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What to do when someone has died.

In the past few days, several friends of mine have lost a parent or family member. Having been through that myself, and hearing what they’re going through now, I was reminded about a blog post I was planning to write: advice on what to do in these situations, depending on your position. So here goes.

If you are a friend of the bereaved

I heard from several people that they “didn’t know what to say” to me when my dad died. Maybe you will disagree, but I think the worst thing you can do is say nothing. Well, unless you’re a real asshole and come up with something horrible about the deceased, but at least you’re paying attention. I had some friends disappear when I told them my dad had cancer last year. Haven’t heard from them since. I guess they assumed I wasn’t going to be any fun anymore and they moved on. They can go fuck themselves, frankly.

But my heart was warmed by the care that everyone else showed me. Just a note on Facebook, a text message, a phone call, a card; it doesn’t take much effort, really. I got some really nice messages from the spouses of friends of mine, who I didn’t really know that well. That was unexpected and special.

So, don’t disappear, tell the person you’re sorry for their loss, that you’re thinking of them, whatever is sincere. Believe me, it will help.

If you want to do more than that, bring them food. Flowers are good too, though less edible. Offer to help in some way. Just be there for them. You don’t need to know what to say or do; just be a friend.

I suppose there was one annoying thing that was said to me by well-intentioned guy friends when I informed them of Dad’s cancer: “Take this opportunity to spend as much time with your father as you can, and cherish these last months together” or some such nonsense. No, really? I have to wonder what they thought I was going to do. But seriously, that’s the worst I got, and they did mean well.

If you are a friend of the deceased

Regarding the period of time when the dying is still alive, but on their deathbed: if invited, come and say your goodbyes, and then leave. Don’t come back the next day to say goodbye again unless for some weird reason you’re invited. This is such an intimate and overwhelming time for the family, and your showing up multiple times is disrespectful to them. I think I tweeted something about it not being a buffet, back in March.

If you are there in the hospital room, and the family asks you to leave, and the person in the bed can no longer express an opinion on the matter, leave. Your grief, though extreme, is not the same as theirs, and suggesting that your loss is on equal terms with theirs is selfish, even if you think it is.

After the death, don’t tell the family in detail how much you’re suffering while not asking them how they are doing; you’ll sound like an ass. Your pain is not their burden, and they are trying hard enough to keep themselves afloat. And yes, this means that you should remember them and their feelings in what you do in the following days. Don’t make yourself feel better at their expense.

If you are the bereaved

Don’t let anyone tell you how you’re supposed to grieve. I was told, the week of, that I was doing it wrong, that if I was grieving properly I’d be crying with wild abandon instead of suffering stomach cramps and insomnia. Well, the stomach cramps disappeared a half hour after the memorial, and the crying finally came last week, nearly two months later. Everything short of throwing a burlap sack of puppies off the overpass of a highway is probably an okay way to deal with loss. And who would do that to puppies?

“Brain Poison”

This afternoon I found myself ruminating over a comment on Kimli’s blog. The post wasn’t really about anything, but the comments section turned into a discussion around this man’s statement, which began as such:

I don’t have a TV in the house and never have. I don’t have a gaming console in the house and never will. We have no processed sugar of any description, no junk food, few plastics, no trash toys. Our vacations are bike tours and backpacking trips, rather than Disneyland and roadside food.

The first thing I did, actually, was email the full quote to my mom and thank her for not bringing me up that way. Gotta show appreciation, you know.

The commenter himself actually sounds like a nice person who just happens to have a parenting style which involves spitting on pop culture, as is his wont. I haven’t dealt with parents like that all that often, but what I have dealt with are some of the results of that sort of parenting. I have dated those results, even.

I am better than you because I don’t have a TV.

I’ve heard that one often. I’m sure some of you have, too. Maybe some of you actually believe this yourselves. Frankly, I’d find other ways to measure people than by the contents of their living rooms; from the limited sample size of my experience, not having a TV doesn’t make a person more interesting or cultured than anyone else. In fact, saying that statement out loud makes you a douche.

You have a cat? I’ve never had a pet. You should feel lucky, I said I’d never date a girl with a cat.

I’ve heard variations of that one a couple times. It was so relieved to hear this, having had no idea up until that point that I should feel ashamed for being a pet owner. Their gracious condescension in debasing themselves to be with me is so selfless. Please excuse me while I go off my cat in order to be worthy of them.

Sometimes when I’ve met the parents of people who have said such shit to me, they have bragged about how they brought up the child: with only classical music playing in the house, sent to private schools, given private lessons and memberships into exclusive clubs, etc. Plus anything having to do with the child being kept away from the average, the public, the mainstream. Their kid (well, adult at this point) is so amazing because of this upbringing that I’m supposed to be in awe of their superiority. Oh, the parents say, you’re doing well yourself? You’re in a successful career? That must be so great for you, given how you were brought up so ordinarily. Keep breaking down those walls, young lady! Don’t ever let your upper-middle-class childhood hold you back!

What worries me about people who think like this is that they’re narcissists. And/or they’ve brought up narcissists. Who believe they are great because of X and other people are not great because of Y and every person in the world is judged and categorized by these rules that were drilled into them in childhood. You as an individual doesn’t matter; it’s what you look like on the surface. You watch TV, so you must be a dull slob. You have a cat? I feel so sorry for you! Such people make friends based on these categorizations because they need actors to play the parts of their friends in the movie of their life. I’ve seen people only make friends with “losers” in order to make themselves look good in comparison. Or they want their wife or girlfriend to dress a certain way because in their heads it symbolizes and reinforces their ego.

When I was younger, I was enthralled by narcissists. Plagued with low self-esteem, I envied and aspired to be like the people who just seemed to exude confidence and be so absolutely sure of everything they did and every judgment they made. I actually felt bad for not living up to their standards (damn cat, why must be you be so cute?) and it was the biggest relief when I got over it and saw them for the jerks they are. So I worry when I hear parents boasting about how they’re bringing their child up to be extraordinary and away from the petty masses who would only bring them down with their “brain poison”. Here’s hoping the kids come to their senses.

(Hats off to The Last Psychiatrist for explaining this. Highly recommended reading.)

Friday Cat Blogging: Battle Cat for PM!

If you’re in Canada, you’re probably already quite sick of all the election coverage on the news. And if you’re a Facebook contact of mine, you’re probably quite sick of all of my postings and links about it. But this link is full of cat, and not actually about the Canadian election, so that makes it all okay:

Is your Cat confused about the referendum on the voting system on the 5th May? (Youtube video)

I was vaguely aware that there was a referendum happening in the UK, but didn’t understand what it was about, so I’m glad the cats were there to educate me. But while I love gratuitous kitteh content, I can’t help but be saddened a bit by the fact that the same referendum isn’t happening in Canada.

If Canada’s federal voting system worked by Alternative Vote, then people would choose their first and second candidates, rather than the usual one, so that if your candidate had the lowest number of votes, your second choice would then get your vote and it would be re-tallied. No strategic voting necessary to ensure the dog doesn’t get the majority (if you are a cat, I mean).

It’s been interesting to see Casual Cat suddenly gain popularity over the Moderate Cat. I just hope, in our current system it doesn’t further split the cat vote, though it probably will.

(Note I’m not making value statements about the parties, it’s just that the video does a very good illustration of the election situation here in Canada, if you were to map the dog to right-wing politics and the cats to the left. Except that it’s missing Runaway Cat, of course.)


I’ve been debating for a while as to whether I’m going to get me an iPhone.

I may be the only cool person I know who doesn’t have one. Seriously, if I am with awesome peeps most likely I am the only one in the room without the thumb candy and when people notice that I am scorned and that makes me sad.

Alas, I say, it is not my fault, for I would have bought one years ago but for the 3-year contract with Telus that doesn’t end until November of 2010! Forsooth, I am but a poor IT worker who cannot afford to pay Telus $20 per month for another two years just for the pleasure of not getting service from them, just so I can get an iPhone with expensive data plan from another carrier! Have pity on my practicality!

So my contract ends next month, but now Telus has iPhones too, or at least they have big signs that say they do but from what I hear you have to at least promise some rather kinky sexual favours in exchange for hints about when you’re to stand in line somewhere random to maybe get a phone someday if you say the magic word. So I’m not sure I want one anymore, since my 2007 phone still works and I don’t have to line up to use it.

Someone told me that Canada has the most expensive cell phone plan prices anywhere, though I dunno, Antarctica’s data plans could be worse, and I don’t know what their 3G coverage is.

I don’t even use my phone that much anyways. I hate talking on the phone. Texting on it’s a bitch because you have to sort of scroll through letters by repeatedly pressing on the numbers and given the lack of profundity in my words, it’s hardly worth the effort now is it?

But the cool people keep telling me that I can never be one of them unless I have an iPhone and can take hipstamatic photos of my shoes and tweet about where I’m currently taking a piss and be the mayor of somewhere unnecessary in foursquare. Ah yes, I see what I’ve been missing out on now.

Things I want

In no particular order or priority:

  1. No drama. I’m not sure why some people in this world feel the need to stir things up and play games in non-game settings when all I want to do is go about my business and be left alone. I’m being purposefully vague here, but it’s general enough: I have no energy for people who suck away at my soul like that. The problem with drama is that it’s catching and hard to eradicate once it’s been introduced, and I have only so much soul left.
  2. Sleep. For various reasons I’ve been up a few times most nights in the last few weeks due to my blackberry going off about some database-er-other, and sometimes wasn’t able to get back to sleep for hours, and if you thought I was moody in the mornings before, stand back.
  3. To remember what vacation is like. Note I’m not asking for a vacation, that would be silly. I just wish it were something I’d done more recently than 2006 so that when my friends go off on trips to Spain or New Orleans or whatever, the first thing that pops into my mind isn’t curiosity over what it feels like to be a normal person who takes time off work and goes places.
  4. A nerdy tattoo. I can’t think of what; the symbol for a database is essentially a tin can and I am not permanently drawing a tin can on my ass (or wherever I’d put it, probably not my ass). Also you never know, I may give up database work someday if I ever learn about vacations.
  5. Laser eye surgery. I want a nerdy tattoo in some place you wouldn’t see unless I showed you, but I don’t want to look nerdy to everyone. Also it is rare for me to feel as stupid as I do when I’m feeling my way around my apartment trying to find my glasses which I can’t see because I don’t have my glasses on.
  6. For oil to not be spilling into the Gulf of Mexico at an alarming rate and killing all the plants and fish and birds. I have to not think about that because when I do I start to cry. Of course, as a database admin I have to wonder at companies which don’t set up proper disaster recovery procedures. Not to mention test them out. That’s DBA 101.
  7. Someone to have brunch with me in Kelowna. Nobody does brunch here. Or if they do it’s like this rare-rare occurrence that’s precipitated by some sort of event worthy of celebration. As opposed to Vancouver where people go for brunch because it’s the weekend. I miss that so hard.
  8. To be locked in a room full of kittens. Bonus points if I’m able to rub catnip all over myself first.
  9. Sleep. Oh right I already put that in.
  10. My favourite song. There’s always a next one, but I never know what it’s going to be. This one was close, but not quite:

  11. For people to not feel I’m someone they have to “figure out”. It’s a special kind of discomfort to be so weird to the people around you, and I’m weird for Kelowna. It’s too bad, because I refuse to change.
  12. World peace. Would we even recognize it if it bit us in the ass, I wonder.
  13. To feel appreciated. When the default is being taken for granted, and your personal misfortunes are considered jokes to people, and because you don’t complain it’s assumed it’s okay to treat you in such a way. It’s time to start complaining.

It can’t be that hard to not like me, despite my title

So my boss had us do this work personality test the other week, some quick online quiz that was on the intranet. I hate those things, because they always suggest that I should be a nurse or counsellor or something because I’m so damn empathic and nurturing. Yeah, fuck that shit, I hate people. If these tests could just have a question like “Do you hate people? Y/N” they could quit this false categorizing and let me get back to what I’m supposedly not suited to do.

This test was about “Communication Styles”, with the four possible styles being Analytical, Driver, Amiable and Expressive. Or, as I see it, Spock, Kirk, Uhura and Scotty, but you can read up the style descriptions here if you hate Star Trek and don’t mind character encoding errors on your web pages.

Because I’m the fucking sweetest nicest piece of ass this side of the Thompson, I’m Amiable. It sounds like such a cop-out category, as if this were a beauty contest and the best that could be said of me is that I have a good personality. If my most important characteristic is that I’m nice, I’m leaving.

People who have an Amiable style are […] more likely to express emotion. Amiables are very loyal and tend to be excellent team players.

Fine, I’m emotional. I blame it on the ovaries and because life is crap sometimes. And I’m a team player because once in a while they give me rides home from work.

People and relationships are what are most important to an Amiable. […] They tend to be very warm people.

Wha? I live alone with a cat. What’s most important to me is avoiding people and relationships, but I don’t think that’s what they meant. Plus this sort of reads like a horoscope, what with all the relationship talk. Your lucky numbers are…

In any case, it’s bollocks. It’s too extreme. I did a bunch of these personality tests back in high school, but longer ones, and the results tended to put me right on the border between sensitive and practical, because I am both of those. I have a music degree and a computer science degree, and I got the same grades in both of them (though it could also mean the grading system was rigged). That doesn’t mean everything but it doesn’t exclude anything either. And in this test I would’ve thought I’d be as likely to be written up as Analytical instead:

People who have an Analytical style are very thorough and detail oriented. They don’t mind working alone and will often go above and beyond for the task at hand. [… But] their focus on perfection can mean that those around them perceive Analyticals as not being as fast with their work.

That’s me to a T. That’s me most of the time on the job, doing extra work, focusing on the details, wasting time by failing at perfectionism. Not giving people hugs and reacharounds like your mom. But nooooooooo I can’t be Analytical because I answered that I leaned in when I talked to people. Even though it could just mean I’m deaf.

The reason that all this bugs me is that I’ve had to deal with people in my life who have questioned my career choices and used such test results as proof that I’m in the wrong job (thankfully not this time, but it’s grating). As if I’m somehow going against what’s natural in my daily life, and progressing in a career despite my temperament, not because of it. And let’s not get started on the hauntings of affirmative action.

It’s otherwise not that bad being a chick doing a guy’s work, because people in IT are generally nice and not likely to judge you on your lack of penis so long as you’re still able to operate a computer without one. But people outside of IT, well-meaning family members, conservative types, men who feel threatened by my ability to operate a computer without their penis, they think I’m supposed to find some nice 40-hour-a-week stress-free job because women aren’t supposed to work like this. Some of them think that would make me happier, but maybe I don’t want to be that happy. Or that sort of happy.

Of course I’m blowing this out of proportion (because I’m so emotional) as this test was about learning to communicate with others based on personality traits, and not about career path at all. But I don’t need to tally-up questionnaire answers to know I enjoy whining and complaining, so here came this rant. All I’m really trying to say is that I’m glad I didn’t listen to those people who wanted me to embrace my sensitive side and pick a typically feminine lifestyle over this one; and I hope others don’t put so much weight on these tests in deciding their lives. We are the sum of our choices as much as our character, and just like in elementary school, I’d rather go play with the boys.

Jeans shopping getting scarier every year

I have problems buying jeans. I’ve blogged about this before: here, here, here, and here. Jeans that fit well are hard to find when you’re shaped weird.

And I’m shaped weird, with thighs bigger than my hips. Honestly, it doesn’t look that bad, and no guy has ever commented on my thighs being large or anything, so I’m still coming out ahead. I have the hip measurement of a supermodel, but otherwise the body of a person who eats regularly. If I was okay wearing skirts all the time, it wouldn’t matter, but t-shirt plus jeans is my life uniform.

I don’t know if my thighs have gotten bigger (a possibility; I haven’t been keeping track) or if it’s the fashion industry, but I have a hell of a time finding jeans that fit both my hips and my thighs. “Too tight” is the norm. If I can pull them up, there’s tons of room in the waist to let the rainwater in. If I find ones that fit my hips, I can’t get them up without acrobatic skills and a shoehorn.

The other day when I was doing laundry, I saw holes in the back of a pair of jeans, on the corners of the pockets. I didn’t realize it until now, but I wear jeans until they fall apart, and they always fall apart in the embarrassing areas, as I’ve mentioned before. I probably haven’t shopped for jeans in two years, but now was obviously the time, since it’s best to retire this pair before they give my workmates a show.

So I went around the mall. Kelowna has a pretty big mall, with most of the stores you’d find in the malls in Vancouver, so I was pretty confident I’d find something. I avoided all the juniors stores since young women have twigs for legs and skinny jeans are the status quo, but it still left a lot, and I went into all the stores I could find. And nothing. No luck, everything’s too tight, I’m losing feeling in my toes…

I ended up finding mom jeans at Reitman’s. Ugh. That was the only place in the entire mall that had wide-leg jeans, but of course the waist is up at my belly-button. But that’s not all I found: I tried on a bunch of other styles at that store, and got the shock of my shopping life when I tried on a pair of their “comfort jeans”: there’s no fly. No fly!!! They pull up like sweatpants, except they’re not, they’re jeans. It’s freaky. Please, God, please, let me never be forced to wear jeans like that; I need easy access to my genitals. You never know when I might need them, and can’t afford the extra milliseconds of yanking the pants down against the pull of the elastic waistband.

I’m not really sure why those jeans scared me so much, but when I put them on I felt like I was disowning my privates. There’s no door to the unknown, it’s just a wall. Nothing here, it suggests. Nothing you’d find interesting. It’d be like giving up. Besides, they were too tight.

I ended up finding some non-mom jeans that fit at Plum today, strangely enough, thanks to a sales clerk who was wayyyyy too loud and cheerful and blasting Abba in the store’s PA. But I was so happy, because I’d been feeling like the clothing manufacturers had all decided that I no longer qualify as a jeans wearer. I can’t wait until wide-leg or loose jeans come back into fashion, but it could be a while. Hopefully before I develop crotch holes in these ones.