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Rebecca’s Gift

Yesterday was the eleven-month anniversary of Rebecca’s death.  I’ve been trying not to focus on those monthly anniversaries, but this one stuck out for me.  Because in a month—thirty days, as I write this—it will be both the first anniversary of her death, and the day she would have turned seven.

I haven’t really written directly about the grieving process since late March, because it’s been in a stable pattern and nothing has really changed.  Kat and I still grapple on occasion with the question of whether this is a nightmare or a post-dream.  Are we having a nightmare that our daughter died, and we’ll finally wake up; or did we dream that we had a middle daughter, and have since woken up?  Of course neither is true.  She came to us, and grew, and died.  It’s just so hard to come to peace or acceptance or even just comprehension that the mind hunts for an escape hatch, some way of making some part of it not true.

Don’t take this as intimation that we spend every waking second in agony, paralyzed by grief and shock.  Those periods of irreality and escape-seeking are just that: periods of time.  Not all the time.  Most of each day, I function normally, and honestly don’t think about what happened.  There’s work to do, projects to start or complete, errands to run, books to read, kids to raise.  These things all take precedence in their own ways, and Kat and I are both committed to being as present as possible in our lives.  We don’t deny what happened, but we don’t fetishize it, either.  Life cannot stop because a life stopped.  It’s not how either of us could live, even for ourselves, and we have more than ourselves to consider.

Some days are more difficult than others, of course, but for whom is that not true?  We all get through life one day at a time.

One of the things that has really helped us as a family, and Kat and me as parents, has been to go on family vacations.  Some went better than others. A short trip we took to Amish Country in late July of 2014 was probably too soon.  Our annual August trip to New Jersey, coming as it did on the first anniversary of Rebecca falling ill, was both helpful and difficult; and maybe the difficulty was part of what made it helpful.  The trip we took to Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge just after Christmas was just about right, in terms of timing, and was definitely a huge boost to us emotionally.

These escapes from the normal routine of home and calendar, where we could just concentrate on being together and doing things together and not having any particular demands on us, were incredibly helpful to the healing process.  Friends told us after our trips that we seemed more relaxed, less haunted.  The time we spent together helped us figure out how to be a new family, without all the distractions and chores of everyday life.

The other thing that Kat and I in particular appreciated about our trips is how we could make Carolyn and Joshua the center of the experience.  When Rebecca was being treated, and then when she was dying, we did what we could to make Carolyn and Joshua feel not marginalized, but there was no way to avoid it.  Mommy and Daddy went on a two-month trip to Philadelphia with Rebecca, not them.  We went with her to the hospital, not them.  We worried about her temperature and bruising level and energy, not theirs.  People made banners and posters and cards and healing stars for Rebecca, not them.  Friends and family came to see us because of Rebecca’s cancer, not because of them.  Make-A-Wish granted Rebecca’s wish, not theirs.  People came to pay respects to the memory of Rebecca’s life, not the ongoing reality of their lives.

How could they not feel marginalized?

Kat and I worried about this all the way through, guided to some degree by the insights I had from my own childhood, and tried to counter it as best we could.  Kat went on theater dates with Carolyn, and lunch dates with Joshua.  I played games they liked, and took them to parties.  Regardless, they knew what weighed most on our minds, and we never tried to deceive them or tell them they were wrong.

But those trips, after Rebecca was dead, could be all about them.  They were central again.  We went to the Jersey shore, and did old favorite activities as well as tried new things.  We went to Disney and granted their wishes as best we could, getting them to special character events and letting them stay up to watch the fireworks.  We took them to the museums and shops and ski slopes in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, picking the things they wanted to try out.  We made them feel special again.

You can’t imagine how great a gift that is, both for them and for us, unless you’ve been through this yourself.

That’s a gift that Kat and our good friend Karla want to give to families who are going through this.

That’s why, a week ago today, they launched Rebecca’s Gift, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to providing healing family vacations after the death of a child.  Rebecca’s Gift is accepting donations in support of that mission, and has its first fundraiser scheduled for this November.

Their goal is to raise enough money to send two or three families on healing trips in the summer of 2016; that is, summer of next year.  At first, the scope of Rebecca’s Gift will be narrow by necessity: eligible families will be those who had a child die of cancer between six and 24 months before the trip is taken, and who have surviving children age 18 or younger.  Rebecca’s Gift will work with partner organizations to identify families who need this support.  They don’t plan to take on anything more ambitious than that to start, in order to make sure those first trips are everything they can be.

As for the future, we’ll see.  The hope is that this will one day be open to more than a few families per year, open to families whose child died from something other than cancer, and perhaps open to parents who have no other children.  If Rebecca’s Gift grows strong enough to do those things, then I feel confident they will.  Those are all questions for the future.  For now, they’re focused on making sure they can help families who need the same time away to reconnect, rebuild, and relax.  Even if it’s just for a few days.

If you can help, I know your support will be welcome.

Gradient List Bullets

CSS gradients are kind of fun.  I know, they’re a little clumsy at first, but I’ve found that with just a little practice, you can hand-author them without more than a brief refresher course on exactly how to structure the first part.  At least for me, as long as I can get the setup right, the color stops are a breeze.

As I’ve said in previous posts, gradients are images, just like a PNG or SVG or whatever.  That’s why you can write them directly into background properties and have them display.  The thing is, though, that you can use them anywhere a property accepts an image value.  Like, say, list-item-image and list-item.

Yes, that’s right: you can define gradient list bullets.  A test page I set up last week (and the screenshot shown nearby) demonstrates a few different possibilities, but there are so many more.

There are two major limitations I can see: one, you can’t layer multiple gradients together, the way you can with backgrounds.  You get one gradient image, and that’s it.  Two, this isn’t supported in Firefox, not even the nightly builds.  Every other desktop browser appears to support this, usually at least a couple of versions back, and a fair number of mobile browsers as well.  A bug has been filed by Boris—thanks, Boris!—so hopefully this limitation will fall away soon.

Fortunately, this is a textbook case of progressive enhancement.  You set the basic bullet style, then define something snazzier for browsers that can handle it (which is, again, most of them).  If your design somehow critically depends on the appearance of the list bullets, then you’ll need to use another approach.  Also, rethink your design.

A third limitation, one not nearly so momentous, is that the list bullets are kind of small as compared to the list items’ font size in most browsers, but a bit bigger in others (as Ana Tudor pointed out; thanks, Ana!).  So if you’re going to express yourself with list bullets, be bold and not too complex, and realize there will be some sizing differences across browsers.

A fourth limitation is performance.  If you make your gradients too complex, especially if they’re radial gradients, you may degrade the user experience, particularly on mobile.  As always, use your new-found power responsibly.  Thank you.

Six Months, Ten Seconds

Six months ago today, our child died in our arms.

I still have trouble believing this.  Kat and I both still have trouble.  But only on occasion, these days, and not for long.  As someone once said, when it comes to the death of a loved one, you don’t get over it, but you do, eventually, if you allow yourself, get used to it.  We’re slowly getting used to it.

Half a year.  It seems like it’s been forever, as if uncountable years have passed since Rebecca died, and yet there are still so many traces and impressions of her that sometimes it seems as if she was only just here.  We struggle, sometimes, to decide what to preserve and what to let go.  We had to force ourselves to put the few boxes of mementoes we’ve kept into storage this past week.  It felt like we were consigning Rebecca to the attic, which doesn’t seem like much when you think about it, but it was in some ways as difficult as consigning her remains to the earth.  For that matter, we were recently making some changes to the family picture wall, and for each picture of Rebecca, we had to ask if it should stay up or come down.  None of those choices were easy, even after half a year.

Of course, half a year is less time than elapsed between her diagnosis and her death.  I remember so much, and so little, of those months.  But this is unremarkable, given that we remember so little of our regular lives.  (Think about yesterday, or of last Friday.  How much of the day do you actually remember?  How many of those several thousand minutes can you no longer recall with clarity?  Now, what else have you forgotten?)

We have thousands upon thousands of images of Rebecca; just in my iPhoto library alone, there are 10,188 photos tagged with her name, 1,624 of which I flagged or rated five stars (or both), 785 of which are on Flickr.  Kat has thousands more, as do so many of our friends and relatives.  Those pictures can take us back, clarify our memories, or remind us of some aspect of her personality.  Myriad facets of a life so short, and yet so fully lived.

Videos are far more rare—the Flickr album has just three—mostly because I greatly dislike shooting video.  In the end, it didn’t matter.  Our friend Jessica captured a video that is the quintessential Rebecca, a near-perfect distillation of Rebecca’s personality in just under ten seconds—all her sass ‘n’ spice, and all her sweetness too.


(Full transcript available at flickr.com.)

Rebecca Alison Meyer, ladies and gentlemen.  How I wish you could have known her as we did.

I laugh every time I watch that video.  Every time.

Divergence

Being here, in the same vacation spot we were last year when Rebecca fell ill, wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be… until last Friday, August 15th, the first anniversary of her seizures and life flight to CHOP.

That night, the next day, and the days since were much more difficult for me, as we moved through the anniversaries of her first and second surgeries.  Today is the anniversary of the third, when they implanted the drainage tube that probably kept her functional and complete until the last few days of her life.

These days have been so difficult because I’ve been experiencing what I’ve come to refer to as “divergence stress”.  I feel as though last year’s August and this year’s are running in parallel, branching from this past Friday.  I am here, sitting in our rental, looking at the beach and the ocean waves, and feel as though another of me is up in Philadelphia, gaunt and teary-eyed in a dim intensive care ward and hoping against hope that our daughter will survive, while I sit in sunshine and luxury, wondering why I am not with my little girl who so desperately needs me right now, who I so desperately want to hold and talk with again.

Or worse, that another me isn’t up in Philadelphia, but Rebecca still is, lying unconscious and alone in the intensive care unit.  As though the loop has restarted, but I have stepped out of it, abandoning my baby to her cancer.

I know this isn’t the truth.  She is not there.  We are not there.  We are here, now, and she is not.

But someone else, right now, as you read this, is there.  Another family is assembling around a PICU bed, surrounding their child and hoping against hope and sick, choking fear that their beloved will survive.  Maybe they will.  Many do.

That family, and all the families still to come, need research to give their children a better chance to live.  Many of them will need a place to stay while their child endures weeks or months of surgeries and treatments, just as we did.

To that end, our friends Nancy Massey and Kimberly Blessing have launched a fundraiser with two aims.  The first is to support research into pediatric brain cancer.  The second is to sponsor a room at the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House for a year.  The $10,000 fundraising goal will allow both.  Going beyond that goal will make it possible to support even more research.

It’s not much to make sure those other families have a welcoming place to stay and a better chance at continued life than we did.  If you can, please make a contribution.

Depression

I’m sad about Robin Williams.  I was also a little bit angry with him.  In much the same way, I was sad about and angry with Chloe Weil when news of her suicide reached me.

Yes.  Angry.  It took some time and help from a friend to work out why: because Kat and I just spent most of a year doing everything in our power to save our daughter’s life, and now here was someone just throwing that away.

Here’s the thing: they did not throw their lives away.  Both of them were suffering from a disease: depression.  That disease made them feel unloved and worthless despite any and all evidence to the contrary.  And they each eventually, despite years of trying to treat and deal with it, died from that disease.

I know this because I have a milder form of that same disease, one that rises and falls in slow, multi-year-long cycles.  I have spent time on SSRIs.  There are times I have gone to counseling.  I have contemplated ending my own life, though only abstractly, never in a detailed or direct manner.  I’ve never in my adult life had suicidal ideation and a plan.  Robin and Chloe did.  They had a disease much, much stronger than I do.

But that’s where my anger really came from: my own depression.  The same lying impulses that sometimes, not often, but sometimes make me feel worthless and unlovable also pushed me to be angry at these people who had the same disease, and died of it.  It lied to me that they had failed.  And for a little while, I believed that lie.

That reaction made as much sense as being angry at Rebecca for having cancer, as thinking that she failed to fight hard enough to live.  It was not their fault.  I know this first-hand… and yet, I believed the lie.

This is another sign that I have it much milder than they did: I could eventually, with some self-inspection backed by decades of experience, recognize the lie for what it was, and dispose of it.  Not everyone has that ability, no matter how much self-inspection and experience they may have.  Not because they are weak or foolish, but because they literally cannot do it, any more than a cancer patient can verbally order the tumors to leave them alone.

I have been lucky.  The disease is mild enough in me that I am still here, and have only sometimes needed pharmacological and psychological help.  That is not because I am strong.  That is because my disease is not strong.  I have still needed and obtained that help, and I feel no shame for that.  If you need help, please get help.  There is no shame in it, no matter what the disease tells you.  If it tells you that seeking help is failure, it is lying.  If it tells you that being sad is weakness, it is lying.  If it tells you that death is preferable to life, it is lying.

It is not shameful to feel depressed.  It is not weak to feel like you want to give up.  It is not failure to ask for help.  There are resources in almost every city of every advanced country—not enough, to be sure, but they are there.  Please use them, especially if you already have a plan to end the pain.  In America, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at (800) 273-8255, or (800) 273-TALK.  You will be connected with a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, any hour of the day or night.

If you know of a similar resource in another country, or other resources in America, please leave a comment with the details.  It could help someone right when they need it most.


Update 11 Aug 14: here’s a list of suicide prevention services throughout the world from the International Association for Suicide Prevention.  If you know of one not on the list, the comments are still open (and you should also let the IASP know!).  And information about depression treatment services, not just suicide prevention, is also welcome.

Eulogy

Below is the eulogy I delivered at Rebecca’s funeral, as I wrote it.  I hope that what I actually said matches the text.  The same deep shock that let me speak also prevented me from retaining any clear memory of what I said, and I’m not ready to watch the archived recording of the service to find out.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready.  I hope I will—to see Carolyn’s tribute to her sister, if nothing else.


Rebecca was fierce.  She beat adults in staring contests when she was two weeks old.  Rebecca was joyful.  Her laugh could fill a room and bring a smile to anyone who heard it.  Rebecca was stubborn.  She would often refuse to give in, even when it cost her something she wanted.  Rebecca was kind, and loving, and mischievous, and oh so very ticklish.

She vibrated with energy.  Her philosophy was essentially: never walk when you can skip, never skip when you can run, never run when you can dance, and never dance when you can hide yourself around the next corner and then laughingly yell “BOO!” when everyone else finally catches up with you.

She loved to steal our phones and wallets and keys from our pockets, not to hide them away or do anything mean or malicious, but to wave them in front of us and laugh her way through an affectionate, singsong tease.  If there’s a world beyond this one, I hope whoever’s in charge has secured all the valuables.  Not to prevent her from swiping them, which would be an impossible goal, but because she would be disappointed and bored if they were too easy to swipe.

Rebecca is not an angel, nor would she wish to be.  If anything, Rebecca is now a poltergeist.  On her sixth birthday, we had planned to go to Cedar Point that day and the next.  Instead, that was the day she died… and on that day, a water main break closed Cedar Point for the entire weekend, because if she couldn’t go, then nobody gets to go.  And in brief conversation this morning, I was literally about to say the words “lose electricity” when the power went out in our house.

The little stinker.

One of the hardest things for us in the last few weeks of her life was seeing how the tumor slowly and inexorably took all that sass and spice away from her.  The loss of energy and emotion was horrible.  We had fought so long and hard to keep her quality of life normal, and we had succeeded.  It was only at the very end, just the last few days, that she moved beyond our ability to preserve it.

Underneath it all, she was still Rebecca.  She got mad at her sister and brother because they would get to stay us and she wouldn’t, and then she forgave them because she understood it wasn’t their fault and she loved them so much.  She gave us disdainful looks when she thought our attempts to tease her were lame.  She asked, wordlessly but clearly, to hear her favorite stories.  She told us she didn’t love us because she wanted to push us away, to lessen our pain.  But when we explained to her that the joy of loving her was worth any pain, and that we could never stop loving her regardless, she relented and admitted the truth that we had never doubted.  The last words and gestures that passed between us were of love.

In her last hours, she was surrounded by love, her room filled with people who loved her as she loved them, never leaving her alone for a second.  We held and snuggled her all the way to the end, all of us together.  And the people in that room were surrounded by the love of those who loved them, and they by those who loved them.  All of that love focused on Rebecca.  She deserved it.  But then, so does every child.

Now she is gone, and we who remain are devastated.  It is only together that we will move forward.  Community has sustained us the past months, and made it possible for us to do everything we could for Rebecca and Carolyn and Joshua.  Community will help us get through this.  Our hearts have been broken into uncountable pieces, but we will help pick up those pieces together.  I am beyond heartbroken that she is gone, but I will never, not for an instant, ever regret that she came into our home and our lives.

What matters in this life is not what we do but what we do for others, the legacy we leave and the imprint we make.  Her time may have been short, but her spark illuminated so much in that time, touched and warmed so many people, and for the rest of our days we will all be changed for the better.

In Memoriam

Rebecca Alison Meyer
Ahuva Raya bat Kayla
7 June 2008 – 7 June 2014

Rebecca Alison Meyer, adored daughter of Kathryn (née Fradkin) and Eric Meyer.  Beloved sister of Carolyn and Joshua.  Loving granddaughter of Arthur and Cathy Meyer, Steven and Sandy Fradkin, and the late Carol Meyer and Ada Fradkin.  Rebecca was a cherished niece, cousin, god-daughter, and friend.

Services will be held Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 3:00pm at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, located at 23737 Fairmount Boulevard, Beachwood, Ohio.  Interment will be at Mayfield Cemetery in Cleveland Heights.  The family will observe Shiva at their Cleveland Heights residence Thursday (following services) until 9:00pm; and then Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 3:00pm–7:00pm.  A brief minyan will be held Thursday night, and Saturday and Sunday at 2:30pm.

The family requests charitable donations be made in Rebecca’s name to the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House or the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.  They further request that those who attend the services and are comfortable wearing purple do so in honor of Rebecca and her favorite color.


If you have a mind to be there, please know that you are welcome—adults and children alike—to the service, interment, and Shiva.  Community has sustained us, and anyone who wishes to be there should be there.  Those traveling to attend should look to the Chagrin/I-271 area for lodging, which is very near Anshe Chesed and near to our home as well.  The service may be live-streamed—apparently that’s a thing our temple does these days—but I can’t be certain that the technology will cooperate.

I will update this post as necessary.

Unicoding Font Styles

Last night, Kris Straub of webcomic fame, most recently the excellent Broodhollow, did something that I’d always suspected might be possible, but hadn’t figured out where to go to make it happen.  He showed me the way, and so I (once again) bow to him in reverence.  I’ll illustrate what he did with the following image of a two-item list (more on why I used in image in just a moment).  The first item in the list uses markup and CSS.  The second does not.

A rendering of the test case, to which this image is a link.

The first list item, as I said, uses elements and CSS: em and strong, plus all the styles that apply to them.  The second item uses Unicode symbols from the Mathematical Alphanumeric Symbols range of Unicode, U+1D400 through U+D7FF.  (See also a PDF from the Unicode Consortium, if you’re into that kind of thing.)

You can see the test file that was used to produce the image, and you definitely should see it if you’re thinking about using this technique.  It’s not as straightforward as might first appear.  For example, the reason I have an image with a link to a testcase is that some combination of WordPress, PHP, or MySQL refuses to allow me to put the raw Mathematical Alphanumeric Symbols into this post.  Every time I tried, everything from the first such symbol onward was just dropped completely when I saved a draft of the post.

The fun part is that any service that supports Unicode and doesn’t have those sort of glitches—say, Twitter or Facebook—can serve up those symbols in a tweet or a post, thus allowing you to add italics, boldfacing, fraktur, and other “faces” to your social networking.  At that point, it’s up to the user agent and OS to render the symbols, if they can.

And lots of them can, at least on the desktop.  My limited survey revealed that most Windows 7 and 8 browsers are fine, though not Chrome; Windows XP, on the other hand, saw broad failure.  OS X browsers, no problems; ditto various flavors of Linux.  On the other hand, iOS and Android mostly saw failures, but apparently some clients were okay, so the failures might be problems with individual clients and not the OS.  Nobody let me know how Opera Mini did.  If you’re inclined to report your results for the test file, feel free in the comments, though please check to see if your browser/OS combo has already been reported before you do (and if you got a different result that someone with the same combo, definitely report your result!).

The real problem likely comes in accessibility, as Chris Lilley pointed out: “Chance of screen reader understanding, near zero.”  Could someone test that theory and report the results in the comments?  I’d be very interested to know what happens.

I’m not recommending that people do this, to be clear.  The Unicode support issues alone are enough to discourage use, and if the accessibility problem holds, that’s an even stronger disincentive.  But who knows?  Maybe in a few years, both problems will have been resolved and social media clients will let us boldface, italicize, fraktur, and even double-stroke our little e-missions.

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