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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Velveteen Rabbits

This header for this blog post was inspired by Thai's widow, Katherine (by the way, that was also my mother's name), who in an e-mail to me said this:

"I want you to know that you had actually, like the velveteen rabbit in the children's story, become real to me."

This was in response to my e-mail to her where I reminded her that she referred to me as Thai's "imaginary friend." We are all now becoming real to her, just like the beloved rabbit in the story. And just like the rabbit in the story, The Velveteen Rabbit, we are all shedding a tear for Thai now.

Meeting Thai

It was the fall of 2008; I was working out of an office in Somerset, Pennsylvania. It was a great time for me. I was staying in this tiny little town called Mill Run. It was just four miles from a famous Frank Lloyd Wright home called Fallingwater. This project allowed me to explore a large part of the country that I had never been to before.

Anyway, Thai had suggested that we meet for lunch. I didn't want to waste an opportunity so I left in the morning and drove to Hagerstown, Maryland, to meet him at a little hole in the wall (and I do mean hole in the wall) deli. The entrance was down an alleyway and wasn't much to look at inside or out. But Thai had assured me that it came highly recommended by his peers at work.

I showed up about 10:45, and expected to wait the 15 minutes until the agreed upon meeting time of 11:00. Well, 11:00 comes and goes; no Thai. I think Thai calls me around 11:15 and says he just arrived. But he doesn't know where the deli is at. (Wait, you mean you suggest a place and you don't even know where it's at...?) He tells me he is out on the main road, and I walk down the alleyway to the sidewalk. I should interject here that I have some PTSD due to an angry driver trying to run me over with a car. While walking down the alley, someone in a car drove up behind me. In the alley, there was nowhere to run. So I had to face my fear and step to the side as far as possible. I get through it. Heart pounding and panting with fear, but I get through it.

So Thai tells me what he is wearing (and I am looking all over the place as I am in a strange place and not feeling completely safe) and I finally spot him waving at me. I can't remember the explanation exactly as to why he is late. I think it had something to do with his kid being sick, or getting up late, or something.

But anyway, we finally sit down to eat lunch. He isn't scheduled to go to work until 2:00 or something. We talk for 2 full hours about a whole number of subjects. Everything from the debt issues, to my work, to medical issues and everything in between. We part, having talked fully about all of the issues that interested us both. We were going to meet again in Cumberland, where Thai had another hospital he worked at, but by the time Thai got around to working over there, I had already been sent home. You know, I never did get to take that train ride in Cumberland like I had planned.

A Friendship Develops

After that, Thai and I started exchanging e-mails and phone calls regularly. Besides discussing the political and financial issues of the day, we exchange information on a professional level. I would ask him medical questions (often about my own health issues). And he explained medical concepts in a way that would be understood to a ordinary person (like me).

The phone calls became so frequent, that on the day that RKohn announced Thai's death in the comments over at Sudden Debt, I was just about to call Thai and tell him the good news that I had lost 20 pounds in the last 5 weeks. I had also noticed that he had not been posting here at Street Rat (I had just assumed he was busy with work.) I was also going to ask him to explain some other medical issues that another friend's dad had suffered from.

Anyway, I had asked him how to lose weight. "Calories, calories, calories" was his answer. So I have cut my caloric intake to 1000 calories per day and have been walking at least two miles per day in the summer sun (with a sauna suit on). And usually another two miles in the evening (without the sauna suit). But, being next to the lake here, it is hot and muggy in the evening. Just right to cause a lot of sweating. It seems to be working, at least so far. But I still have a long way to go.

The Kübler-Ross Model (the five stages of grief)

I suspect we are all experiencing some -- or all -- stages of the Kübler-Ross stages of grief right now. I know I am.

1. Denial – My initial shock of "No, it can't be true!" This passed quickly as reality set in.

2. Anger – For me, this manifested itself in the form of "How could you deprive me of another (expected) 30 years of intellectual challenges and stimulation?"

3. Bargaining – I didn't really suffer from this stage (yet). As I realize that I am helpless to change anything now.

4. Depression – This is the stage I am most likely in. I already miss Thai and want that expected time back (bargaining?). But I realize there is nothing that I can do but go on. But who will I find that can challenge me like Thai did? An intellectual equal isn't as easy for me as you might think. And in Thai's fractal world, he always had to be the blog hog and make the Pareto half of all of the comments (do the math, if you don't understand, ask about it in the comments and I'll explain).

The Pareto Principle is related to fractals. I think it was one of the subjects that got us talking to begin with.

5. Acceptance – I am sure I will reach this stage eventually. It is just so hard to see it from here.

Thai's death, coming when it did, reminded me of my mother's passing near Memorial Day.

A Song That Keeps Going Through My Head

I think that this song expresses our sentiments pretty well.

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do once you find them

Jim Croce: Time in a Bottle

And, a happier song that seems to explain Thai's understanding of fractals:

He was in search of an answer
The nature of what we are
He was trying to do it a new way
He was bright as a star
But nobody understood him
"His numbers are not the way"
He's lost in the deepest enigma
Which no one's unraveled today

But he knew, he knew more than me or you
No one could see his view, Oh where was he going to
And he tried, but before he could tell us he died
When he left us the people cried,
Oh where was he going to?

He had a different idea
A glimpse of the master plan
He could see into the future
A true visionary man
But there's something he never told us
It died when he went away
If only he could have been with us
No telling what he might say

But he knew, he knew more than me or you
No one could see his view
Oh, where was he going to
But he knew, you could tell by the picture he drew
It was totally something new,
Oh where was he going to?

Kansas: Portrait (He Knew)

Goodbye, my friend. I hope that someday all of our questions will get answered. You certainly left us too soon. You will be missed.

In some spiritual way, I hope that we can meet again and finish exploring all those ideas that you have left asked and unanswered.


Dr John said...

Okie, that was a wonderful post and it helped me get to know a man a little bit better who I only got to know a short time on these blogs. Thai was so obviously filled with concern for his fellow human beings and despite being a realist seemed to be able to remain an optimist.He helped me struggle with this. I could see how this quality could endear him to so many with such diverse views.I feel deprived that I did not have more time with him nor was ever able to make him a wood fired pizza or share a beer with him or just more talk on these blogs. I will continue to explore the ideas he opened my eyes to on fractals, Bose-Einstein condensats and economics. He had such a gentle way of geting his ideas across. Correcting what he saw as errors but never being condescending and always respectful of the debate.

As to Kubler-Ross. Please understand those stages are really mythology written about people who are dying, not those left to deal with the aftermath. They have no grounding in actual clinical science. Like much in psychiatry/psychology they are speculative metaphysics. They were written and filled a perceived gap in knowledge so they were embraced not just in the world of psychology but in western culture.Having worked with lots of dying people and those grieving some feel many of those things but I never see people going through any stages per say as K-R describes. I see clinicians try to force this in a mistaken attempt believing it will help people. All those feelings swim around in a vortex pulling you in at different times perhaps. You may get them all or just one when you are dying or lose someone.Maybe you get some other feeling like the abject terror of being left alone to raise two children as Thai's dear wife must be feeling. I cannot imagine what people like you and Dink who were close to Thai must feel but for deep sadness and loss. Maybe that lessens with time but for those we care about it always comes flooding back.I see this day after day. There is no "acceptance". There is just dulling of the pain. I don't see how there is much room for anything but shock and sadness at being deprived of such a person. I am sorry for all those who have lost such a dear friend. Thank you again for this post.

In the words of Thai, "Be well".

Debra said...

Okie, that is a lovely tribute. Very lovely.
Edwardo has written a tribute to Thai, on his blog too, Disaster Porn. Thai knew this blog. He visited it too.
I kind of knew that you were very close to Thai, as it appeared from time to time, "en pointillé" as we say here, in connect the dot fashion, on Street Rat.
I sent Thai a message by Mail when I finally got settled on Toby's blog, telling him... how fond I was of him, as he was of me. And how things were working out better for me on Toby's blog.
I agree with Doctor John about Kübler Ross.
Having studied to be a shrink, I noticed a short while ago that one of the major pitfalls of such training is its capacity to induce... the expectation of standard reactions in oneself.
That is reductionist, Okie, and you are too nice, too kind to reduce yourself and your feelings to four or five steps that everybody is supposed to go through.
I wrote to Edwardo that... as I get older, death becomes more and more of an injustice.
And... I am not used to it at all.
If anything, it just gets harder to bear each time around, you know.
The more people are special, like Thai, the harder their death is for us to bear.
We are all irreplaceable. Some of us... have lived lives that make us more irreplaceable than others.
Thai was once such person.

OkieLawyer said...

@ Dr. John:

Doing my best DeForest Kelley imitation: Damn it John, I'm a lawyer, not a doctor....

Kubler-Ross may be "mythology" for "real" doctors, but there is much in medicine we do not know, and much of medical science is really art, not science. I knew before I wrote it that the Kubler-Ross model was disputed. But, no matter. It expresses feelings; and death brings out more of them than almost any other human experience. Sometimes I feel that doctors are too scientific -- too rigid in their thinking to consider "unscientific" explanations for health problems. I know, you will say it is my profession's fault for creating that environment -- and to a great extent, you would be right.

By the way, Thai left behind 4 sons, not 2.

@ Debra:

I wasn't really trying to be "reductionist" about my grief. But the Kubler-Ross model was as good as anything in putting into some context that could be explained systematically. Grief has a kind of je ne sais quoi effect on us. (See? I can use French, too, when I want.)

And I noticed that this event has reduced you to using NO CAPS.

And could you give me a link to Edwardo's site? I am not brave enough to put those search terms into Google.

Dink said...

Heartwarming, Okie! He enjoyed your company immensely.

Also a nice comment by Dr. John. Thai did find a way to be a nihilist and an optimist concurrently :) He would love to know that a mind as bright as yours was intrigued by the fractal vision and would continue to explore it.

Here are Edwardo's wonderful words and Deb's wonderful words.

I haven't gathered my own tribute yet, but it is coalescing as I go through the archives here in SRCS. I wonder how far back we were also talking on Sudden Debt. I hope a long time so we have a bountiful amount of "Thai-ness" to sustain us.

Also, if you see this Kathy, I also left a comment on the previous post that I hope you get a chance to see.

RKohn said...

I thought that you would like to know that The Thai McGreivy, M.D. Memorial Fund has been established in Thai’s honor to fund educational scholarships for excellence and intellectual curiosity in science, mathematics and economics.

Details on how to contribute Follow

By check:

Make checks payable to the “Thai McGreivy, M.D. Memorial Fund/CFNCR”

And mail them to:

The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region

Attn: Kenny Emson
1201 15th Street NW, Suite 420
Washington, DC 20005

To contribute online click here and designate the “Thai McGreivy, M.D. Memorial Fund” as the fund to which you are contributing (you will need to write the name of the fund in the third box).

(If the hyperlink above doesn’t work, visit the community foundation’s website at , click on the “Donate Now” button in the far right hand column, and then
designate the “Thai McGreivy, M.D. Memorial Fund” as the fund to which you are contributing.)

All the best,

Dr John said...

Yes Okie you are right. Much of medicine is art. That is the problem with K-R. In theory it may offer us some way to look at the world. As Deb alludes to misguided doctors or therapists look on it not as "art" but "science" where none exists. Folks are taught those stages as steps to be worked through. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I once did a hospital consult on a woman who was very, very reluctant to speak with me. When she told me the story of how a psychologist attempted to "help" her 9y/o son who was dying of cancer work through his "stages" and accept his death, I stood and listened in abject horror. This is the kind of distortion I see of myth in medicine. Feelings are feelings. We need not make attempts at packaging or systematizing them unless you feel that helps. Sometimes yes and sometimes no but you are right in that it is certainly not science.

I did not know Thai had 4 children. I am so sorry all are now without their father.

I would not blame anyone for things being in this state. It would not be in Thai's spirit. We are all part of the collective. We all share the blame.

kat said...

Thank you for that wonderful post. The Velveteen rabbit analogy grabbed me too as soon as I thought of it.

You'll find this amusing--apparently Thai's partners used to take bets at meetings on how late Thai would be. Many times I would come upon him frantically putting the finishing touches on a post and then racing off to work or a meeting while I thought,"He's never going to make it."

The songs you found are perfect. I love "Time in a Bottle" and it's also by someone incredibly talented who died way too young. I am planning on using it in the memorial service. The other song captures Thai's mind so well it's almost scary.

Dink--I did see your previous post about putting together some sort of a memorial blog. I certainly would welcome you doing anything like that. I have received some great tributes to Thai by e-mail and I, with the author's permission, could post those as well.

Lastly, I would like to put links to this blog and the other tributes to Thai to let his friends know about them. However, at the same time, I feel like you have an intimate little community here and might not want a lot of unknown traffic. I have no idea what netiquette is in this area, so would it be OK to post links to Thai's various online tributes?



kat said...

What's Edwardo's blog? I can't seem to get a link to it.

Thanks, Katherine

Dink said...

"I would like to put links to this blog and the other tributes to Thai to let his friends know about them."


My very first instinct is "Yes! Absolutely!". And then I thought of the times we squabbled like feral animals or made fools of ourselves in other ways....

I have this sense of a Thai on one shoulder saying "Of course I want all my other friends to share in my writings and ideas!" and another Thai on the other shoulder saying "Don't you dare!" ;)

Well, really this blog is accessible to anyone with internet access so privacy seems like a weird thing for any of us to be concerned about. Are you okay with it Dr John? From what you've written in Skeptic and the Carlat blog you don't seem shy. But feel free to decline.

Otherwise I will give Katherine the go ahead to link up (I'm positive Sudden Debt wouldn't mind).

Katherine, I do advise you take random peaks through the posts and comments to make sure you'd like to share. We could be smart and lofty one minute and snarky bastards the next. But then there's something refreshingly honest about exposing everything, warts and all ;)

Debra said...

You know, I AM going to use those caps to say something that I think is really important.
When Doctor John jumped on board here, Thai gave him a hearty welcome, saying that he had just entered a place where... there were no rules...
I SWEAR that Thai said this, and he may have said it "under my influence", maybe not.
But.. THIS PLACE was a truly democratic one where EVERYBODY could contribute (well, except Yoyo... sorry, Dink...), and that is what made it so special.
That spontaneous quality that came from us individually being so different, and nonetheless, cooperating. Tolerating each other's very different natures, as individuals, and the different places we were at.
I think that Thai was big on that, and that it was very important to him.
I am NOT saying this to rub salt in any wound, because I have no hard feelings FOR ME about what happened here.
The blog was/is ALWAYS more... than the sum of its parts, you know ?
I had a hard time getting Thai to see this, and I don't know if at the end he did, but he probably sensed it.
I hope that that feeling will continue on this blog, with our without my presence, moreover...
I have no problem with people reading my stuff. I am an ad woman, as you know... ;-)
And me being what I am, I can't resist this...
The interconnectedness that is between us, the sharing over Thai's death, the MULTIPLICATION of the words, the LINKS over Thai's person is... what I understand as the economy of benediction.
Because Thai was what he was.. and did so much good for others, that good is now being multiplied a thousandfold..
It is perhaps our only consolation..
But... it is a GREAT consolation to me.

Dr John said...

Dink, Kat and all, I certainly would welcome all to explore the posts on this blog. I feel very blessed to have been invited and learned so much from Thai in such a short time. I would welcome others have that chance as well.


Dink said...

Glad to hear, John and Deb! We'll open up the doors to the saloon.

Here is a link to a site dedicated to remembering Thai . I going to post my same salute here. Would it be okay to post Velveteen Rabbit (Okie) and Disaster Porn's salute (Edwardo)? Would you like the salute on Econosophy, Deb? I'm going to ask Hell as well.

OkieLawyer said...

I don't mind if you mirror my post at the dedicated Thai site.

Debra said...

Go ahead and pick up my post at Econosophy, Dink.
I am no good at fiddling with the Internet, I would rather you do it.
Can you ?
Let me know if I have to do it...

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