happens to them and it hurts that bad? They won't appreciate the lesson they took from it. They won't savour the highs of life any more. It's part of the ride, but it doesn't make the rest of the ride any better.
It just fucking hurts.
I know it's not the point of your post. But we're all wanting to know what the verdict was. I hope, if he really did just throw a clot, it was not-guilty. Things happen. Sad things happen. They can't always be prevented or reasonably predicted. It's not always someone's fault.
I am not an attorney but, unless the trial is over, I think you are in trouble.
Thanks for sharing. There are many dark, sad, terrible things that happen in our life (hopefully not, but they do) and most people don't ever want to talk about them or hear them. To me that's a sad state for humanity. We should be able to share the good and the bad. Not because it's sad, but because we should listen to others stories, to our own. It's good to get stuff off your chest and live life, scars and all. For example we have a wonderful sweet 7 month old girl now who is amazing in every way to us. But it was a very long rough road to get here and people don't like to hear that part of having kids. People don't want to hear you had multiple miscarriages, all the shed tears over the children you'll never get to see, hold, kiss, watch grow up, live life. So I fully understand this story and it's point. After having been through all that, I can say when I look at my daughter, I believe I see her in a different light. She is more precious to me and I truly try to treasure the moments more as I don't know how many I will get. Even the sleepless nights.
I am five years on from my younger brother dying of cancer at the age of 23 (on my 29th birthday, the swine! - his last "brotherly act"). It doesn't compare to losing a child - I know, having talked to my parents about it - yet alone a young child, but the trauma and pain is still real.
To respond to Oli;
"Then you start to wonder: does he still feel this way?"
I spent a year or so working it through in my head, anything and everything made me cry. (that Futurama episode where Fry finds his brother had called Fry's nephew 'Philip' after the brother he lost - that had me weeping and weeping - in fact I'm tearing up now just thinking about it).
Since then I have been gradually getting better. At the moment I function normally most of the time except round about this time of year when we approach the anniversary of his death.
But even now I can't say "my younger brother died at the age of 23" without getting emotional.
Catharsis works. Talk about it. It makes it easier. Cry, scream, break things, let your grief out. Letting grief fester is like letting an infection bubble away under your skin - rip it open, clean out the wound, let the light in. I wrote pages and pages of letters to David whilst I was dealing with the pain in the first months or so - one each night - until they naturally started to tail off.
Over time you get to a point where you seem to function normally and you can operate properly. You push onwards with your life and even start to experience the highs and lows again.
They tell you that time heals all wounds - it doesn't, that's poppycock. Time puts some distance between you and the pain. You can go back to it but it has receded from view. And it's different for different people. My Dad is still in the primary grieving stage for David, he's not capable of moving on although my new niece (2 yo) is helping with that, giving him something new and joyous to focus on.
Enough rambling! I just wanted to respond to the video and the comments. Hope someone finds it helpful in understanding how some people cope.
Sobbing at work. Thanks a lot! >:(
Fantastic article, Jeff. Thank you for sharing it. Seriously.
The trouble is people aren't aware of just how serious blood clots can be, or how easy it is to get them. David Bloom being one of the more famous incidents (
I have twice had blood clots in my lung. Fortunately small enough to pass through and make it to my lung. The incidents were 9 years apart, both caused from too much uninterrupted sitting while programming.
Once you have this occur and survive, you will be put on blood thinners. I recently fell in my kitchen. The fall was very hard, but I appeared to be unhurt. One month later I was having my lung operated on to remove the blood that had collected in my chest wall. Blood thinners can be as dangerous as the blood clots.
What I get out of this, is to enjoy each day that I have. Problems seem smaller and less important then spending time with my family. Who is to blame for my problems? Myself. I should have paid more attention to the information I already had and was ignoring.
I don't know who is to blame for this man's death, but blood clots are a known risk of surgery. It's important to stay mobile and hydrated. If you have a blood clot, death can be near instantaneous in it's worst scenario.
I like to think that in some cosmic sort of way each one of us that listens and cries along with Anthony or the family in Jeff's court case, that we lessen their pain in some way just by sharing.
We live in a horribly uncaring universe. Many things can happen that we would rather not, without having anyone to blame.
One person's tragedy is no less tragic simply because other people are suffering the same or worse.
I'm not an expert, but it sounds to me like you need some... professional help, Jeff. I know I would probably seek it (for the first time in my life) if I had an experience as traumatic as that.
Fantastic article, Jeff. Thanks for writing.
I find it interesting in the context of a lawsuit that what is being focused on is "Somebody must be to blame for this", and they seem to want it to be the medical personnel who treated the man. Nothing so far shows any indication they were at fault, no more than if he was run over by a bus in the parking lot while leaving.
There are lawyers around. If the medical institution is found at fault, they will get a good portion of any award. From a faceless insurance insurance company or medical corporation, yet the money has to come from somewhere so do not wonder at the expense of health care. Did the lawyers take the case because they thought they could make a rational argument or emotional appeal? Facelesscorp v.s. Widow and Orphans. Who cares about actual guilt or responsibility, it is always good to have pity on widows and orphans.
Yet the wisest thing said is "We are all to blame". What petty or gross evil do we permit, if not encourage, if not engage in ourselves? This can be as simple and banal as treating any other human being as an object to be used instead of the subject they are. We are all wastrels but soothe our consciences by voting for the green party or banning plastic bags or some other trivial nonsense. We support some amorphous and remote programs to help the poor, not the person in distress down the street you see every day. We do not love our neighbor as ourself, we love some collective or composite remote person we will never meet and don't want to - while they love us, as we continue to destroy, degrade, and disrespect each other.
Religion may be an opiate, but it also seems to be an anti-psychotic.
People who really believe and practice won't lie, cheat, steal, have sex without the commitment of marriage, much less do violence, and that comes from something deep within that lets their conscience work - not merely because they might get caught or suffer some other unpleasant or painful consequence. They are usually willing to suffer evils imposed upon them without doing evils to escape. Becoming dark. Wanting everyone else to hurt. Finding scapegoats.
The best argument an atheist has is "How could a good God permit evil?" Yet here is the answer. If he didn't permit it, none of us who have free will today would have ever existed or would quickly cease to exist.
C. S. Lewis wrote "The Problem of Pain". More answers are there, but it is not a substitute for the virtues of courage and fortitude as he says in the introduction. And someone is to blame for all this - the Devil, Lucifer, Satan. And us to the extend we sin which is just another word for the evil, petty or gross we do at his urgings.
Beyond that, I can only offer that most can stand any what if there is a "Why". There is a "Why", but you have to accept it. Actually a Who and you have to accept him. Rationally. Not emotionally. Out of thought and will, not out of pain. And out of love, not hate.
I know what you mean about emotional doors that you didn't know existed. I actually went through a 'trial run' of grasping my heart and collapsing.
Costochondritis is a condition that results in a (benign) inflammation of cartilage which connects almost every rib in your body. Those that had severe lung infections as children (I had a six month bout with severe Bronchitis) can experience symptoms that feel _exactly_ like a massive heart attack at random times.
It was a typical afternoon, I was working on clearing out the moderation queue on Stack Overflow and all of a sudden, it hit (If you must know, YES, it was a very smelly question). This intense, searing pain in my chest came out of nowhere, and the blood seemed to rush out of my head. I almost collapsed, called my wife and told her I was on the way to the hospital. I'm an at home dad, our (at the time) five year old was in my care. I had to take her with me. We don't own a car, there is no central '911' where I live, so I had to get a cab. Just getting me and her out the door, to the elevator and down to the lobby where the building security guards took over was .. I can't describe it.
So there we are in a taxi, on our way and weaving through traffic. All I could think about was:
If I die right now, in this cab, what is that going to do to her? Is she going to blame herself? We're in a TAXI, what happens if I pass out our worse? My kid is with me and I don't even know this guy driving the cab ..
I then realized that I was going into a state of shock, which I later learned was broadly due to the emotional reaction I was having. Being wheeled into the ER and immediately listed as a cardiac patient was ironically the biggest relief of my life. We made it, my wife knew where we were, nurses were looking after my kid and I didn't die in front of her.
I went through lots of poking, prodding, tests, x-rays, tons of wires hooked up to me, oxygen, the works. They could not find a damn thing wrong with me. I finally saw an attending who asked me if I ever had a bad cough or lung infection as a kid and I said yes. He immediately smiled and told me that my body played a very cruel trick on me, gave me some meds to deal with it and sent me home.
The shock wore off a little more than a day later. The emotions brought on by what I thought was the very real possibility of dying in front of my kid while leaving her in a stranger's care just immediately put my brain on auto pilot.
Many Buddhists that I know imagine, in small chunks their loved ones not being there any longer, or not being there for them during daily meditation. This is done so that if such a scenario directly happened or you experience it in some way, it isn't completely foreign to you and you stand a better chance of avoiding the mindlessness that comes with shock.
Looks like you're going through something rather healthy. Thanks for sharing it so eloquently.
I think Jeff is leaving a little too much room for reading between the lines on the "Someone must be to blame" statements. It is the natural reaction to seek accountability in these situations. I choose to read the underlying message as acknowledging this desire for accountability while understanding that there is not always someone to blame. Without knowing more about the case and its outcome I don't think we can pass judgment on whether this is a case of out of control American litigation, outright negligence and malpractice, or somewhere in between. It is a subtle message especially if English is not the reader's first language. Lacking more information, the message isn't about judgment and blame but rather about the human condition.
I would not like to be on your shoes.
This whole thing is really emotional exhaustive and you have been forced to deal with questions that would require a quiet and peaceful place or even a lifetime of thinking and not a "just do it" approach.
One cannot be impartial on those things, unless it is Vulcan or Borg.
Take a break of all of this things and enjoy your life. I think you have no other option...
Live long and prosper.
If you immediately seek to find others to antagonize for something that happened, you are an apprentice in life.
If you immediately look within yourself prior to seeking others to antagonize for something that happened, you are a journeyman in life.
If you immediately realize that antagonizing _anything_ for something that happened isn't going to help and ultimately find a better way of fixing something that is broken, you're naturally happy in life and don't care about much else.
I'm somewhere between 1 and 2 according to consistency.
Thank you for sharing Jeff. Seriously, thank you.
As software professionals or computer enthusiasts we love to carve the world up into smaller and smaller digital slices and binary decisions. The real "analog" world is rarely so simple. Personally, I find it difficult to understand our emotions, feelings and reactions - let alone share them with others. Kudos to you for being able to write your experiences down in an approachable way for others.
It is interesting to me see how this story affects each of your virtual friends. I don't necessarily disagree with some of the "colder" comments of abusing the legal system with emotional manipulation and I am simultaneously touched by the sympathy and support extended by others - myself included.
You share a name with my older brother who passed away tragically a few years back - something I still wrestle with. He is one of my heroes. Just like the dad in your experience reading to his son. This world needs more heroes - not less. And yet it seems no one can escape this tragic event.
I draw strength and support like Robert Shelline does - from
http://mormon.org/plan-of-happiness - Next time two young men or women knock on your door, please invite them in for a discussion. I am certainly not asking you (or anyone reading this blog) to convert or even expecting you to... I just can just relate my own personal experience that it has made a real difference in my life. Particularly in dealing with things that don't fall into those inconveniently sized digital buckets we love to use.
What if Somebody is not to Blame for This? What if the doctors did everything correctly as well as we know with current medicine? If they did everything right, but it still went wrong, then no one is to blame. Bad things just happen, even to good people, even with families.
The family being dragged in makes sense from the point of view of the person bringing the suit. It pulls at the heart strings, which helps open the purse strings, but it does not in any way affect whether or not the physicians were at fault or committed malpractice. I also have a hard time thinking that it adjusts the value of his life. That is a great unknown. Had he survived, what would his contributions to society been? You were in a very hard place. I am glad I did not have to help make that kind of decision.
I follow this blog regularly, thankfully because of the video content it was blocked at work so I had to wait till I got home to turn into a blubbering mass.
Kudos Jeff, having lost my mother earlier this year to cancer (though she would dispute the semantics of that), and having 2 kids, it was a slap in the face with a wet fish to watch that video.
Reality checks like this do us all power of good.
Thanks Tom -- great coda by Anthony Griffith, the comedian in the first video:
"I look at life as if it's a great novel that you're reading. And it's so great that it's a page turner. And the star of that book is you. And you turn the next page and the main character loses his daughter. But it's so compelling, you keep going."
"Do you ever just want to close the book for a while?"
"No. Because it's so thrilling. Because this book is making you cry, laugh, get mad, get angry, that you keep going, you keep going, because I want to see what's the end."
It's just a ride.
Thanks for your insightful and captivating writing.
Thanks for showing me how lucky I am.
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for sharing that.
As a father of a 5 year old and a lucky husband of a wife with cancer in remission, this really hits home.
I was reminded of a TED talk by a French Buddhist monk who was talking about the two great philosophies in humanity. The Buddhist philosophy which was about inner peacefullness and consistent happiness and the French existentialism which was about embracing (and accentuating) passionately the highs and lows in life.
I'm not sure if there's a right way.
The reasons all of those people are there in courts Jeff and emotionally describe the loss are:
1. For every one to realize what a huge loss it was to a family and possibly a generation. We just say that we feel bad about it. But it is a huge difference when faced yourself.
2. If it was a malpractice, or there is any chance of improvement in procedures which can prevent this from happening or at least reduce the chances of such events, it is worth every minute of the efforts.
An amazing post, thanks for sharing.
Thanks for sharing. I have another kid on the way, and I feel that the vulnerability of it all just becomes clear to you when you experience a loss like that. Second or thirdhand. Doesn't matter. I could see myself on the floor breaking down to the thought of what if ... Not that I normally think like that.
Again ... Thanks for sharing. Lean into the pain.
We as humans have so much control over our lives these days, when something happens out of our control, we automatically assume SOMEONE was in control. That's fallacious, at-best, most of the time. Shit happens. We never blame anyone when good happenstance occurs, but we definitely want to blame someone when bad things happen. It's just life. We don't control it. It just happens and if you live through it, then you get to deal with it.
I'm not trying to sound heartless, but dwelling on things you have absolutely no control over, and worse yet, things that have already happened and cannot be changed, fixes nothing and changes nothing, except perhaps one's own perspective on the world, possibly for the worse. Move on. Enjoy the good things. Soon your life will be over. You don't want to die having spent your life mourning over the bad events.
Thanks for the sight, Jeff. But - what happeneded? Did you remain as alternate, or were you called up? What did the jury rule?
I've been involved in two court cases. One as a juror, one as the prime witness.
I was a juror to a case where a guy spent all day at a bar (where he shouldn't have been since he was diabetic) and tried to sue the bar when he slipped and fell, cracking his tailbone, and then refused all help at the scene. We, the jury, weren't going to give the guy a penny when the announcement came (in the 3rd day) that they settled.
In the other, I was the only witness from the beginning to end of a situation that resulted in the police shooting and killing someone. One of the most painful times of my life was when I had to recount, in front of the decedent's parents, the last 2 minutes or so of their son's life. At one point I mentioned that I changed my position (going up some concrete steps) and I was asked why I did that. I can't tell you the amount of shame I felt when I said "To get a better view" (the cops were chasing the guy across the street by now - I had no idea what was about to happen).
They wanted someone to blame but the Boston Police Department did everything by the book. In the testimony from other that I'd heard, it was clear that the guy had mental problems that were only getting worse. But the family ignored it. I think the lawyer was exploiting their guilt to try and find someone else to blame so he could get a payday.
I think this is your best post and I have been reading you for years. I think it is easy for technologists (myself included) to dehumanize life - participate only through a device (or three) and never really feel. Thanks for the reminder.
BTW One of my favorite songs is James Taylor's Secret of Life - one version
I can't believe people are advising you get professional help, and I don't see how this turned from a heart wrenching story about *real* pain from Griffith losing his Daughter to cancer, onto your own empathy with a family who lost someone close. That contrast is quite insulting.
I'm sorry you've felt such pain, but really, what you felt cannot be remotely likened to losing a child.
“To draw an analogy: a man's suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the "size" of human suffering is absolutely relative.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
To those who want to point out that sometimes (many times) there is no one to blame, realize that you're fighting against one base fact: human beings are not equipped to handle reality.
Luckily, our brains have built-in defenses to prevent too much reality from overwhelming and disabling us. (In fact, the clinically depressed often have far more accurate assessments of control and even personal abilities, characteristics and how they are seen by others - unfortunately, the realization tends to make them dysfunctional).
Anyway, in summary, you have to expect humans to be human and invent cause and effect even when there is none - it's what keeps us sane. However, just because it's natural doesn't mean that society shouldn't recognize that fact and protect itself from the costs that such misattribution may have.
In a case such as described above, I'm not certain why the vast personal costs of the death were allowed to be made explicit to the jury, given that it's immaterial to whether there was malpractice. A lawyers job is to win the case for the client, so I understand why he did his best to feed the same "someone must be to blame" tendency in the jury - but why did the judge allow it?
Thanks for sharing.
My wife is out having dinner with her sister. My baby-girl (2 months) is passed out on the couch next to me. She has been sleeping wonderfully, and I have been enjoying this time. I came online to catch up on a few websites, and your post set me off on a link-frenzy.
Thanks to your post, and a comment from nerdlicher regarding "the last lecture", my mood has turned from bored to mother-flippin-inspired. Gawd, what a breath of friggin fresh air. I look at baby-girl and tear up in less than a second flat.
I needed this.
Jeff, next time for you:
http://fija.org/ Fully informed jury duty. There's a lot of powers judges and the system neglect to tell the jury about. Nullification is one of them, and how historically it's been used to reverse bad laws (such as racist laws etc)
> I'm sorry you've felt such pain, but really, what you felt cannot be remotely likened to losing a child.
Isn't that the point? Everyone was somebody's child. Just the reflected piece of someone else's grief is so deep that it is very hard to bear.
Parents who lose children are never the same afterwards. You can see why parents who lose children through tragedy often become relentless, obsessed activists: they have nothing else left.
First: Thank you for serving on the jury. Not everyone understands civic responsibility.
Second: Being a parent makes this experience so much more acute. I still remember my own reaction when watching a news report on television about a child abuse case right after my son was born. Before kids: detached and distant. After kids: personal and real.
Third: I hope you do not post the verdict. The only way to properly judge if someone heard all the evidence and testimony as you did. Knowing the verdict would just create needless noise in the comments.
I rarely comment on blog posts these days, but this one struck me because I was just recently going over some old blog posts, including one about an attempted murder trial I sat on the jury for back in 2005(
http://www.panopticoncentral.net/2005/12/21/the-trial-is-over/). It was similar yet different. I can entirely relate to that feeling of having to carry around the weight of what you're hearing and not being able to talk to anyone about it. And the experience of having to sit in a room day after day with people who are basically going through (I imagine) the worst experience of their entire lives. Adding in the fact that there was someone there who really *was* responsible for everything that happened, and that he was still, somehow, a human being... Well, I was just really glad when it was over.
Anyway, no particular insight except to say that it does get easier as time and life moves on. But it is surprising to me how quickly it all comes back up, even seven years later.
Thanks for your post. I have really enjoyed your blog, and particularly the posts on being a parent.
I have three kids, and (as you mentioned in an earlier post), the extra 1% really does make all the difference. It is so amazing to see them learn and grow. I once wrote about sitting on the floor with my toddler daughter drinking chocolate milk, when out of the blue she turned to me, said she loved me and gave me a hug. Those are the moments that I live for and cherish.
I know this sounds cheesy, awkward, and [fill in the blank], but I also believe very strongly that death is not the end, and that family relationships can continue after death. Like Robert and Greg, I would suggest that you take a look at mormon.org. I agree with their comments, and mostly wanted to add a +1 to what they already said rather well.
your ideas is very well. I’ve been looking for information like this. Could I post some of your ideas on my site?
I've read some of the comments here; a lot of it is too . . . I don't have words for it. It's pathetic. And weak -- but not because of sympathy, or the desire to understand . . . it's pathetic because our culture is pathetic. Because the society we live in is weak.
We live a life of lies.
Our little world is made up to pretend that everything follows a plan, that everything's going to be okay. Remember that speech by the Joker about 'the plan'? I hate to appeal to pop culture, but that speech is horribly accurate.
The truth is, the world isn't fair, and there's no promise it will be okay. One upon a time this was a little more common knowledge; in some places it still is.
The truth is, it's easy to spend 40-60 hours a week doing work a robot could do, when you don't admit that
this is your only chance. It's easy to spend money on things you don't need when you forget that you may already be a walking dead man. It's easy to look the other way when you ignore Death at your elbow, Death sharing your wine cup, Death tucking your children into bed. He's always there, always ready, and one day, he's ready for you -- are you ready for him?
I have been reading this blog for many years now, and this is your best post ever.
Jeff, you and the family of this man are in my prayers. I have read your blog for a while now, but never felt compelled to comment until today. I am still pondering your words, and as a father of two children (one still in utero) myself, I very much understand the fear of losing my children, or of my wife and children suddenly losing me.
What gives me hope and courage when I have to face that possibility is my faith and trust in God and the hope of seeing them in Heaven some day. If God calls on me to give up my family, or my own life, then I hope and pray I can do so willingly, and unite my sufferings to those of Christ on the cross. I have not had to face the same sufferings as you or the wife you describe, but I have had other emotional trauma in my life, bad enough that I sought counselling for it, and I can tell you, it was my Christian faith (Catholic, specifically), combined with the love of my wife, that carried me through it.
I realize some may think this preachy, and I apologize if it comes across that way. You went out of your way to share something very personal with us readers of your blog, Jeff, so what I'm trying to say, from one father to another, is: there is hope and strength to be had in times of trial like that.
God bless you.
I'm a 'recently-turned-regular' reader of your super-awesome blog.
This solemn and grave article, along with that moving speech at the start, have made me not open my mouth for the past 3 hours... I'm coming back again and again to read this piece, but there is a niggling question I'd like to ask.
Now, I'm about half your age, so excuse my question if it sounds petty, but I have a strong feeling that I need to ask you this:
You say that we are all to blame.
Blame for WHAT? Is it necessary to assign blame to someone? Is it so that without "blaming", we can't move on? When the reason is undefined, what worth will the guilt be of?
Jeff, thanks for writing good things. My wife is the most precious thing to me in all of the world. I become almost paralyzed when I think of what harms could possibly befall her. I can't entertain those thoughts for more than a few seconds, and I must shove them out.
When reality hits, it's difficult to figure out.
One day at the office an employee's family was visiting for lunch, and their young baby stopped breathing for no apparent reason. They were never able to revive it. Although I was not directly involved in any way, its reality was shaking.