Tag Archives: Grief

Young Jeff in the dim light of the WHS dressing room

Losing Bits

Earlier this month, my computer broke. It was a long time coming, an inevitable journey for a laptop Apple now calls “obsolete.” Having already suffered everything from missing screws to intermittent lines showing the age of the screen,  the slowness eventually made it impossible to complete a backup. My data at risk, I brought the computer in for care.

A week and a few hundred dollars later, a new solid state hard drive lived in my laptop with most of the age dusted off. However, the replaced drive wouldn’t release all of its data and cost me some applications and my bearings. Some of the bits have not yet returned. Some never will.

I’ve experienced other catastrophic computer failures in my life. Despite devoted backup practices, a screenplay was once eaten by the clicking of a SyQuest drive, and a similar thing happened with Iomega a few years later. In both cases, large chunks of my life disappeared, including my first decade of email activity. While I don’t need to every day, more than once I have wanted to look for something old, something that did not survive the waves of technology.

Much of my anxiety about this particular digital crisis stems from the death of my friend, Jeff. The last complete backup I was able to get came in July. I was therefore confident I would avoid starting completely from scratch but assured that no new writing or other correspondence since would be recovered from that backup. Many of our thoughts and interactions are on social media, but some files I wouldn’t be able to recreate.

Death never disrupted my home. Meaning, I have never had the experience of walking past a silent room knowing someone I love used to occupy that space. TV and movies tell me this is a thing the bereaved have to face: what to do with the silent room.

One of the things I have done over the past few weeks is to look at old yearbooks, the social media of my youth. I paged through surviving yearbooks from Freshman, Sophomore and Senior years—what happened to my Junior year, I don’t know—looking at pictures of Jeff and for the words he left for me. This, and a handful of artifacts preserved in some Tupperware box, are the tangible proof of our connection. As long as I keep them close and don’t write on them further, they remain as they were and always will be.

In the decades that followed high school—constituting the bulk of our relationship—the artifacts are mostly digital. While J was always a good letter writer, we embraced email to embrace each other. From politics to entertainment, these remote exchanges left a sizable digital footprint. I don’t have many pictures of us together as adults, but I had the emails. Like the yearbooks, to preserve them I only had to keep them safe.

As I type, I still hope to read them again. Most of my email was sent through a POP account, which ultimately means that the only copy likely in existence is what was on my laptop. Through much effort, I believe I have my email files back on my laptop, but they remain invisible to me when I open the application to view them. Leaving them in that state for the moment, I draw comfort in the uncertainty. I don’t know if they are forever lost, which is better than knowing for sure.

These bits comprise the digital life I have created with Jeff. Every time I open my laptop, I walk past this virtual room, knowing there is an open invitation to walk inside and sit. I can venture in and see him exactly as he was. I can keep my memories fresh. Maybe that is what I fear most about losing these messages: Without them, my memories will fade and Jeff will disappear.

There was a moment in this process of restoration when I launched my computer and saw nothing familiar. My Chrome browser lost all of its open tabs. Many applications reset to scratch. Once I found where that information lived—and realized the techs had not restored a hidden directory—I was able to get those things back.

I launched Chrome to check my work. In my Facebook window, a chat with Jeff reappeared, right where I left it. It contained the last interaction I had with him. I told him I loved him, he told me he loved me, and we ended with a joke. In this new moment, I am relieved to see his room still exists. I read it as a new message saying everything will be all right.

Today, that’s enough. I’m walking away knowing he’s in there, somewhere.

hands on wall to make 50

Beginning

“How do I begin?”

This is the question that paralyzes me most when facing the death of someone I know and love. As I start to consider possible answers, my mind and my heart talk over each other with a swirl of suggestions that avoids consensus. I get stuck between a desire to connect with others and the guilt over not doing enough while my friend was alive, between fixing the unfixable and making a bedsheet fort where I will live the rest of my days. I want to do everything and absolutely nothing. How do I begin?

Just Bad for You is an archive of my friend Jeff Poehlmann’s experience living through a serious health challenge that ultimately cost him his life and us his voice. It is a space he made to help himself and others understand the particulars of lung cancer and how to live beyond the prognosis. From the testimonials on Facebook and LungCancer.net, where he spent the past year as a contributing writer, Jeff’s reach proved considerable. While he may not be here to continue publishing, Jeff did leave works-in-progress and a community of friends who can curate and contribute to the continuing story of what makes life meaningful.

In the wake of his death, I find it both comforting and intimidating to read and hear his words. Through his podcast, Jeff accompanies me on walking commutes to work, though usually only at the end of the day for fear I may be rendered useless. I see a dozen or so drafts in his queue, each started at different stages of his health journey, but I cannot yet bring myself to touch them.

With a brain and heart muddled in grief, I don’t have a clear idea how this blog will evolve. Perhaps it will be a place to process his life and our loss, or expand as a resource for the state of care for this and other diseases. Regardless, I do know that I want it to continue.

For four years, Jeff wrote about what he knew, what he learned, and most poignantly what he was experiencing. I do not have lung cancer. What I am experiencing now is loss and the challenge of regaining forward momentum in a world without Jeff. For a little while at least, that’s what this blog may focus on. We’ll draw from the strength he showed, even when not physically at his best, and the time he made to love the world.

I do not expect to be alone in this. Others who knew him or were impacted by his story may contribute as well, by sharing memories of Jeff that continue to resonate in his absence or by making meaning from the struggles they endure. For the moment, this space is for us.

Caring for Jeff’s community, however, requires starting with something. Right now, this is where I am and what I can do. Tomorrow, I will know I have already begun.

 

Beyond the Shame of Change, Adversity, and Grief

Nothing is forever, as the saying goes. And it seems true in terms of human experience. Change is inevitable. You can’t please all the people all the time. Time will tell. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But, of course, you can’t judge a book by its cover because the grass is always greener on the other side. Also, that thing about picking your friend’s nose.

I am clearly not above the occasional inspirational bracelet.

Just not that one about everything happening for a reason. I’ll concede that there are certainly arguments for cause and effect — in fact, very much so, which is essential understanding when it comes to actually dealing with the issues that are thrust upon us in spite of our best efforts and desires. To suggest that everything happens for a reason is immensely wrongheaded and, even with the best of intentions, is ultimately unhelpful.

This does raise the issue — when suffering or change of any sort occurs — of how one is to cope if there is no purpose behind the suffering or change. Continue reading Beyond the Shame of Change, Adversity, and Grief