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A personal update: Remembering Neil Holmes
And sharing many beautiful things
This is not a typical post. If you’re here mostly because you’re interested in my journey with entrepreneurship and AI, you can stop reading now and come back next time. What I’m covering today is personal and hard, and I don’t want to spring it on you if it’s not your cup of tea.
But if you’re here because you are interested in my authentic journey, the “real me,” I’m sharing what I’ve been working through the last few weeks.
My dad, Neil Holmes, passed away on October 18, 2023. Some things that bubble up for me:
I haven’t fully processed my grief, but writing helps.
It was a good death. Over the last year, my dad and I were able to move beyond our complicated history and celebrate the things we have given each other. He passed as I held his hand. His caregiver and I were reading him Pablo Neruda, one of his favorite poets, as he took his last breaths.
I’m in awe of every end-of-life caregiver out there. To love someone and then to deal with the reality of losing them (both before and after the actual moment) is an incredible amount of emotional, intellectual, and often physical work.
My father loved beautiful things, and he shared that love with the people around him. His perspective on beauty has deeply influenced my life and my work. Allow me an opportunity to pass along some of it here.
Neil found beauty in physics, where he spent many years researching the matter of the universe. During my childhood, we’d go for long drives, and he’d tell me stories about the stars and the sky. The scientific world knew him for over 250 publications1 and for founding a facility in Nevada that researched the nature of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without needing full-scale tests. He was featured in a BBC documentary for his work on iron at the Earth’s core, so just imagine this guy (@ 17:50) teaching you about science growing up. 🙂
I remember him most for sharing with me his love of food, nature, photography, music, movies, and words. Since I was 5, I saw my dad every other weekend. After time apart, he’d often greet me with a new, beautiful thing he wanted to share. I remember when he returned from a business trip with a copy of Haroun and the Sea of Stories in his hands, bursting with excitement. “I read the first page, and then I couldn’t stop; it was so beautiful. You’re going to love it.” And then he read me the whole book, including many funny voices, every night I visited him for the next few months. It was the first book I read to my now husband.
To honor that part of him, I wanted to share some things that he loved and introduced me to. If some of these things are new, give them a shot; they’re great. If they’re old favorites, maybe this is a reminder to revisit. I know he’d love it if you felt just a little more awe or wonder in your life.
Nature - Yosemite, Piute Pass & Lake Sabrina, Mono Lake, the White Rim Road, the Alabama Hills, Moab and wildflowers, birdsong, rocks, trees, and camping where the Milky Way is the only nightlight you need.
Music - Going Home by the LA Four, St. James Infirmary by Louis Armstrong, Scheherazade, A Meeting by the River, Endless by Keith Jerret, M. Marais variations "La Folia", Rusalka Op. 114 Song to the Moon
Movies - The Princess Bride, Indiana Jones, Star Trek (TNG)2, Star Wars (Original Trilogy), A Room with a View, The Fifth Element, The Lord of the Rings, Harvey, Little Shop of Horrors, The Sting, Strictly Ballroom
Fiction - Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Moomintroll Midwinter, The Hobbit, Sabriel, The Left Hand of Darkness, Enders Game, Book: A Novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, Desert Solitaire, Letters to a Young Poet, How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer
Losing a parent has also made me reflect on my mortality, decisions, and the uncertainty of life. My dad loved his work but also dreamed of retirement. He retired after 42 years at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in November 2019… 4 months before the pandemic started. As an asthmatic, he took quarantine seriously; we didn’t hug, he didn’t travel to the mountains as he’d hoped, and he saw few friends. I see the gap in our photo history together, but also a happy reunion with my eldest daughter after vaccination. Where I am in my grief, it’s hard not to regret prior decisions. What I can do is focus on the end; it was good. I can’t regret a good ending.
In the coming months and years, I’ll be grappling with my grief and how to honor him best. For now, I think it’s about making decisions that maximize joy and time spent with my family. I’m grateful for my job that’s allowed me to be so present these last few months. And thanks to you all for reading this small tribute to him. I miss him, and I appreciate you helping me fan the flame of his existence just a little longer.
Non-confidential publications here: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Neil-Holmes-2