Grief

Feeling at MIT
APR 2019
Alyssa
R.
Physics

My dead dad emailed me today.

I was sitting in a shared office along with a postdoc when I saw my dad’s name pop into my inbox. My breath caught in my throat. Is this a message from beyond? A beat passed. I clicked.

I was sure the note was written by my dad.

Alyssa,

You have written this almost entirely from the perspective of why you’re applying and what you are hoping to get out of it instead of also reinforcing relevant …

My breathing resumed as I recognized the message as one from three years ago. I had asked my dad for advice on an internship application, hoping to get my first summer experience outside of academia. It’s a mystery to me why and how the message decided to re-send then, but it was a powerful reminder of loss.

Love,
Dad

My dad was the only person in my extended family who could conceive of physics graduate school and why I might want to pursue such a thing. A reminder of his two-year absence on top of my stressful course load sent me reeling. With memories flooding my mind and eyes, I scurried out of my office and toward the bathroom.

Sitting on the toilet with wads of toilet paper on my eyes, I smiled about how, if my dad were still here, he would get to tell his favorite dad-joke about the absurdity of quantum mechanics when strangers asked him what I did.

You see, quantum entanglement is like having a really, really long dog. The dog has its head in New York and its tail in San Francisco. If you pull the dog’s tail, it will bark. This is exactly like quantum entanglement—except there’s no dog!

The whole point is that it doesn’t make any sense. Quantum mechanics doesn’t make sense, and the dog doesn’t make sense. Losing someone you love doesn’t make sense either.

I envisioned how proud my dad would have been to see me graduate from college on Father’s Day 2017, to watch as I fearlessly changed career paths, and to join me and my mom on the first long trip to Massachusetts. I imagined how he would have said all the right things when I called home for encouragement.

As my tears eventually subsided and the rush of emotions settled into a numb melancholy, I sighed. It’s hard for me to pursue things in life when I can’t share the excitement with my biggest cheerleader, but reminiscing on my dad’s past love and happiness is palliative. Letting myself be sad and cry reminds me that no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I’m still human. I still need to take care of my emotions.

MIT can be a stoic place. The small nudge of my dad’s email — like he was thinking about me, wherever he is — broke the façade I built to fit that mold when I first arrived. From now on, when I’m missing my dad, even just a bit, I’ll cry, think of the good times, make a dad-joke, and feel a little better.

Everything is exactly the same — except there’s no dad.


August 1995 – The author and her father