My Personal Journey

My Personal Journey

Riding the Alzheimer’s rollercoaster

It’s Saturday about 11:15 and every time I don’t know what our next 3 hours are going to be like.

My mother-in-law has Alzheimers. Not the advanced kind. She knows who we are, remembers our names, and remembers a lot from fifty years ago but she doesn’t know what day it is and what she wants to eat for lunch — and we don’t know who she is going to be each day.

Today I went to pick her up for our Saturday lunch date. She was in bed and she didn’t want to get up. She hadn’t eaten breakfast and needed to eat (not eating makes doing anything else tough) and I knew if I listened to her and left, as she was telling me to, she’d lie in bed and cry, because I’d left. So I got her up, cleaned her up, dressed her, cheered her along in the car as it poured down on us, and took her to meet my husband Bret at one of her favorite restaurants… but today she decided not to talk to us at lunch. No idea why, but she wasn’t going to talk.

Last Saturday started out the same, but once I got her to the restaurant she picked up, was cheerful, and, had you joined us, you would not have known she’s been struggling with her mind. But because she was well she remembered the week before…

That week, two weeks ago, Margit and I went out to lunch with my father who came along to help me. He likes all my attention, but understands when I am with her that I need to be focused on her to make sure she’s OK. To hold her hand, to help her when she decides to wash her steak in her water, or put ice onto her pasta, or confuse her plate with her food. And that week we ran into my company’s lead investor at the restaurant. He also commands my attention, and expects me to be brilliant and together and a CEO, which is hard to be when your attention is already torn two ways. But I did give him 5 minutes of my attention and then paid for it.

As I took her home my mother-in-law decided to punish me. She told me I wanted her dead, and I wanted to hang her from a tree until she was dead, and maybe I should just hang her from a tree because clearly I didn’t care about her and just wanted to dump her back in “that place”. She was angry that I was going back to my father (who was leaving for England the next day) and decided to lash out – until I got her back to Sunrise and hugged her and told her Bret would be there on Tuesday, and  I’d be back next week and then she told me she did appreciate that we were taking care of her.

It’s a roller coaster. A never ending cycle of good days, bad days, cruel days, sleepy days, demanding days and on every day we’re with her I watch Bret watch her with tension in his face and sadness because even if you’ve never had much of a relationship with your parent, watching them struggle with their mind and be deeply unhappy is so very painful. But he’s decided he’s going to take care of her – she’s one of the lucky ones.

Here we are in the center of technology, with miraculous advances every day, and yet we can’t stop our minds deteriorating. I know we’re not alone. Every family that experiences Alzheimer’s experiences the roller coaster. It’s awful. Surely if we can invent the smart phone, and google glass, and an electric car that can go 300 miles, surely we can find a way to prevent Alzheimer’s? Seems to me all those ad dollars could go to better use than selling sugar water.

My Personal Journey

James Gandolfini – a God of Carnage

I confess I have never seen the Sopranos. Hard to believe I know. But when I heard today that James Gandolfini had died I didn’t immediately think of Tony Soprano. I thought instead of an amazing night with his character Michael in the play God of Carnage in New York.

God of Carnage ran on Broadway from March 2009 to June 2010. Starring James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden it told the story of two sets of parents meeting after their two sons have had a fight in middle school. Starting with a civil, tempered discussion of how to help these two boys sort our their differences it deteriorates into a scene of ego, fights, drinking, vomiting and naked anger and aggression between the four characters.

It’s a tough play. My friends and I walked from the theatre to the restaurant and straight to the bar, seeking comfort in a stiff drink. We felt raw. The play had successfully lured us into thinking we were seeing a comedy and then turned on us, as viciously as the characters, and punched us in the gut. You could not leave that play without realizing how thin the veneer is between manners and carnage.

James Gandolfini was superb. Completely believable. Subtle and brutal at the same time. Riveting to watch. He was simply a terrific actor and I am sorry we have all lost him so young.

My Personal Journey

The bravest person I have known

It’s 107 days since my mother died and I think of her continuously. But the pain is easing to a dull ache in my chest and I can look at pictures of her and smile, and I have to believe it will get easier from here. I find myself thinking of the strangest memories, mostly good, some bad where I feel guilty for being self-absorbed, but most of all I keep remembering her courage.

I spoke about her courage in the eulogy I gave in the church for her memorial service. My sister Sue and I stayed humorous and positive in our eulogies so I couldn’t speak much about her unfathomable courage in the face of cancer as it ravaged her. Every time I want to complain about an ache, or a pain, or an inconvenience now I try to stop myself and think of her last few months which she braved never saying one word of complaint. Talk about a role model.

For my friends who see this who knew her – here’s my eulogy to her. The bravest person I have ever known, throughout her whole life.

“Mummy was the quintessential
lady. Polite, charming, perfect manners, able to make engaging conversation
with anyone and put them at ease. A well-trained diplomat’s daughter and the
English gentlewoman many of you described in your lovely letters – we want to
thank you for those.

But she was not only a lady. Underneath she was a pioneer, she had
a great sense of humor, she grasped life with both hands and she was
extraordinarily brave.

When Mummy went up to Oxford
she was only the second woman to ever read engineering at the University. She
was good at maths and when she graduated she took a job as an engineer with
Marconi where of course she met Daddy. We have a picture of her, terribly young
and pretty, in a smart 1950s summer dress, in the days before safety glasses –
running a lathe.

She went off to America with
my father where they both had engineering jobs, but when my sister was born she
stopped work and, with my father working hard and traveling a lot, she raised
us both thousands of miles from family and with no help — a true daughter of
the Raj. But when my parents went back to England she went back to work part
time and then, when we were old enough to leave alone in our holidays she went
back to work full force in London – as a technical consultant with Logica,
traveling for her job and leading teams. She could have stayed home and taken
care of Daddy – sometimes I think he wished she did – but she had a brain and
wanted to use it. She was a quiet pioneer, never one to blow her own horn, but
a pioneer nonetheless and her determination to work, and raise us to be career
girls, made a deep impression on us both.

Mummy had a lovely sense of
humor – the twinkling, mischievous kind and a beautiful smile to go with it. When
my parents came back from California in 1965 Daddy had a good job with a
company car, but the purchase of a second car for Mummy had to be economical.
They bought a Morris Minor which my mother lovingly called Galloping Gurty. Why
you may ask? Well this was an exciting car to drive in as a kid. You could see
the road through a hole in the floor, the gear box was broken so the gear stick
was held in place by a rubber band and the car would lurch marvelously. She
made it fun for us – and it was even more romantic when a fly took up residence
in the car and she named him Romeo because he must be in love with her. As a 6
year there was nothing odd at all about a fly being in love with my mother
because everyone else was in love with her too.

She used her sense of humor
to make a deep impression on her two American grandchildren … and their table
manners. Exasperated with her 8 year old grandson’s manners one day she asked
him what he would do if the Queen came to dinner (because being Mummy she had
of course had dinner with the Queen). Sebastian replied that he would have
perfect table manners but he wanted something in return and a deal was struck.
The Queen (Granny) came to dinner one evening and the children pulled off
immaculate table manners. And so, a week later, Granny fulfilled her side of
the bargain and came to a Medieval dinner, sharing haunches of roast meats and
bread with nothing but a sharp knife and her hands. She made her point but with
a smile.

And, without question my
mother was the bravest person I have ever known.
Sue has already described
for you our parent’s love of travel. But until recently they had missed a spot.
When Mummy first got cancer she told me she wanted to see Pompeii before she
died. So a year ago the three of us, Daddy, Mummy and me went to Italy for an
idyllic week where I was reminded of her incredible, quiet bravery. We had not
realized the physical challenge that 18 inch high Roman basalt pavements would
present. It turns out you can’t see Pompeii and Herculaneum without navigating
an obstacle course. But she was quite determined and with my father on one
side, and our handsome Italian guide on the other, murmuring “piano, piano”,
she spent the whole day going up and down steps — loving it and never
complaining, even though I could see ever single step was hard and tiring and
scary for her.

Many of you talked in your
letters about her bravery facing cancer. The treatments, and the progression of
her disease in the last 4 months, caused her significant pain and illness. And
yet she never, ever complained. Stoic does not even begin to describe how she
dealt with being ill.

Pioneering, humorous and

But most of all she really
lived. She lived life to the full and never more so than in her lifelong love
affair with our father Frank. Mummy fell in love with a man from a different
background, with no money, who was handsome and kind and who her parents
definitely did not approve of. He helped her see that she could live a
different life, away from her mother and stifling expectations — and she
married him in 1957 and never looked back.

They went to America and had
a terrific time as young parents in California, living a dream life for 8 years.
They made happy homes with absolutely lovely gardens. They raised two girls,
they accepted and became good friends with two foreign son-in-laws, and then helped
us raise four outspoken, strong willed, smart grandchildren together who they
adored. They worked to make ends meet at the beginning, and enjoyed their
retirement together right to the end. We used to joke that even though we were
all working we had to move our schedules around to see them once they retired because
they were so busy!

Throughout their marriage we
were never in any doubt of Mummy’s love for and loyalty to Daddy, even when he
was driving us kids crazy. She loved him completely for 55 years, he adored
her, and they were very good friends.

Were Mummy here she would
tell us all she had a marvelous life, with very few regrets, and that we need
to have a stiff upper lip and remember that. She had a tone of voice for the
three of us, Daddy, Sue and me, which she didn’t use very often that we knew
meant business and so Mummy, we’re going to do as you would tell us to now and
celebrate your marvelous life.”

Relishing Roman Ruins!
My Personal Journey

Tears for the Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher dies

Whatever your politics, Margaret Thatcher was one of the greatest leaders in modern English history. I cry today, remembering England in 1979 and how bravely and radically she transformed the country with her powerful leadership and vision for the possible future of the UK.

In the Winter of Discontent which struck the UK in 1978-79 we had continuous strikes of angry union workers and a weak, ineffective government — coupled, I remember, with unusual cold and very deep snow. The country, which had run a global empire and stood up to Hitler, was on it’s knees in political turmoil with a defeated population, high taxes, bad food and no way out.

Margaret Thatcher was the powerful force that turned the country around. Her leadership was unstoppable. She had a clear, determined vision for what the UK could be again, and no one and nothing was going to get in her way. By restructuring taxes and privatizing the nationalized industries she forced the country to compete on the world markets. Yes, there was severe unemployment as a result, but short of a deep socialist (short-sighted) agenda that unemployment was coming, one way or another, and she had the courage to get ahead of it.

Watching Mrs Thatcher on stage a few years after she left power confirmed what I had come to believe watching her in the media. She was on stage with Gorbachev and George Bush Snr (Reagan had already succumbed to Alzheimer’s by then) talking about how they worked together to reform Soviet politics — which resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall. She had a huge brain, charm, and an iron will. Her clarity, intellect and wit were unmatched, even by her peers who were themselves global leaders, and I was inspired.

I have admired her determined, uncompromising leadership since 1979. For 30 years now when I am asked who has inspired me I have said Margaret Thatcher.  It’s as true today as it ever was. 

It’s not the first time I’ve cried for her. I cried for her – posted here – when I saw the film Iron Lady about her rise to power, fall from power and fall into dementia.

My Personal Journey

The Gift of Love

My reading at our lovely mother’s cremation today:

1 Corinthians 13

“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all
knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do
not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant
or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an
end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to
an end.
For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I
reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

Anstice Ann Onians (nee Flux Dundas)

December 12, 1933 – January 16, 2013

1960 California
1975 The Lake District, England

2011 Rome, Italy

Gifts in her memory to Ovarian Cancer Action here.

My Personal Journey

How not to pick up an executive in a bar

The scene is the Los Altos Bar and Grill. A known pickup joint but one that has a good wine list, great food and live music so those not looking for the scene enjoy it anyway.

The actors – two female executives sitting at a bar enjoying a glass of wine together. And two men enjoying dinner together at the same bar.

The men first try and strike up a conversation along the bar.
Some lame question like “Do you like Hawaii?”

One of the women engages for a few groundstrokes and then returns to her companion, who is simply not interested.

The men finish their dinner, but undeterred then stand next to the two women and strike up a conversation. The women can tell they are not going to go away. They pull up stools and are aggressively close in a crowded bar. The quieter woman checks her email. The more gregarious woman responds to the first volley with “So what do you do?” (the first thing anyone wants to know in this over-achieving society).

And as the story unfolds Ms email, who really does not want to be chatted up in a bar after a long day at work, watches how not to impress a woman…

 “I run a hedge fund”

“Really, what type of hedge fund”

“We use technology and social media to invest”

“Really, what social media”


“Do you read the Twitter feed directly or go through a third party like GNIP”

 (with some hesitation) “uh, GNIP”… the ball drops at the net.

… a short rally then about what the women do… and then the drop shot…

 “So your hedge fund – how much money do you have under management?”

“Well I haven’t actually closed it yet, but I’m close to closing $11M”.

 Golden rule #1. Don’t overstate your position too early.

My Personal Journey


The smell of oak smoke from the fireplace.

Flaming Christmas pudding. Crackers. Port.

Church bells. Carols. The church clock chiming all night every half hour outside my window at Church View.


Being told I don’t know how to clean a kitchen floor.

Happily fetching Mummy’s forgotten Kindle from upstairs. Every morning.

Making endless pots of tea. Making soup for the freezer.

Trying not to talk about cancer.

Rain. More rain.

Feminist Ryan Gosling.

The Queen’s speech. Dr Who special.

The incredible kindness of my father. Practicing patience with my father.

Stilton and smoked mackerel pate and pickled onions. Comfort food.

Cousins. Missing my boys. Enjoying my sister, my daughter and her BFF.

Dog barking at a toy train around the tree. Happy, tired, full dog.


My Personal Journey

And the Pope Tweets

There is a certain humor, and wisdom, in the Vatican announcing yesterday that His Holiness the Pope will be tweeting under the handle @Pontifex.

More than 2000 years ago the Roman Empire perfected the art of absorbing local deities and cults as they conquered new countries. Let the people keep their Gods and rituals and they are easier to control.

As the Christian Church emerged from the shadows into power in the 4th century it did the same thing. Keep the local festivals and rename them — just think on the pagan customs we celebrate on my favorite holiday Christmas Day/midWinter Festival. And reuse the titles of authority.

In ancient Rome the priests of the (pagan) Roman religion were called Pontifex. The high priest was called Pontifex Maximus and then, with Augustus, the Caesars took on the title. They were heads of state and the religion. So by the time the Emperor became Christian, and the Bishop of Rome was the top priest of the new religion, he absorbed the ancient title: Pontifex Maximus. High priest.

Today we have new cults to be absorbed, Twitter being the cult de jour, a subset of the cult called Social Media. How best to absorb a people who live in the land of Social Media. Absorb our practices – Tweeting – absorb our culture – 140 characters in the moment – and use an ancient name that will resonate in the hidden recesses of our cultural memory. And gather more than half a million followers in 48 hours.

My Personal Journey

Swimming with company in the Maui ocean

It’s 6:30am in Maui on Labor Day 2012, the sun is just about to come up over Haleakala, I’m wide awake on California time and I walk into the ocean.

This is my meditation. I jogged into the water at the Wailea beach with David Bowie playing on my swimp3 waterproof headset. The water was like a millpond: grey, clear and flat with only the slightest ripple at the edge. As I pushed into the water (shaking off the initial chill) I felt the wash of calm come over me. There is simply no more beautiful experience.

But the best was yet to come. This time I was not alone in the water.

Of course there were lots of fish. Humu humu, angel fish, goat fish, porcupine fish all snacking in the early morning light. And then, I was joined by a manta ray. He came along about 5 feet underneath me, cruising along just a little bit faster than me, gently flipping his wings. I held my breath and then, once I remembered to breathe, sped up so I could stay with him for a while. Of course, that was not far… he was much better equipped than me for the environment.

This swim was a pilgrimage. A year ago I did the 2.4 mile ocean swim in Maui to raise money for ovarian cancer in honor of my mother. It was important to me to swim in the Maui ocean again this year (and the race was cancelled) and so this particular morning was a longer swim than normal.

To my delight, I was rewarded a second time. This time by a more social creature than the ray. A huge turtle decided to swim along with me for a while. She swam up beside me just a few feet away, surfaced to check out what else interesting might be happening, and then swam along with me. For 5 glorious minutes I was not swimming alone. Of course she got bored eventually and, with the smallest flip of her fin, turned out to sea and moseyed away. But I was enchanted.

Running a fast growing tech company in Silicon Valley is an intense experience. Round the clock, stressful and exciting, joyful and frustrating. But it’s a journey, not just a destination, and the journey needs to be enjoyed. And sometimes that means stepping away from it into a different world.

Photo credit: Sunrise – planetware; Mantra ray – Long shore photography; Turtle –