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Derek Miller -- The Last Post
May 4, 2011 10:40 AM   Subscribe

"I'm dead, and this is my last post to my blog." Writer, editor, musician and marine biologist Derek Miller, author of Penmachine, wrote this blog post to be published after his death from colorectal cancer. He died on May 3rd.
posted by mathewi (75 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by ZeusHumms at 10:43 AM on May 4, 2011


Well, shit.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:44 AM on May 4, 2011



I haven't gone to a better place, or a worse one. I haven't gone anyplace, because Derek doesn't exist anymore. As soon as my body stopped functioning, and the neurons in my brain ceased firing, I made a remarkable transformation: from a living organism to a corpse, like a flower or a mouse that didn't make it through a particularly frosty night. The evidence is clear that once I died, it was over.


I suppose he would have edited this out from the other side if it weren't true.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:44 AM on May 4, 2011 [17 favorites]


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posted by jquinby at 10:46 AM on May 4, 2011


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posted by kinnakeet at 10:48 AM on May 4, 2011


What a remarkable and tender message. A statement of truth from a dying person, to be long remembered.
posted by Sparkticus at 10:51 AM on May 4, 2011


*sniffle*
posted by rmd1023 at 10:54 AM on May 4, 2011


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posted by New England Cultist at 10:56 AM on May 4, 2011


An incredibly strong person is evident, all the way through.

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posted by milestogo at 10:56 AM on May 4, 2011


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posted by nooneyouknow at 10:58 AM on May 4, 2011


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posted by filmgoerjuan at 10:58 AM on May 4, 2011


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posted by jeffehobbs at 10:59 AM on May 4, 2011


Reaching for the tissue . . .
posted by donovan at 11:03 AM on May 4, 2011


Wow.
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posted by Glinn at 11:03 AM on May 4, 2011


*sniff* i remember reading is articles in the ubc science paper.
posted by spark_001 at 11:06 AM on May 4, 2011


. for a person I never knew about unti today, but who I will long remember for writing "I can lament what I will never know, yet still not regret what got me where I am. "

He puts his finger on what leaves me tight-chested: as a parent, I don't want to miss a second of my kids' lives. Not because they need my help, but because I love them.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:06 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


And now his blog is dead too.

Anyone have it cached?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:11 AM on May 4, 2011


God, athiests are depressing.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:16 AM on May 4, 2011


Does anyone have a cached version?? I can't find one on Google.
posted by Malice at 11:22 AM on May 4, 2011


athiests [sic] are depressing

If you're being serious, please know that I don't find my atheist worldview depressing at all, and I don't really care what you think of it anyway. I don't maintain it for your benefit.

If you're being snarky, this probably isn't the place for it.
posted by ixohoxi at 11:22 AM on May 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


If you think athiests are depressing, check out Don't Feel Sad, I'm In Heaven Now Singing With The Pretty Angels.
posted by benzenedream at 11:24 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Death is depressing... to the living, anyway.
posted by Malice at 11:24 AM on May 4, 2011


Here's the Google cache.
posted by teraflop at 11:29 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


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this "athiest" is not depressed but impressed. Very insightful.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:30 AM on May 4, 2011


His analogy of the flower that didn't make it through a frosty night is profound.

The simple truth of what I've learned about death (from the perspective of the surviving): One day someone is here, the next they are gone. To loved ones, it is a gaping hole. For nature's purposes, we aren't much more than a plant pulled from the ground.
posted by dry white toast at 11:36 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


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posted by a small part of the world at 11:37 AM on May 4, 2011


I held it up until the very end. Fate grant me the wisdom and opportunity to do the same for my family, when my time looms.
posted by thanotopsis at 11:38 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


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What's really sad and strange is that I belong to a professional listserv that this gentleman belonged to, though I've never actually posted to it or knew him. It's just weird to get an email yesterday that he was in his final hours and then find out on MetaFilter that he passed.

Rest In Peace, you're finally free from the pain and illness. My thoughts go out to his young family.
posted by 1000monkeys at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2011


I suppose he would have edited this out from the other side if it weren't true.

I remember reading somewhere (maybe it was MTV's pop-up video) that John Lennon told his son Julian that if he could communicate with him from the after-world, he would do so by lifting and moving a feather across a room. I wonder if Julian keeps a feather in his house?

I still belive in Heaven. Its appearance changes from time to time - when I was a kid, it was a big shopping mall with toy stores and pizza stands everywhere you went. Now I envision it as being a big grassy field with mountains in the distance, blue skies, no bugs, and all the bacon and eggs you could eat. Oh and airplanes and spaceships. And you could fly the spaceships anywhere you wanted to go. And you didn't have to go to the bathroom anymore or get tummyaches or debilitating psychological or corporal diseases. And my cat would be there too.

But I have to admit, I still haven't figured it all out yet.

Maybe you can't make it back. I figure if you could, we'd have ghosts and guardian angels among us. I don't believe in those anymore, there's too much evil happening to too many people who don't deserve it.

- Maybe it's so amazing, you don't want to make it back.
- Maybe you forget.
- Maybe it's an alternate universe where it is metaphysically impossible to come back.
- Maybe those who belive in reincarnation are right and we come back as something/someone else
- Maybe those who believe that there is no higher power are right and we just cease to be

I really don't know...

Rest in peace, Derek Miller.
posted by bitteroldman at 11:40 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


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yet, from my position of enthusiastic agnosticism, I must observe that both of these following statements are equally beyond my own (or anyone else's) grasp to prove or disprove:

I haven't gone to a better place, or a worse one. I haven't gone anyplace, because Derek doesn't exist anymore. As soon as my body stopped functioning, and the neurons in my brain ceased firing, I made a remarkable transformation: from a living organism to a corpse, like a flower or a mouse that didn't make it through a particularly frosty night. The evidence is clear that once I died, it was over.

I have gone to a better place, or perhaps a worse one. Derek still exists. As soon as my body stopped functioning, and the neurons in my brain ceased firing, I made a remarkable transformation: from a living organism in the mortal realm to a living spirit in the immortal realm. The evidence is clear that once I died, my real adventure began.
posted by philip-random at 11:42 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by saucysault at 11:47 AM on May 4, 2011


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posted by Smart Dalek at 12:02 PM on May 4, 2011


http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.penmachine.com%2F2011%2F05%2Fthe-last-post
posted by spark_001 at 12:05 PM on May 4, 2011


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Amazingly eloquent.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:21 PM on May 4, 2011


What a wonderful, brave, clear-headed and rational last statement.

It turns out that no one can imagine what's really coming in our lives. We can plan, and do what we enjoy, but we can't expect our plans to work out. Some of them might, while most probably won't.

I realised this when I was still a kid, and I have - for the most part - lived my life accordingly. This is why I drink, smoke the odd cigar and refuse to deny myself good food and sensual pleasures. This is why I don't worry too much about money or material things. This is why when my job took too much of my soul away I just quit, two years ago, and spent my savings on travelling and enjoying myself. This is why I get nervous if I ever start amassing too much in the way of savings. It seems to go against the grain of my awareness of mortality and hazard. I've made it to 52 (nearly) and done things which "normal" people of my nationality and background would regard as reckless or irresponsible, and I would not change any of them. Not for one moment.

God, athiests are depressing.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:16 PM on May 4


Maybe athiests are, but atheists know the value of life, and some of them - like this guy - certainly know how to die. But spelling-error-piss-taking aside, I truly do not understand why you find this post depressing. To me it seems positively life-affirming and radiant with clear-eyed realism and love.
posted by Decani at 12:22 PM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


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posted by jkottke at 12:32 PM on May 4, 2011


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posted by sillygwailo at 12:39 PM on May 4, 2011


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posted by phoebus at 12:43 PM on May 4, 2011


Maybe athiests are, but atheists know the value of life, and some of them - like this guy - certainly know how to die. But spelling-error-piss-taking aside, I truly do not understand why you find this post depressing. To me it seems positively life-affirming and radiant with clear-eyed realism and love.

I don't think that person found the post depressing. If I may assume, although I am an atheist myself, what depressed me about it is something I think about quite often. The realization that I will one day be no more, truly nothing, parted from those I love. Forever.

It won't bother me when I'm dead, because 'I' will not exist. As I do exist right now, it depresses me now.

I would take a guess that somewhere deep down, the person you were responding is probably depressed at that concept, rather than the blog post.
posted by Malice at 12:56 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I truly do not understand why you find this post depressing.

I've been around deeply religious people a lot in my life - still am - and although I can't speak for the person who made the comment, I know a TON of religious people who would also find this depressing. These people have spent their entire lives being told that "this world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through," that the next life is gonna be SO MUCH BETTER than this one. They really, deeply believe that, to the point that the current life is just a chore they've got to get through.

You know how little kids can't wait to become adults, and then almost instantly realize that they should have enjoyed being young? These folks are where the kids are in that analogy. So the idea that their treasures are not, in fact, laid up beyond the blue, is a sucker punch. It is, almost literally, telling them that there is no Santa Claus.
posted by jbickers at 12:57 PM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


A wondrous place

The world, indeed the whole universe, is a beautiful, astonishing, wondrous place. There is always more to find out. I don't look back and regret anything, and I hope my family can find a way to do the same.

What is true is that I loved them. Lauren and Marina, as you mature and become yourselves over the years, know that I loved you and did my best to be a good father.

Airdrie, you were my best friend and my closest connection. I don't know what we'd have been like without each other, but I think the world would be a poorer place. I loved you deeply, I loved you, I loved you, I loved you.
Oh... my. So powerful. And no, not depressing to me. Just... utter sadness that someone I never got to meet is gone.

Goodbye, Derek.

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posted by zarq at 12:59 PM on May 4, 2011


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posted by msali at 1:32 PM on May 4, 2011


Although I did not know him, Derek was a strong presence in the Vancouver blog/Twitter circle. He clearly made a huge positive impact and impression on those around him. (Look for the #welovederek hash tag.)

I read his post this morning and had a little cry. I could only hope to have the same strength, courage, and dignity were I in a similar situation.
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posted by jess at 2:11 PM on May 4, 2011


Great. Having a very low day already, and now this. I think I met Derek once when I was at UBC, we were there over the same period (1998-1994). I'm pretty sure I read all his columns in the Ubyssey while I was there. I was reminded of him only a couple of weeks ago when another friend told me that Derek had cancer. It's sad that some the people who make a difference in other people's lives don't get long to do it. Goodbye Derek, we hardly knew you.
posted by Snowflake at 2:19 PM on May 4, 2011


mathewi, thanks so much for posting this -- really beautiful.

God, athiests are depressing.

I'm an atheist (well, strong agnostic, if you want to get technical), and I've had a lot of time to ponder my possible death from the same form of cancer this past year. I'm newly in remission, and if I make it 2 years, then the odds are pretty good that I'll die of something else. If it comes back in that time, the odds are pretty good that my number may be up.

Like jbickers, I too, have noticed (on message boards, in conversations, etc.) that the people who were most upset/depressed about the position Miller shares tended to be religious folks with a very specific view of an afterlife as a reward for having lived a very specific type of life on earth. (Though I also cannot speak for entropicamericana).) They also tended to be the people who most often either denied outright the possibility that this could ever end in death, or spoke of fighting cancer with every single possible method, no matter how remote, kicking and screaming to the last dying agonized breath, etc. -- all of which startled me because I kept thinking, "yes, but why would you fight so badly to stay in this world, in pain, if you think you're going to get the ultimate reward by dying?" (This was not 100% the case, of course, but it definitely seemed to skew in that direction, in my experience.) I'm not entirely sure what it means; I have my suspicions (somewhere along the lines of jbickers above), but as I'm trying to work out that point of view out I don't want to draw any conclusions yet.

In any case, as an atheist/agnostic and someone who has been reading a lot of Buddhism lately, I don't find Miller's position depressing at all -- I find it joyous and powerful and wise. I feel that the past year gave me a challenge and a gift (among many): the challenge to really face my own mortality, and the gift to use that knowledge to make the best of what life I have left -- whether it's a day or a year or several decades.

I've written about this before, but there is this weird cultural assumption built into the whole "cancer patient" discourse that we're somehow in a battle with mortality that the rest of the non-cancer people out there are separate from. We're not. We just have a more finely tuned sense of what could kill us. For some of us, the disease is definitely going to be terminal; for others, the odds are very good it won't be; others still live in a kind of Shroedinger's box of "could it or couldn't it?"

This concentrates the mind and the heart pretty fiercely. The question becomes very simply: what will happen to me? For starters, you have to come face to face with the reality of your own physical demise -- something our culture, for all its stylized gore and violence in the media, really doesn't allow any room to consider meaningfully. But the basic fact is that the body will be destroyed, either quickly (by cremation) or slowly (by rotting).

So the sense of ourselves as a permanent, solid entity is revealed to be false -- especially when you don't believe there is anything waiting on the other side. This can either be terrifying or liberating. For me, I found it liberating. It made me really consider what I consider living a good life to be... so that when the time comes, whether it's today (when I might get hit by a bus) or next year (when the cancer comes back and spreads to my liver and lungs and brain) or in thirty years (when I have a stroke), at all moments I might be ready to die a good death.

My conclusion was that this life is an amazing, crazy, random gift that is both short, in the grander scheme of the universe, and long in terms of all the hours and days that stretch ahead of us, and that it affords us the chance to create meaning out of chaos by facing our shared sufferings, fears, and pains through cultivating compassion and connection when possible. It has made me happier than I could have imagined -- far less anxious, rather than more. It has made me value more the people in my life than ever before. I do not think I am particularly afraid of death anymore (as much as I can comprehend it in a pretty limited way), though I have faced more clearly (and yes, more painfully, even grievingly) that it will be unimaginably sad to say goodbye when the time comes. And yet, if I can live each day till then well, then the time itself when it comes will hopefully not be seen as particularly unnatural or surprising or terrifying. I hope it will be peaceful. I hope it's peaceful for each one of us.

Anyway, thanks again mathewi. I'm very glad to have read this.
posted by scody at 2:33 PM on May 4, 2011 [37 favorites]


Those last few lines are a crystallization of what ultimately matters in life. The circumstances of it make it even more powerful.


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posted by flippant at 2:55 PM on May 4, 2011


RIP.

I do not think I am particularly afraid of death anymore (as much as I can comprehend it in a pretty limited way), though I have faced more clearly (and yes, more painfully, even grievingly) that it will be unimaginably sad to say goodbye when the time comes.

Doesn't death mean different things to people at different stages of their lives? If you are under, say, 30, and have a potentially fatal disease, and are unsure if you'll live, well, there's all that future you might be giving up. If you are under 60, you have less of that unlimited future, but may still be full of life and vigor and it may seem a horrific thing to have this world with all the beauty and vitality, yanked away from you. But then you get old. You are in your 80's or 90's and you aren't ever going to become a surgeon. You will not climb Mt. Everest. Your future and it's options has shrunk to a handful of years. You can't mourn the future foregone. And what of the present, of the day to day pleasures, the small joys, the connection with people? That too depends; you may be in poor health. You may have little energy left. You may no longer have the strength or enthusiasm for your old hobbies, music, art, and if you have a lot of pain, and your days are composed of humiliating routines at a retirement facility, there may be precious little joy of life left. You may not even have the muscle memory of how it was to experience joy. That's what's drastically different for a person of, say 40 - at 40, no matter how sick, you still vividly understand what it is to live. When you are 85, and don't have the strength to tie your shoes, and can't even see your shoes, and nothing matters and you don't understand anything around you, well, life and death are just emptiness. It is not the same. People who ruminate about death, do so when they are young or in any case, when they still fully understand what it is to be alive, and based on that feeling speculate how it will be when the time comes to die. But it won't be like that at all, because you won't be the same person. You'll be a faint shadow of yourself, and all that speculation will be utterly irrelevant to you. Of course, there are always individual differences, so who knows what is in store for you, or you or you.

I wish I could read this blog, unfortunately, it's not coming up for me.
posted by VikingSword at 3:03 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


When you are 85, and don't have the strength to tie your shoes, and can't even see your shoes, and nothing matters and you don't understand anything around you, well, life and death are just emptiness. It is not the same. People who ruminate about death, do so when they are young or in any case, when they still fully understand what it is to be alive, and based on that feeling speculate how it will be when the time comes to die. But it won't be like that at all, because you won't be the same person.

That's a very good point. I tried to take that sort of idea into my ruminations this past year. My boyfriend's dad is turning 100 (!) this year, and while I am delighted he's lived this long so that I've gotten the chance to know him, I also find witnessing his physical and especially mental decline -- the slipping ability to know his sons, the creeping fears and paranoias and regrets, the confusion, the unending boredom, the loneliness, the inability for a man who made his living for decades as a dancer and acrobat to any longer go down the steps safely -- did make me see that dying in old age isn't, in fact, automatically "better" than dying in middle age; it's just vastly different.

When I would see people on cancer message boards insisting that they wanted to do everything, no matter how improbable or painful, to stay alive into the oldest age imaginable (or to keep their own elderly parents/grandparents alive for as long as possible), all I could think of was that the refusal to face death (by casting it as the ultimate enemy) is really the heartbreaking thing.
posted by scody at 3:21 PM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


(oh, and here's the googlecache of the blog, vikingsword, since the original one isn't coming up.)
posted by scody at 3:23 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank you scody. That is a beautiful and touching blog. I tried to hold on to that, and no more. But I guess I just can't help it, because it didn't take long for me to wish intensely that he was still alive. And fury at big spending for real wars that destroy lives, and take away funds from the fake-feeling "war on cancer" that could save lives. And politics has no place at this moment here, so I'll shut up now, and go take a walk before I pop a vein.

RIP, Derek Miller.
posted by VikingSword at 3:42 PM on May 4, 2011


Thank you, scody.
posted by joe lisboa at 3:51 PM on May 4, 2011


That was wonderful. As were scody's and vikingsword's comments.

I've been ruminating lately, and I keep getting that "This could be the last time I ever get to do this" thought, even though I don't have any diseases that I know of and I'm a fairly safe driver. The blog post, and your comments, help put words to my thoughts. Thank you.
posted by notsnot at 4:37 PM on May 4, 2011


Wow. Just...wow.

I didn't know this guy, had never heard of him. But I have rarely been so moved as i was by those last few words.

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posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:11 PM on May 4, 2011


Didn't know him but am so moved by his writing - and by Scody and Vikingsword's comments. When my mother was dying of cancer she came to a point where she was ready to go and done fighting. At that point I think she felt somewhat like what Derek wrote about feeling good about being able to make some decisions and plans even if they were for a very short way into the future. Ironically enough she died 6 years ago today - reading Derek's blog feels very poignant to me tonight. Thanks for posting it and condolences to his family.
posted by leslies at 6:11 PM on May 4, 2011


It can probably be said that atheism can be depressing to the general population, by virtue of the fact that eternal happiness in the afterlife has been such a successful marketing strategy for various religious enterprises. It's good to see an example here of someone who was (more or less) OK with it.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:18 PM on May 4, 2011


The site is broken. All I get is:

"This service is not available. Please try again later."

Man does that come across as cold.
posted by bwg at 6:26 PM on May 4, 2011


I found that questions of dying and death became most insistent for me AFTER I had completed all my chemotherapy and surgeries, in the two or three months of regaining strength and hair and lung capacity. I haven't reached the same conclusions as Derek Miller, but I can absolutely recognize the thoughts and emotions in this post. I don't think I'd be able to express them as eloquently. These thoughts never really go away, either. I find it difficult to have these types of discussions with people...most friends and family generally haven't had these experiences or reflected on mortality, and I'm not even sure what I think about it.

Freddie Mercury's last recordings express these thoughts on dying, acceptance, and joy in life despite the reality of dying, particularly Innuendo. Songs like The Show Must Go On and Ride the Wild Wind.....I would listen to this album on repeat walking through the snowy streets of Ann Arbor.

Shit, now I'm crying.

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posted by Existential Dread at 7:39 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


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posted by azar at 7:47 PM on May 4, 2011


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posted by acoutu at 8:19 PM on May 4, 2011


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posted by bananafish at 9:06 PM on May 4, 2011


It doesn't matter whether you're an atheist or not.

LIVE YOUR LIFE WELL!

I feel more and more that I will know when it is my time. I feel that it is not death that I am afraid of. It's the leaving that will be painful. I love being here. My partner passed May 16th of last year. We were together for 5 months as the week after we first made love she found out her cancer spread.

She lived a very full life. That I was in her life in the way I was still leaves me speechless. I asked her once what she did as a realtor. She told me outright, "I take away people's fear"
She took away mine as she left. I am not as afraid.

She visits me in dreams. I cry now as I write. Not many want to hear that. I think more people are afraid of living than they are of dying.

R.I.P.
posted by goalyeehah at 9:18 PM on May 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


yet, from my position of enthusiastic agnosticism, I must observe that both of these following statements are equally beyond my own (or anyone else's) grasp to prove or disprove:

posted by philip-random at 7:42 PM on May 4


True, but the first statementis a conclusion that is derived from all our current scientific evidence and knowledge about the way the world, living organisms and reality work. The second is a conclusion that is derived from existential fear and the wishful thinking it engenders.
posted by Decani at 10:20 PM on May 4, 2011


Wow. Very intense.

Can someone explain the "." comments to this MeFi newbie? Thank you.
posted by pupstocks at 11:35 PM on May 4, 2011


True, but ...

the first statement is a conclusion that is confined by our current scientific evidence and knowledge about the way the world, living organisms and reality work. The second is a conclusion that isn't

posted by philip-random at 1:20 AM on May 5, 2011


What Scody said:

I've written about this before, but there is this weird cultural assumption built into the whole "cancer patient" discourse that we're somehow in a battle with mortality that the rest of the non-cancer people out there are separate from. We're not. We just have a more finely tuned sense of what could kill us.

I've been trying to describe this for years. Sometimes I think it would be nice NOT to have this awareness, but I believe that my particular battles have helped me to truly live my life.

Wishing you all strength on the journey, with thanks for your words along the way.
posted by theplotchickens at 4:27 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:46 AM on May 5, 2011


Pupstocks (and for the benefit of other newcomers), the singular "." in a comment is a representation of a moment of silence.

Welcome to MeFi. For future reference, the MeFi wiki can be very helpful for questions like this.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:21 AM on May 5, 2011


Here I am at work, crying, and all I want to do is go home and hug my husband and tell him I love him.

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posted by cereselle at 7:47 AM on May 5, 2011


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screw you, colorectal cancer
posted by jtron at 8:20 AM on May 5, 2011


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posted by kristin at 8:20 AM on May 5, 2011


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posted by jcreigh at 9:18 AM on May 5, 2011


He truly appreciated what he had.

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posted by fiercecupcake at 11:16 AM on May 5, 2011


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posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 12:51 PM on May 5, 2011


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posted by angrybeaver at 10:32 PM on May 5, 2011


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I had the pleasure of meeting Derek on a couple of occasions and I found him to be an entertaining, smart guy with an incredibly sharp mind. Reading his blog over the past couple of years was at times heart breaking, but his mental energy when his body was lagging continued to fill me with admiration and respect.

I read his final post last night and afterwards I sat there for the rest of the night in tears, I haven't done that for a long long time.

My heart goes out to Airdrie and their kids who have lost a fantastic loving father, husband and friend.

Sad that my first mefi comment is in regards to his passing.
posted by teclo at 6:40 AM on May 6, 2011


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