Our cat Thena died suddenly on Tuesday afternoon. No reason, no warning, no time to prepare or to say goodbye... it was totally unexpected. I'm away from home right now at a conference (ACM SIGGRAPH). I would much rather have been home when this happened, but circumstances didn't allow me that choice.
This would have been difficult to deal with under any circumstances. However, there's another wrinkle. I managed to get a paper accepted to SIGGRAPH this year. That paper is the result of five and a half years of long, hard work, and its acceptance isn't just a feather in my cap, it's the whole peacock. I heard about Thena on Tuesday. My presentation was late Wednesday afternoon. This is not a lot of time when one has to go from completely heartbroken to composed and professional including a fair amount of last-minute rehearsal and testing of software and equipment.
I decided that while going on and giving my presentation was necessary, giving it as if nothing at all had changed in my life was not. I changed the last slide, right after the acknowledgements of the funding agencies and the people (faculty and friends) who supported me while I was working on my thesis.
The presentation itself went fairly well. We had minor problems with powerpoint. It decided to auto-advance the slides using an old set of timings, and while I was able to keep up with it and work around it for half the talk, there cam a point where I simply had to stop and ask the A/V technician to go in and disable that. Luckily, he was something of a wizard: he accomplished it and had me running again inside of 10 seconds. I made it through the presentation with no other significant problems. Then, right at the end when I got to the last slide, it was all I could do to thank the audience for their attention and ask for questions. In the long moment of silence between my conclusion and the beginning of the applause I heard a combination of quiet murmuring and a collective "Awwwwwww."
I waffled for an hour or two over whether I should include the slide at all. It might not be appropriate for a technical presentation. It has no bearing on the research. Then it occurred to me that conferences like this are more about getting the researchers together than they are about disseminating results, and while the talks are about those results, the people giving them are very much human. My audience was going to be composed of people who were in most cases my colleagues, and some of those colleagues are also my comrades. In that light, it felt entirely appropriate to leave the slide in.
I'm grateful to tyee and OJ for spending a couple evenings with me this week. I know I could have managed on my own, somehow, but I am very glad I didn't have to.
Today is the last day of the conference. I go home tomorrow afternoon. I don't have to travel again until late August, and that trip is to see friends. I sure do need the downtime.
I will be sending more personal messages when I'm home, but for now: the support Cat and I have received these past few days from friends both nearby and far away has been completely invaluable. It's going to be a while before this doesn't hurt anymore, but it's much easier to face knowing that there are so many people who are thinking of us and whom we can call upon at need.