A PhD in fart noises.

(922 days)

What must it be like I wonder to start your graduate life as a keen eyed scientist, the research world your oyster, deciding which area to study? I imagine biologists bursting with enthusiasm about every organism on the planet, chemists marveling at the magical alchemy of the universe and physicists grappling with the fundamental particles of matter and their movement, the very fabric of the entire universe. It all sounds very lofty and intellectual.

So now I also wonder how a mechanical engineer researching fluid dynamics and an aerospace engineer end up spending their days listening to the sound of farts.

And to the sound of urine.

And the sound of pooping.

Wondering what’s going on yet? Well urine for a treat.


Fluid dynamics engineer/ doctoral candidate David Ancalle at the Georgia Tech Research Institute had been spending time listening to mostly farts and urine working from a hypothesis that cancerous growths in the rectum would change the shape of the walls thereby affecting acoustics of wind making its way out. Basically he was trying to figure out how to spot cancer by listening for changes in your fart sounds. Not sure what peeing had to do with that, I suspect it was the gateway drug for a student of fluid dynamics.

Unbelievably, there was more than one person interested in listening to the sounds of excrement to identify disease. Ancalle joined other researchers at GRTI to figure out how to adapt toilets to identify cholera outbreaks by listening to diarrhea. Yep. Every day he watched videos or listened to recordings of diarrhea.. it’s all very worthy and will save lives, but wow I’m grateful it’s not me. Anyhoo, the team posited that they could program AI algorithm to identify the typical sounds and spot their abnormal bad news variants

So Ancalle, our fluid dynamics doctoral candidate, got together with Maia Gatlin, the aerospace engineer. These two powerhouses of physics education dedicated their time to creating a machine that is the stuff of dreams to an aspiring inventor: valves, tubes, pumps, nozzles, dials, and a couple of 2 liter soda bottles (think Caratacus Potts of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fame with better funding). What does it do? Why it replicates the sounds of farting, peeing and pooing of course! It is titled Synthetic Human Acoustic Reproduction Testing, probably better known by its acronym, S.H.A.R.T.

See. It is perfectly possible to be a brilliantly clever adult, help save lives, and still be fabulously childish.

Thus far the team has managed to accurately reproduce the sound of males urinating (never remotely cared about this before but now I do wonder: how does that differ from the sounds of females urinating, and if a male were to sit whilst urinating, would the sound then be the same as a female urinating? Or does the exit tunnel make a difference to the sound?). S.H.A.R.T. will eventually be used to program sensors to recognize an entire symphony of human waste products, odes to numbers 1 and 2, and all the other more alarming numbers.

The entire venture gives me joy. If I ever decide to Marie Kondo my brain, this piece of knowledge might well survive the purge. I love that people who are considered -or soon to be considered once they finish their doctorates- experts in fields of academia that can be intimidating are spending their days engaged in an activity that kindergartners would not only understand, but relish with maniacal giggling.

One last thought to leave you with. Ancalle and Gatlin began designing S.H.A.R.T. by sorting through publicly available audio and video of excretions, capturing the frequency spectrum from each, and feeding it to a machine-learning algorithm. Did you spot it? The phrase “publicly available”. Where are they finding this stuff, and who the hell is making the content?! Don’t know about the rest of you but I immediately assume that they’ve spent months watching XXX rated sites that the tech savvy would view in a private browser window, scrolling through reams of fetish videos. What effect does that have on a person? Has the joy of snacking whilst working been forever lost to them? If you know the answers, please do share.


Legumes Live and Let Live.. and Let Live, and Let Live

(915 days)

Have we all heard of Dasha-Dorzho Itigilov? I had not until today (I love a random podcast in the morning), but I’m quite often a little late to the party when it comes to world news. The quick history is that he was born in Russia in 1852, and was orphaned early in life. From this tragic start emerged a driven young man who gained two degrees in philosophy and medicine, and made considerable contributions to the medical world by writing a massive encyclopedia of pharmacology. Not content with being your average high achiever Itigilov, sometimes spelled Itigelov, also became a Buddhist monk, one of the really high up ones, one of the lamas!

In 1927 he had a feeling he was going to die and started reciting a Buddhist prayer for the dead and invited his companions to join him. This request was met with a little reluctance because at the time Itigilov appeared to be in fine fettle and not remotely dead, but join in they did, it’s hard to turn down a well respected and beloved monk (the equivalent of telling the old Queen Mum that no she couldn’t have that extra glass of sherry). Itigilov was proved right though. As the prayer recitation took place, his life came to an end.. sort of.

Side note – I quite like the idea of getting to old age and one morning just knowing it’s the day to pop your clogs. What would I do with that knowledge? Truthfully, not a lot. Probably dress in my most favorite comfy clothes, go for a walk, maybe take a very final swim in the ocean, or find a peaceful spot to sit with a soft fuzzy blanket and admire the view. The appealing factors here are peace, comfort, and acceptance of the end of a long life. As opposed to the other scenario where I am screaming profanities at a grim reaper’s minion, “What the fuck? NO, bugger off, and don’t come back until I say so! I have got stuff to DO.”

The astute of you will have noticed that little cliff hanger about Itigilov’s life coming to an end “sort of”. No he did not turn into a vampire, although I do very much like that idea for a made for TV bro-com movie: Blood Sucking Buddhas.

No, here’s what happened. Prior to his death, Itigilov gave instructions that when his time came he wanted to be buried sitting upright in the lotus position, and that his body should be exhumed after 75 years. A tad more unusual last request than playing “I Did It My Way” at the funeral, but no judgement here, whatever floats your afterlife boat.

The body was initially exhumed after 30 years (sources differ as to whether or not Itigilov had requested to be exhumed twice, or if the first time was a mistake, a group of lamas getting a bit curious, or just someone suddenly realizing that the missing key to the wine cellar had dropped out of their pocket into the coffin). Those who saw the body were shocked to discover that there had been no decomposition. He looks the same, the skin slightly leathery but still soft and supple. They re-buried the coffin without taking any photographs (we could speculate that they were worried about what would happen if the news got out, or we could also posit the theory that it was the 1950s and having a camera constantly tucked into your robes was still some decades off in the future), and then waited until 2002 when the full 75 years were up before going back to it.

2002, Itigilov has now been buried the same amount as time as he was alive. The second exhumation is a very different affair, cameras, reporters, authorities, scientists… quite the party. Lo and behold, they find the same thing as before: Itigilov is still flexible and not decomposing. Samples of hair and nail tissue are taken and examining doctors conclude that his tissues are in the same state as one would expect to find on a corpse that was only 12 hours old. Today, nearly 100 years after his death, Itigilov sits in a glass box located in a temple for devotees to visit, and I do mean devoted devotees. This is not a stop on the tourist trail for gaggles of flip-flopped selfie takers.

Theories regarding how Itigilov came to be so well preserved range from “He was buried in salt,” to “The monks secretly embalmed him,” to “It’s all a hoax.”

He was indeed buried in salt – but salt only preserves the outer layer of a body, it won’t stop the internal organs decomposing.

There was no trace of embalming chemicals, or scarring that would have occurred if internal organs had been removed during a mummification process.

Does not appear to be a hoax, scientists in labs are corroborating that the skin tissue is real and untainted…. but the last three years have shown us that a surprisingly large number of people don’t believe in science and actually quite enjoy saying things are hoaxes.

The theory which probably has the most support is that he entered such a deep meditation that he effectively put his body into a long term hibernation. Does that mean that Itigilov is technically alive? Doctors say emphatically no! The low body temperature is absolute proof that this being is dead. However, could it mean that Itigilov was buried alive? Um… well yes, that is a possibility. I say let’s not dwell on that.

Instead let’s look at another theory, one involving the humble legume. Be they in the form of beans, lentils, or peanuts, legumes contain high levels of bromine, Itigilov’s skin analysis revealed that his bromine level was 40 times higher than expected. An excess of bromine in the body is typically not something we think of as a good thing, it inhibits the central nervous system, yep that’s right the brain and the spinal column and all the stuff branching off from that which send and receive vital signals around the body. So the excess bromine could conceivably suppress the body’s sensitivity, including its reaction to stimulants that normally bring on decay. AHAH!

Why are Itigilov’s bromine levels so high? Simply put, it’s not uncommon for people living spartan lives and a diet of unfancy foods to consume a shit load- well known technical measurement – of legumes. They’re cheap, easily grown, widely available, filling and nutritious. How could we test this theory? A good start might be to conduct some skin analysis on the other corpses that don’t rot. Oh yes, other corpses! While Itigilov may be the best known non-decaying monk in the world, he is not alone. There are multiple cases of seemingly random people whose bodies simply have not decayed the way dead bodies are supposed to. Although some are monks and saints, others are just normal people who don’t appear to have reached any state of enlightenment during their lives, like La Doncella, the Incan girl who was slain 500 years ago and found perfectly preserved in 1999, or Lady Xin Shui who died of a heart attack brought on from morbid obesity in 163 BCE. Different lifestyles, different locations, different causes and times of death. Possibly the one thing they share is a love of lentils.

Would You like any butter or jam with your masterpiece?

(914 days)

I do so admire creativity. Every day amid all the strife and diabolical shit the worly is subjected to by us humans – and natural disasters yes, but mostly human idiocy – people all over the world still manage to produce wonders. Incredible feats of imagination and skills, or simply audacity and bravado, and some dumb luck. They’re often beautiful, often awful, frequently impressive, and largely unnecessary to survival.

I also admire Harrison Ford on a very, base, visceral level. You’ll know this if you’ve followed the blog for a few years, his name and his characters crop up fairly often with creepy devotion.

So it is with great joy that I share with you a magnificent piece of art titled Pan Solo. A life size sculpture of Han Solo as he appears at the start of Empire Strikes Back frozen into his carbonite prison, and it is has been lovingly sculpted out of.. have you already guessed it from the name? Bread.


If you’re a Star Wars fan, or a bread fan, you’ve probably already seen this on the news in the last two months, but if you haven’t. – you’re welcome. Unsurprisingly this homage in dough to one of the greatest action film heroes is located in California. We’re so reliably weird here, it’s ironically predictable.

The town of Benicia (go to San Francisco, and then keep driving North for about 30 minutes) hosts an annual scarecrow contest. This year about 40 businesses registered for the contest lasted 2/3 weeks, during which time passers by voted for their favourite scarecrow. And if I’ve managed to suss out inserting a link correctly, you can take a gander at some of this year’s entries.


Here’s the one you really want to see.

Pan Solo in all his doughy glory.

Pan Solo is the brain child of the mother daughter duo of One House Bakery, Catherine and Hannalee Pervan who every year spend weeks creating gargantuan sculptures for the October contest. They also come up with witty pun names. (This alone makes me very jealous, I lack this skill, and to add insult to injury I live in LA surrounded by writers and improv fans who are really quick-witted. It’s like not being able to touch your toes and living in a yoga retreat for cats where they can all lick their own genitals whilst maintaining searing eye contact.) In 2020 these bakery owners made the Pain-dough-lorian and Baby Dough-da, accompanied by a pandroid, last year’s entry was Dough-ki, the alligator incarnation of Loki.

Dough-ki. It’s made out of bread. Be very impressed.

The only downside is that the sculpture is inedible, it’s made out of a bland “dead” dough meaning that it has no yeast, so it’s tough and chewy, leathery really. If that wasn’t enough to put you off it has also being painted, doused in shellac and sprayed. I suppose at least it is a good deterrent to ardent admirers who might be tempted to give Pan Solo a quick nibble. Really though, what pervert would go that far?


Is that a feather boa? Oh no, pardon me, it’s a snake.

(912 days)

Picture yourself in an idyllic forest in Thailand, gently wading through calm shallow ponds, dappled sunlight casting diamond patterns on your normally grotesque tourist feet. Small fish are darting around amongst the patches of soft green river grasses, jewel colored dragonflies hover above the water, it’s all very lovely. Now imagine you are serenely gazing at a patch of river grass that is undulating in a particularly mesmerizing way, indeed it appears to dance in a completely different fashion to that of the other weeds swaying in the gentle current. In fact the more you look at it, the odder it becomes, it curls and uncurls like the ribbons of rhythmic gymnasts, and now it doesn’t like long grass anymore, now it looks like a feather boa… a feather boa with a face..and fangs. Oh blimey, it’s a snake! In the water with your bare grotesque, yet very vulnerable, tourist tootsies.

By now I should hope all of you will have imagined yourselves leaping out of the water with the enthusiasm of a prima ballerina, and pulling on a stout pair of mid calf boots. Then and only then should you tentatively venture back to the water’s edge, and ask what the bloody hell was that?

This – or something similar – actually happened about eight months ago. Thanks to Youtube you can take a look at the adorable critter below.

So what’s going on here, is it a previously undiscovered species, the Feather Boa Constrictor maybe?

Well sorry to disappoint you, but no. It’s a regular little water snake that’s leading something of a sedentary lifestyle. This lazy reptile has been lounging about in the warm shallows with a high algae content for so long that moss has grown all over it, transforming into a rather winsomely furry little chap. If you watch the video for long enough you’ll see the underside of the snake is still bare scales. Nor is this the first time that one of these hirsute serpents has been found, researchers in Bangladesh were recording them back in 2012 and they’ve been spotted all over South East Asia, and Australia. The process of transformation has the unfortunate name of “algal fouling” (nice, right, sounds like something that happens when you walk under a bridge that’s home to a flock of diarrhea ridden pigeons) but the result of this fouling can be deceptively adorable. I shall leave you with a picture of a snake that has the same cuteness factor as a toddler with a mohawk.

The Virtue of Jenny the Donkey.

(911 Days)

Let’s talk about bestiality in the 1600s. Sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

The young country of America with its Puritan settlers had let its imagination get away with it and based on the writings of medieval scholar Thomas Aquinas had developed an unwarranted fear of men in league with the devil mating with barnyard animals producing a generation of satanic hybrid offspring. Think about that the next time the news is filled with a ludicrous statement from a person in authority and you are wondering how someone so dumb could wield so much power. ‘Tis the way of humanity.

Intimate relations with animals were punishable by death. Today we’re not really sure what to do with bestiality convictions, and generally settle for making awkward noises and handing out sentences that vary between incarceration and fines, to a wag of the finger and a stern admonishment to never speak of this again. The colonies of Plymouth, New Haven, Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut all have records of hangings for acts of bestiality during the 1640s. The accusations brought forth against mostly teenage boys were a result of either direct witnessing of the act, or the birth of a deformed animal that bore a passing resemblance to the accused. George Spencer who was hanged in New Haven was accused of fathering a stillborn piglet with a sow belonging to his employer. The piglet apparently shared his pale complexion, bald head, and was missing an eye.. as was George. The unfortunate similarities were just a bit too much for the townspeople who convicted him, and hanged him after first making him watch his supposedly beloved sow being executed with a sword. The aptly named Thomas Hogg was also said to bare an uncanny resemblance to a deformed baby pig, and at his trial was made to fondle his alleged porcine partner to see if she would become aroused. Unfortunately for Thomas, the sow peed herself at his touch which was interpreted as evidence of lustful stirrings, that’ll do pig, that’ll do. Thomas Granger, a 16 year old hanged in Plymouth in 1642 for his crimes of passion, by contrast did not appear to impregnate any animals, but was witnessed in the act and confessed to servicing pretty much the whole farm, he admitted to having sex with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey (how, HOW do you have sex with a turkey? They ‘ve got massive claws.) which tells me that Plymouth clearly needed more social activities for teens. Again the animals that he identified as his lovers were executed in front of him before the noose was drawn tight around his own neck.

It was de rigeur for the animals to be executed, a trifle unfair to my mind, presumably they weren’t encouraging this attention.. at least not at first. It demonstrates just how intense the hysteria was surrounding the possibility of demonic half human-half animal spawn. Horny farmhands were completely expendable, but livestock were valuable creatures, killing them could easily bring about financial destitution.

However there was a notable exception to this automatic animal death sentence. In 1750 in France, a young peasant by the name of Jaques Ferron (not to be confused with 20th century Canadian author Jaques Ferron) was caught in the act of having sex with a female donkey. How he managed this I don’t know, donkey dicks are enormous – so I hear – compared to humans, it must have been like using a grown man’s sock as a snug glove for a kindergartner’s pinky finger. By the way did you know the official name for a female donkey is a Jenny? No I didn’t either, and I can’t help feeling that giving them cute names is only making them more enticing to the lonely teenage farmhands.

Anyway, Jaques didn’t have a hope in hell of being acquitted since he’d been caught right in the middle of his tender moment and was promptly sentenced to death by burning at the stake. The donkey was due a date with an axe but escaped the proverbial chopping block because the village was outraged by the thought of losing her. Nobody came to Jaques’ defense but the donkey was granted her own trial complete with witnesses who swore to her good moral conduct, declaring they had never seen even the slightest hint of promiscuity. The parish priest signed a certificate affirming the donkey’s virtuous reputation, and Jenny was acquitted on the grounds that if the donkey was so virtuous then this must have been a case of rape. We’ll never know the truth if Jenny was violated, or if it had been a mutually enjoyable act between two lonely teens from different sides of the DNA genome, but Jenny got to live another day and go on to have boring old donkey babies, instead of demon hybrids.

910 days

Well.. 568 days since I last wrote. That’s quite a while. Certainly the longest break since I started the blog back in 2004 (you won’t see the first few years of it on here – sodding Google exterminated it when I switched email addresses, we shall speak no more of this). Why the long break? Because I am still counting days, and I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to count days, but I also can’t not do it… the theme of today’s post is betrayal.

In the last two and half years, I have accomplished lots of things relating to my sister’s death, my mother’s dementia and my niece’s ongoing care. However, I have not moved forward in my grief. Day 910 is the same as day 342, which was no different to day 59. In movies and books when people say, “I think about them every day,” I always thought that was a terrible over dramatization, but actually it is no difficult feat to think about and grieve for someone every day. Indeed, thinking so often about my sister has also got me thinking daily about the other people I’ve loved and lost. Grief for all them has become another piece of jewellery that I wear, another ring on my fingers that makes me feel off kilter if I can’t feel its weight.

I am okay with grief being a daily part of my life, really I am, but I don’t like that it’s the main thing in my life because it’s making me fucking boring and someone that other people don’t want to talk to. I am essentially quite a truthful person, my memory isn’t good enough to be a habitual liar, so I dread social gatherings where people ask what I’ve been up to, or how things are going. Meeting new people – which I’ve always enjoyed – is now a minefield that I never manage to navigate myself through without exploding some bomb of pity or awkward silence. Every conversation comes back to all the Ds: death, disease, dementia, difficult decisions, and ultimately I make people feel depressed. Amongst my established friends, asking me what’s new in my life has become quite the dicey little game of Russian Roulette, you might get to hear all about the fun film festival I’ve been to OR you might get to hear about the most recent acquaintance of mine who’s got a life threatening condition. This afternoon I called one of the most kind, funny and generally delightful human beings I know with the intention of cheering him up because his Thanksgiving plans got scuppered by Covid. I had envisaged an entertaining virtual happy hour where for once I got to make him feel better instead of the other way round. Do we think I accomplished this goal? No, no OBVIOUSLY NOT. Started off great, and then my new found talent for making people lose the will to live with my sparkling wit and conversation kicked in. It ended with him ever so politely saying he ought to wind things up, and me apologizing for talking about my fucking dismal shit yet again. It’s as if I have regressed to owning a teenage brain that needs to learn how to make appropriate conversation. And ask questions! I don’t ask people either enough questions or the right questions any more. Ugh, can’t believe I have to learn social skills all over again… it took long enough the first time round.

Becoming a recluse is tempting, but the other D, delirium, lies down that path, and I don’t actually want to be anti-social, I just want to be a fun person like in the days of old. I do have moments of being a fun person, I went to a wedding in August and I definitely felt fun then, there is photographic evidence to prove it! But I was also rip roaring drunk and I really can’t cope with ensuing hangovers. I need to be able to do this stuff sober.

So what is it that stops one (me, talking about me) from being a fun person? Why do we hold the dead at the forefront of our minds? I think it’s because to do otherwise feels like a betrayal. I spent months figuring out what to do with all my sister’s possessions. Every time I got rid of something, every time I took clothes to the donation center, or changed a light fixture, gave away a rug to a stranger online, it was a little act of betrayal. I had to stop for a proper cry when I took a painting off the wall that my sister loved because I felt like I had simply removed her existence from the world. To not say her name, to not reference her in almost every conversation I have, to not talk about my family with unflinching honesty is shameful treachery. Ten days ago a salesperson made the assumption that I was my niece’s mother, it was the first time I didn’t correct that assumption, and ten days later I still have a prickling sense that I’m a traitor.

Not only is this self-flagellation exhausting, it is also completely unproductive. None of it is conducive to being a fun person that other people want to spend time with. After today’s call with my plague ridden friend I found myself googling questions to ask in conversation… I can say with 100% confidence I will not be using any of them. Here’s a random sample that I found.

What made you smile today?

What’s your strangest hidden talent?

What’s one interesting thing about yourself no one really knows?

No, no, NO. I am not conducting an interview for the middle school newspaper!

In another bid to not bore myself and bring down the party atmosphere in every room I enter, including wakes, I’ve been reading the news on a daily basis for the last two months so that I will have interesting, impersonal, things to talk about. Unfortunately, it is a rubbish plan. Have you seen the news? It is shit. Every single day is a fresh pile of crap. I can’t possibly talk about current affairs, it’s just another way to depress people. “Ro’s not going to be here this evening is she? Ah fuck no. She used to be alright, but then she kept going on about death and disease, and now it’s all Elon Musk or the war in Ukraine.”

That does however lead me back to blogging, as in I think it’s time for me to start blogging the way I used to, not saying anything personal, but finding random pieces of waffle that I think are funny or interesting to ramble about. I’m not quite ready to stop counting the days – to not do it at this point in time, still feels wrong – but gosh it would be nice to at least start a conversation with, “Guess what I found out today…” before it inevitably ends with the other person waiting for a gap in the conversation to say, “Well… I ought to wind things up.”

342 days

A friend messaged me yesterday asking how I was, what with it being May. This is what I wrote back.

I miss her so much. I miss chatting with her. I miss seeing her live her life and do the hundreds of small daily things. I miss seeing her interact with her daughter. I miss the person my niece was for her, and with her. I miss her support and her advice. I miss entertaining those hopeful thoughts of me and my two sisters hanging out until we are little old ladies. She is missing, and it hurts. And I miss her being the big sister at the helm. I feel like I’m steering a ship that is broken into four or five different pieces, they all want to float off in different directions and I’m hanging onto them together with just my toes and fingernails.

But all things considered, I’m pretty good. How are you?

A lot has happened in the last 282 days, but every time I thought about writing it was obvious that the one thing that hadn’t happened was me moving forward. We’ve had elections, festivities, riots, vaccinations, school, new homes, new pets, new family members, more death admin- always more of that, some eye surgeries, more deaths but this time my friends’ loved ones. I’m still where I was on day 59.

I’ve been busy, so I was putting off grieving until I had time to really get stuck into it. You might not think you can put off grief, but actually no, my powers of procrastination are strong. Tears come but you’ve got a phone call scheduled, it’s your turn at the post office, there’s an email that needs to be written, a form to be filled in, questions to be answered, a social outing organized to keep the people you love sane. Somebody or something needs you to hold it together and focus on them, so you do. Then you get used to doing it, et voila! The beginner’s guide to putting off grief.

Procrastinating grief though is a bit different from procrastinating writing that elusive novel, or sorting out the kitchen cupboards, or ignoring your taxes. Eventually you accept you’re never going to be a novelist, you lived comfortably with the knowledge that there are packets of custard mix on the top shelf that are older than your kids, and the IRS will send you a bill after a few years because they caved and did the calculations for you.

Procrastinating grief works the same as putting off trying to be physically healthy. You eat shit and you don’t exercise, and you muddle along for ages knowing that you’re not in tip top condition but still being able to get up every day. However there are warning signs, things ache, you never feel really good, let alone great, and there are slight twinges inside that make you wonder if something is seriously wrong but you keep procrastinating until boom! Hello heart attack/ stroke/ big scary disease.

My warning signs have been popping up for a while, cracks are definitely showing.

I get intrusive memories of the last two days of her life. For want of a better word I have called them flashbacks but that’s not accurate, I’m not a character in a film lost in the past unaware of what’s going on around them. Far from it, I am still acutely aware of the idiot in the BMW who didn’t check his blind spot before swerving in to my lane, harrumph. Instead these are replays of my sister’s death that have the bad manners to show up announced and demand my attention. They are dickhead memories. If all my memories were at a party together, these would be the gross drunk guy who smells of stale booze and sweat, and breathes over you while spouting self-pitying atrocities against his ex.

Sleeping has also been a problem. For 10 months I didn’t sleep more than 4 -6 hours and woke up throughout the night. Miscellaneous pains and twinges kept coming and going. The people who know me well can see I’m broken, and I notice in myself I’m either faintly hysterical or tired and flat in my speech. Words and sentences don’t come out right, and I’m grateful when people know what I’m talking about without me having to try and explain it a second, or third, time.

It was my sister’s birthday in March, the day itself didn’t upset me. We had quite a jolly trip to the cemetery if truth be known, lots of hugs and giggles. People keep saying that holidays and birthdays will be hard but they’re no harder than any other day. (Christmas also very delightful, for all the usual reasons: food, presents, games, TV.) What I find hard, is the month or two before the first anniversary of the death because what you remember then every day is the stuff that happened before they died, hospitals, sickness, precious moments that you wasted, missed opportunities. It is excruciating. It makes me brittle and fragile. I knew it was coming because I’ve been through it before, but there were other factors heaping on more stress this time so the cracks didn’t stay as cracks, and 6 weeks ago I ended up having a panic attack, a really big one. Hyperventilating; spots in my vision; tingling and numbness from upper arms to fingertips, felt like it lasted for a fucking long time. Oddly enough, it seems to have helped with some stuff, I was so wiped afterwards I started sleeping a bit better – not my full 8 hours just yet, but at least 6 most nights, a regular Sleeping Beauty.

I’m trying to do the right things, self-care etc.. I went to see a doctor, I have numbers for therapists (ok yes, I know that’s not the same as actually talking to therapists, but it’s a big step from “Good grief, I’m far too busy for therapy”), I make sure I see friends now we’re vaccinated, I even exercise a bit.

I don’t feel awful, I just don’t feel different.

Fifty Nine Days

The last few weeks’ gamut of emotions have been prone to chopping and changing. About three weeks ago I realized I was absolutely furious with my sister for dying and leaving me her life. It started because it suddenly occurred to me that although my friends were reaching out to me to support me, I was focusing more time on my sister’s friends. Her friends are lovely, but something about it sparked a rage inside me that everything was so unfair that I’d been handed responsibilities and obligations that weren’t mine, and honestly I’ve been prone to being a bit tetchy at.. well.. everything ever since. Tetchy in that terribly British way where you quash the boiling lava of rage deep down inside you and wait for stomach ulcers.

Obviously after a short interlude (two days) I calmed down, took a step back in my diamond shoes, and looked at the bigger picture. Tragic death of sister aside, I am lucky. My situation is good, surrounded by caring people, everyone being very nice to me, and clear, well laid out plans being put in motion. I am very lucky, and I chose my situation. Some days it feels like I didn’t but I did, and I would choose it again.

Did that rational insight stop me from getting mega pissy with the Water and Power company who told me they have to put a 40ft pole in the corner of my sister’s garden? No. No it did fucking not. And 4 hours later I got furious again, not so much about the pole this time, but about the memory of the man-child (could have been any age with the mask and the hard hat, but had the social skills of a 13 year old boy) who patronizingly told me, “Well the neighbours have had a pole in their yard for years, now it’s your turn.” Fuck you child engineering prodigy, the neighbours bought their house with a pole in the yard, my sister did not. Are you compensating for the house value depreciation? No, I thought not. “We sent a letter yesterday.” Yeah you did Doogie Howser, and do you know what it didn’t mention? That you were going to dig a hole in the garden and put a fucking forty foot pole in there. It said COCK ALL ABOUT THAT.

So yaaars, that was me taking a step back and being rational.

Being angry, grumpy and just a bit fucked off in general, has been pretty par for the course. I just used a golfing term. I hate golf. I only like the version with tiny windmills and beer.

One of the things that got to me was a conversation when someone asked me a question about my sister’s finances. It is one in a long line of similar conversations with a variety of people. I find these chats disconcerting and they leave me feeling irked because I don’t think it’s okay to ask about someone else’s finances that don’t affect you. In my closest of close circle of friends, I have asked maybe two or three times in my life if someone is doing okay for money, I preface it with ‘Don’t feel obliged to answer this,” and I don’t ask how much they earn. They can tell me if they want, but it’s not my right to know, and if you can’t maintain a respectful friendship without knowing how much someone does or doesn’t earn then it’s not a genuine friendship.

Anyway, I have circumnavigated, evaded, danced around, and politely given vague half answers umpteen times because I have assumed these questions were coming from a place of concern, and I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable by saying bugger off and mind your own business. It’s also very natural for people to ask because when they inquire what I’ve been up to, it’s all post-death admin, I haven’t got anything new to tell them unless they’d like to hear about the things I’ve been streaming late at night, admittedly a riveting topic with the right audience. But actually, after a conversation where my interrogator got huffy with me when they didn’t get the answer they wanted, I don’t think it is coming from a place of concern, I think it’s just curiosity, plain simple nosiness.

So I’ve had enough of that, all future inquiries will receive short blunt answers and the gift of knowing that you have overstepped the mark.

In amongst all this ire and pissiness, I’ve had a fresh moment of horrific clarity. For nearly two months I’ve been getting hit sideways with grief when I think of something that my sister is missing out on. Which is ridiculous, because she is dead and doesn’t give a monkey’s that she not getting to use the high speed internet, or see the trees in bloom, or watch Hamilton on Disney Plus. Then there are the moments when I think of all the stuff that my niece will go through without her mother, those are excruciating. My heart breaks for my mum, she’s at the time of her life when she should be reaping the benefits of being a sweet old lady, daughters dropping in for cups of tea, grandkids rifling through the cupboards for cake. Instead she’s mostly confined to her home by the pandemic, sitting with the awful grief of watching her first born die, and remembering everyone else she’s loved that are now dead.

So, my moment of horrific clarity. Five days ago I had a vivid memory of something very normal: me and my sister watching a murder show on TV, glasses of wine, catching up on the daily gossip. It was like stepping barefoot on a nail. I’ve been thinking all this time that my big sister died, my sister’s sister died, my mother’s daughter died, my niece’s mother died, my nephews’ aunt died. It’s taken me 7 weeks to realize that I just lost a best friend.

I don’t understand why it took so long. What’s really bizarre is that from day one I’ve been thinking of how much pain my middle sister is enduring losing not just her big sister, but a best friend, her first friend, and I know without any doubt that she’s been feeling the same for me. I wish she were here instead of across the ocean. Stupid pandemic. Stupid moronic president and cowardly administration, placing an election above people’s lives. Ugh.

There are no big occasions left in my life for my big sister to miss out on, I’m not getting married, I’m not having a baby, I’m not winning a Pulitzer.. but I never get to have another night of having a second and third glass of wine with her while we analyze whatever crappy show is on the TV. There are no more weekend mornings of hanging out in the kitchen whilst she drinks coffee at a table like a grown up and I sit on the floor eating cereal, talking about our family and our friends, exes, work, school, fashion, books, all the small shit that is so indescribably precious. Instead it’s just me in the kitchen, not able to breathe, and gripping onto the sink waiting for the moment to be over.

Thirty two days

My momentum has gone. The simple things that I should be doing, the phone calls, the emails, the follow ups, paper work, to do lists, filing.. I’m winning if I get one thing done a day. I’ve gone from the frenetic pace of spinning 50 plates in the air to wading through mud. Worse, I’m snacking on everything. I’ve got stuff to do, I’m not doing it, and I’m standing in front of fridge picking at leftovers that don’t taste good, that I don’t want, purely because it gives me something to do instead of all the stuff I should be doing and am not.

People have told me to take time for myself, but I don’t know what to do with the time. I can’t do nothing, because then it’s me thinking about how my sister should be here. Go for walks? That’s what I always used to do but now I’m hyper aware of all the minutiae that’s waiting for me when I get back.

My friends have been amazing. I love talking to them, and without those video chat and phone calls – an even some social distance face to face time! -I don’t know what I would do. Thing is my current topics of conversation tend to revolve around my to do list, my grief, or the family members that are under my care whose mental health is becoming a borderline obsession of mine. Normally when I don’t feel like talking about my life, I read the news and find something else to chat about there, but have you seen the news? There’s no light relief there! Nor are there buckets of fun future plans to be made beyond a vague wishful thinking statement of, “When the pandemic is over…” And really, with our numbers increasing so dramatically and the virus mutating to become hardier that statement should be “If I survive the pandemic…

Twenty five days

In the past three weeks I’ve thought several times that I’d like to sit down and write something, but then I haven’t because when someone dies far too soon and leaving behind a life that was in the middle of being lived, what you find yourself doing is making endless phone calls, sending email after email, and only clearing a quarter of your to do list every day, with every crossed off item spawning an entire new list. Which I guess is preferable to sitting around twiddling your thumbs and thinking about how empty home feels.

I have retold my sister’s death so many times. It probably seems odd to people hearing it for the first time that I am not more emotional. There was a moment after the first week when I found myself consoling one of my sister’s friends, a woman whom I’d never met, and I realized I was pretending to feel more sad than I actually did in that moment so that she would not feel awkward. How very British, “Please do excuse me whilst I work up some tears to keep you company in your grief, wouldn’t want you to feel out of place, pip, pip.” The realization made me laugh, but it also made me feel dishonest, I haven’t done it since.

People’s reactions range, but I did get a giggle from my neighbour’s response. She had come to the house to look in the garden for her cat, and after an unsuccessful search I told her I had some sad news to share and explained my sister had died. She said, “I’m sorry to hear that….[sigh]… Boy I am having the worst day, first the cat goes missing , then there were racoons in the back yard, the line at the pharmacy was too long so I didn’t pick up my meds, and now I’m having anxiety..” I could almost see the unspoken words above her head, “..and now you’re telling me about your dead sister. Jeez, could you not have kept that to yourself?”

The universe has great ways of reminding us that we are not at its centre.

The grief come and goes in a heartbeat. A random thought can pop into my head which leaves me sobbing and then seconds later guffawing about my grief or something else entirely. Inappropriate things are hilarious, for example carrying out what was basically a scavenger hunt in a graveyard trying to find a suitable final resting place. (Really it’s kind of brilliant, you have a series of numbers that are written on stone circles embedded into the ground and grown over with roots and grass, laid out in the weirdest of patterns, and you have to locate a single number in a labyrinth of 9000 century old markers. I felt like Indiana Jones. There was absolutely a point where I realised I was having fun. In fact I later suggested a Halloween scavenger hunt in the cemetery to my family, and was sternly informed that I am not allowed to get myself a lifetime ban from the place where my sister and father are buried.)

My middle sister flew into town for a week. I tried so hard to be rational and objective, cautioning her to be careful in the pandemic, and telling her, when she asked me what I thought she should do, that this was her decision and I couldn’t possibly tell her what to do. All that objectivity went out the window as soon as I saw her. Kept telling her how happy I was she was here, and how much I needed her. She was here for the burial, which was perfect if truth be known. The pandemic has been a mixed blessing, one of the things it did for us was to remove choices about the funeral. We couldn’t have a service so we didn’t have to decide what went into the service, or try to plan a memorial in mere days that would do our girl justice. The amount of people permitted at the graveside was limited so we had immediate family only instead of attempting the impossible, choosing who had the most right to be present. Consequently we were able to just be us. We didn’t have to say the correct things or show the appropriate amount of feelings. We didn’t have to graciously receive anyone’s condolences. It was a gift not to have to react to others’ grief. We had written the priest a letter about our sister, who she was, what she meant to us, he understood every word and spoke about her as if he had known her his whole life.

People want to help. It was weird at first, full cooked meals turning up on the doorstep from people I didn’t know, but pretty quickly I realized how awesome it was to be relieved of grocery shopping. I hate shopping, hate it. Interestingly enough my sister’s friends leave cooked food, my niece’s friends leave cookies, my friends leave wine. You can’t over estimate the value of friends that know you that well.