Loss of Continuity

February 23, 2006

I apologize for the following personal note in the midst of a Calculus blog.

Writing a book is a large commitment. You have to have a bigger reason than possible financial reward for writing. And I did. I looked at my beautiful, bright daughters and wanted them to have this book when they were ready to explore Calculus. Chris Adamson, friend and co-editor on several O’Reilly sites said something similar when I was wavering on writing it. He wanted to put it away for his children.

The number of things we have put away for our children.

Maggie Rose, my eldest, has already proofread the first chapter and given it her approval. She’s nine but I truly value her opinion. Elena Maxine loved the pictures. She loved that her dad could write books. There was so much that she loved and expressed. She was a beautiful, happy, loving child who died yesterday afternoon suddenly.

As Kim and I sat up last night crying and holding each other, I asked what the point was of continuing the book. She said “you need to dedicate it to her”.

I sobbed.

I’ve co-written nine books now and never dedicated one to my children. This was to have been the one. I suppose it will be.

I will need help writing this. I will need help for lots of things I suppose. Yesterday it didn’t feel real. Today it feels insurmountable.

It’s certainly a discontinuity. It’s odd because it oscilates between feeling like a vertical asymptote that I’ll never surmount and a removable discontinuity – she’ll wake up soon and be with us again. Of course it’s a jump discontinuity. Something dramatic happened yesterday and life is changed. I’m just not sure how yet.

I don’t know if this is common to mathematicians – but having a deep understanding of the infinite makes me profoundly afraid of death.

In any case, I hope you will forgive this personal intrusion. I have started a personal blog to work this through at Dear Elena.


44 Responses to “Loss of Continuity”

  1. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss.

  2. Tom Coleman Says:

    While I can only imagine the depth of grief and sorrow that the loss of one of my beloved daughters would bring me, I know that this life is but a breath, and that there is a loving God who cares passionately for each of us. We will meet again in an infinite eternity with an infinitely good and loving God. Seek Him and you will find Him. He will comfort you and strengthen you.


  3. Shaun Orpen Says:

    I’m shocked and sad to read this post. It makes me think how fleeting life is, and how precious. You will all be in my thoughts over the coming days.

  4. David and Vivian Singer Says:

    We are writing this through tears. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  5. web20newbie Says:

    Well, man, I don’t know you. I’m a 25 yo brazilian teacher who just discovered WordPress, and is writing about Web 2.0. I found your weblog, found the subject interesting, and started to read it. Then, the first post was exactly this one…

    It’s horrible to listen, when everything you need is to talk. But the truth is that I’m a man of faith, and my faith said to me I need to write to you now. However, I’ll not talk about faith. I’ll talk about Continuity. You must remember that, no matter how much it hurts, in some moment life must go on. Please do cry today, because crying is important – a special part of you has gone. But please stop crying soon, because if your life stops, then your tears will be unworthy.

    Please, please, keep going. My prayers will be with you and your beloved family during these days.

    Love and Peace.

    Fernando Aires, Brazil

  6. Phil Says:

    So sorry to read this. Take care of each other.

  7. […] love your children , love and courage >>> loss of continuity & dear elena […]

  8. Paddy Says:

    Gosh. I don’t know you, and I only first came to your blog a day or two ago when things were still bright for you. It changes so suddenly. This is so sad. I’m sorry for your loss, and will hold you in thoughts and prayers.


  9. Dan, Kim, Maggie,

    There are no words. You are knowing that most right now.

    I am taking your call to courage and commitment to my children and making it part of my daily mantra. I am glad to hear through your blog that you did that.

    I want you to drop me an email when you return to this book for any assistance that I may give. I am a software engineer who also hopes his children will be into Calculus some day.

    Blessings and peace,

    Peter Fitzgibbons

  10. Jane Says:

    You are dealing with every parent’s greatest fear, that they will lose a child. My heart goes out to you and your family.

    Years ago I read a story about Norman Vincent Peale, he was at a dinner party in England, the host was an elderly lord, in the midst of the dinner, suddenly asked Dr. Peale what he thought happened to you when you died.

    Dr. Peale thought about it for a moment and then said that when you are born into this world you are met by parents who have anxiously been awaiting your arrival and are happy to wrap you in their arms and love and cherish you when you arrive. Why should we fear we will meet with anything less when we die?

    Since no one living can say, with certainty, what will occur, I have always thought his response was a good one to blend into my belief system. Elena was loved and cherished here, why believe that she will meet with anything else on the other side? The Universe is infinite, and so is it’s compassion, even though it’s movements maybe inexplicable.

    May God stand between you and harm in all the empty places that you walk.

  11. Cyndi L Says:

    May the G-d of all comfort be comfort to all of you

  12. nancy Says:

    You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  13. Dear friend,

    My heart goes out to you.


  14. Charlie Evett Says:

    I stumbled on your site, following the trail from Kathy Sierra. I am so sorry to hear about what happened. What can I say to console you, to help you keep going, to write the book for my daughters? I can only make the most meager of promisses — if you write I will read.

    I can offer the most meager of consolation. If it doesn’t end it cannot begin. We are slaves to time, and if it did not pass nothing could be. I am so, so, sorry.

    God Bless you.

  15. savtadotty Says:

    I followed the trail from Udge to Dear Elena to here. As a grandma and a former Math major, I offer my condolences to you, your wife, Maggie, and to Elena’s grandparents. Grief has no limit. You are writing at least one book I hope to read.

  16. I am sorry to hear about your sudden loss. My prayers go out to you and your family at this time!

  17. Read your blog,
    Dear Elena and the comments people have put in. In India people say Pain becomes less when it is shared with others.

    “Dukh bantne se kam hota hai aur sukh Bantne se badtha hai”

    I recently got married in Dec and awaiting for your book on Head first calculus. It will be great to read it to my unborn kids.

    Sunil Choudhary

  18. RayGossen Says:

    Reading of your shocking loss was painful, even though I’d never even heard of you before today. I’m really sorry to hear of it.

    My four-year-old and I have recently been going through a bit of a battle of wills regarding her TV-watching rights/privileges, but after I read of your loss, I had to go and give her a big hug and a kiss. I think she thinks I’ve lost my mind, but I just love her so much. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  19. […] Kathy Sierra’s blog introduced Daniel Steinberg to me, who was supposed to visit Kathy (Love and Courage) , but his six year old daughter Elena died. Daniel wrote the first post Loss of continuity in his weblog (Extreme Teaching) about a book he had just started to write . He then set up a separate one, Dear Elena which starts with the second post, Unfinished Business. Follow the calendar to read from start to now, and don’t forget to trawl through the many comments – there’s excellent writing in there as well. What a way to celebrate a life gone by. Wow. One of the many things that resonated with me: Please don’t leave things unsaid that you need to say and consider not saying those things that don’t need saying. […]

  20. PeaceLove Says:

    I have no special wisdom or words of comfort, except to offer a sincere recommendation. I recently saw the movie, “Ram Dass: Fierce Grace” about the countercultural hero and spiritual teacher and his life experience following a major stroke. The most noteworthy scene in the movie, and the reason I recommend it, is one in which a couple sits at the kitchen table and quietly recounts the accident which claimed their young daughter’s life.

    Both the father and the mother describe their feelings afterwards, and the question they both had about whether they would ever be able to be happy again.

    Then the mother read out loud an extraordinary letter that Ram Dass had sent them. My own young son is gloriously healthy, but I wept as I listened to this letter. I can not begin to describe the content of the letter, but as I listened to her voice reading the letter I could feel their paralyzing pain, and I could see what they saw — the path so eloquently laid out, the invitation to suffering, and the tiny, flickering candle of hope.

    This letter set these people on the road to healing. It saved them. It’s the letter I would want to receive if I ever encountered such a dark hour. And it’s a letter I would recommend to anyone facing such incomprehensible, seemingly soul-destroying pain.

    I hope this suggestion can offer some help. In the Net community, your readers are your friends. Perhaps knowing we all grieve with you and pray for your healing will help you on your long, dark journey back into the light.

    PeaceLove, Jonathan

  21. Michael Chui Says:

    I came here via Kathy Sierra’s website; her line, “He cares about giving his learners a taste of “the soul of math.”” made me think, “Perhaps, here, is someone who could show people the beauty of mathematics.”

    I used to be good at math. By the time calculus rolled around, I didn’t have the fundamentals it built on down well enough, and my ability tripped and fell. I’ve always regretted my lack of dedication to the subject, because math is something I know is beautiful, but it’s a language I can’t quite speak in.

    Being a dabbler of studying myth, I found this, which may speak to the fear of infinity you have acquired:

    Asato ma sad gamaya,
    tamaso ma jyotir gamaya,
    mrtyor mamrtam gamaya.
    Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

    which translates to:

    Lead us from darkness to the light,
    Lead us from knowledge of the unreal to the real,
    Lead us from fear of death to knowledge of our immortality.
    Peace, peace, peace.

    Taken from: http://thematrix101.com/revolutions/symbolism.php

    I hope you find the strength to press on and deliver; I, for one, will be hoping it will be as beautiful as my ideations of math are.

  22. Lilijana Medic Says:

    …not quite sure what you are experiencing because I am not in your shoes…I have no children, and I am unable to have children…came here following the search for shared meaning on ‘loss of continuity’. I feel comforted to read about the variety of expressions that solve for the initial paralysis response to the experience or fear of ‘loss of continuity’.

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