First World Problems…

Many of the issues I write about are important–at least, I think they are. Others should be filed under  First World annoyances.

This is one of those.

Many years ago, a biologist at Eastern Connecticut State University, proved a long-suspected correlation between grandparent deaths and exams.

After collecting data for 20 years, Adams concluded that a student’s grandmother was far more likely to die before midterms than at any other time of the year. More specifically, his research showed that grandmothers are 10 times more likely to die before a midterm, and 19 times more likely to die before a final exam. Grannies of students who weren’t doing well in their classes were at even higher risk of meeting their maker: Students who were failing a class were 50 times as likely as others to lose a grandmother.

Like many professors, I’ve encountered this phenomenon, and I can tell you that it’s really difficult to address. No one wants to demand that a genuinely grieving grandchild produce a death certificate, but no one wants to be “played,” either. It calls for finesse.

Recently, this coincidence of grandparental death and exam times was the subject of an article that included a survey of several instructors, who were asked how they coped with this particular dilemma. Here is my favorite–one I fully intend to adopt.

Dear Student: I’m very sorry to hear of the loss in your family. Please know you are all in my thoughts in this difficult time. I understand the importance of family in times of grief, and I hope you can be a source of support for your parents in what is one of the most difficult life transitions we all must face as we get older.

I would very much like to send your [Mom or Dad] a card and a short note to let them know they are in my thoughts and to single you out for praise in being so proactive and forthright in speaking to me. Would you be kind enough to send along [his or her] snail mail address so I can get this in the mail in the next day or so?

[H/T to Jim Brown, who posted this article on Facebook!]


  1. Or simply have a policy of requiring a note from the funeral direct or a copy of the obituary with their name listed.

  2. I like the idea of the card, very funny. I have worked with a few individuals who were rumored to have 5 or 6 grandmothers that died during the course of their employment.

  3. I love it–and it’s an excellent idea. You could also ask for a phone number so you can call the parents and express your condolences.

  4. I know it’s a downer but something serious sprang from my brain clutter as a result of Sheila’s “First World annoyances” tag and her “but no one wants to be “played,” either” line.

    Those who don’t realize that sources like Fox News are paid political ads who use pseudo news the same way that the fossil fuel industry uses pseudoscience to sell what they want their sources of income to believe, are forced to live in a pseudo world. In that world a huge percentage of federal expenses (some guess 47%) are give always to welfare queens. And they react angrily as no one wants to be “played”.

    Me either. And there is no doubt that we are being played by the welfare cheats.

    I recently wrote to one pseudo news manipulant the following:

    It seems as if the one scenario that everyone would support is full employment for every family with compensation such that every one lived above the minimum standards of comfort and security that our society expects. Right?

    What’s in the way of that? Not enough jobs for all workers. Inadequately paying jobs. Bad luck (illness, disability, company failure, learning disabilities, etc). Dysfunctional lifestyle/culture/choices/ambition(drugs, irresponsible sex, crime, etc), Educational/training limitations. Others?

    The first two are largely in the US the responsibility of business. Some times are good some times are bad as business builds and slumps largely due to vision, innovation, foresight, luck, etc from the business world. When times are bad we generally respond as described next for bad luck.

    Bad luck we generally see as insurable shared risk. If everyone shares the risk by paying in their share of the total cost, then those who suffer the bad luck are no more at risk from it than those who have had good luck.

    Skipping to education. To me the most critical obligation the outgoing generation has to the future. I have many ideas about doing it better.

    Skipping back to Dysfunctional lifestyle/culture/choices/ambition(drugs, irresponsible sex, crime, etc). Our usual solution is jail. Not very effective I fear but I can’t think of a better solution, can you?

    I have no intention of disrespecting the middle class.i am one and am also proud of it. Work is one of life’s givens.

    It’s the outliers on the curve that seem in need to me of some attention. Those who are the furthest from the mean. Those with resources beyond plus or minus from imagining. I think that we should do better but how is the question.


    So, crime is an expensive problem for America. Some behaviors are not quite over the line into crime, but are near and are therefore First World annoyances. We therefore pay an army of social workers to see that we are annoyed less. I don’t know for sure but imagine that their success rate is on par with what police achieve in reducing crime.

    What else, Fox watchers, would you suggest to solve this problem?

  5. Some years ago a professor colleague of mine reported that a student who was not preforming well had to miss an assignment because his father had died. Several months later the father came in to the professor’s office to plead the student’s case.

  6. Years ago in the “Old Country” the death of a close relative
    usually preceded a major sporting event.

  7. Pete, when you refer to welfare queens do you mean those farm subsidy programs or maybe built in cost over runs in gov’t contracts or even tax loopholes that allows some to escape taxes on profits?

  8. Irvin, apparently you prefer the real world to the pseudo world. Why? The real world is so subtle and nuanced while the pseudo world is so clear and black and white. The real world often confuses and the pseudo world clarifies. The real world requires each of us to decide while in the pseudo world opinions are issued.

    No real worlding for me. No sir. It’s like leaving your mothers arms for what can be cold and cruel.

  9. Irvin. Sorry. Those who frequent this place know that my thing is how effectively oligarchy has threatened democracy by the use of big media marketing of pseudo science and news. How many of us have been effectively relocated to a pseudo world because of our entertainment habits. A world designed to recruit our support for those who pay to build it, the ubber wealthy pursuing the goal of power and influence in their favor.

    My initial point today was how a corner of the pseudo world has been built portraying welfare queens as a major government expense and symbolic therefore of the ineffectiveness of government and implying that just leaving stuff to unrestrained business would be more effective. I tried to portray welfare queens as a First World annoyance with no real solution from anyone rather than an example of government failure.

    I took your response as suggesting that the pseudo world also portrays “farm subsidy programs or maybe built in cost over runs in gov’t contracts or even tax loopholes that allows some to escape taxes on profits” as other major reasons to abandon government of, by, and for the people in favor of letting the oligarchs have their way with us.

    Then my admittedly warped sense of humor took over.

    If it takes that much to explain irony it’s probably not very well done.

  10. I was going to ask Pete who those welfare queens are because it has become harder and harder for anyone to qualify for welfare. And the only queens that are getting arrested for welfare fraud are the doctors they are arresting in Florida that were charging millions to the government for services for non-existent patients. That and the Walmart, McDonald’s and worldwide corporations that refuse to pay a livable wage to US residents while they spend 9 million for a 30 second commercial spot during the Super Bowl. Those are true Welfare Queens these days.

    Anyone that qualifies for welfare these days certainly deserves every freaking penny we can give them. It’s too bad that we also have to force them to qualify for food stamps, housing aid and child care aid as well. It’s no wonder we have an enormous homeless population that is just hopeless because we’ve stripped them of their dignity just trying to get a hand up while they are going through a rough patch.

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