Thursday, March 22, 2012

Two years later....

It’s been two years since Alex’s passing and I still can’t hear “Somewhere over the rainbow” without thinking of Alex. It takes me back to the beautiful sunny day in Half Moon Bay where we gathered to celebrate his life, and grieve, together. I still miss my buddy... and though I'm still sad about the loss, whenever I think about him I always see him smiling back at me.

To catch you up…

It was the day after the previous post (URNbelievable) that we received the call that his remains were ready to be picked up. We still had not decided on an urn. A group of us headed over to the funeral home and picked up his remains which were contained in the heart-heaviest 9lb box I ever carried. Until we decided on the urn he was kept in a nice box next to the photobook that Serena had made for him as well as the bio blurb that is now on display in the lab room that was dedicated to him.

All that we could decide on is that we really liked one of the artists. In the end, Maureen from connected us with the artist Laua Bruzzese and we commissioned a piece to be made. The piece captures the memorial location perfectly. From the weathered remains of the tree that long ago lost its life but retained its character, to a wind-blown tree that's still hanging on... and the ocean bluff in between. The blue sky with fluffy clouds gave the piece an uplifting feeling.

To celebrate the one year anniversary itself we made a pilgrimage back out to the memorial site and again reflected on how amazingly fortunate we were to have such beautiful weather for his service.

Each of us took time to remember... to reflect... to mourn... in small groups or alone.

We each took some paper and did what we felt was appropriate with it - some wrote notes, others made origami cranes, and Janet made a picture of an octopus. We then planted some flowers and gathered up for a group photo.

The day did slowly get better and some folks went down to the beach to have a little fun.

As with all of our adventures, the day started and ended with food.

In the end... the day provided each of us what we needed. It allowed us time to reflect... time to be with others who still grieved... and time to continue to heal.

But where do we go from here?
Today it has now been two years and again we will meet up and catch up as we eat. We will have quiet times and plenty of laughter for sure. In the end there is no solution, no defined road to acceptance, no sign-posts saying that now it's time to stop grieving. The pathway to healing... towards acceptance... is a long and very personal one.

For me, nothing can capture Alex and his spirit better than his own writings. This blog of his expresses moments of joy, pain, confusion and determination. For me, as long as this exists I can go back and I can listen to his stories again and again. It is a simple and elegant imprint that he left on the fabric of time which will last long after any of us are around. It is through his writings that I've cried, I've laughed, and I've remembered just how wonderful of a person Alex was... and how much of him that I continue to carry around in me each day.

Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


It's truly unbelievable how many different types of urns there are. Stone, wood, ceramic, glass, metal, mixed, tall, short, round, square, solid and secure to completely biodegradable, elegant to funny, classic to bizarre. To my friends living… you may want to start looking now!

It’s been almost a year now since Alex’s passing. I’m expecting a call any day now to let me know that his remains
are ready to be picked up. At that time his sister, Julia, and I will go and collect Alex’s cremated remains. For the last year his body was used for scientific purposes – in hopes of furthering science and improving the lives of others. But now… a year later… what container is there that could capture the essence, the joy, the drive, the heart of Alex?

My only other loved one who was cremated was my grandfather, but picking an urn for him was easy. Having been late to his own wedding because he was in the car listening to the Yankee’s game, his remains were put into a new York Yankees themed urn – complete with baseball. But he had lived a full life and that was a story that was retold every anniversary, baseball game and frankly whenever we needed to put him in his place. Alex’s life though was … incomplete.

We each have a memory of a defining moment with Alex. For me – him being in my rock climbing class and more so when I got him back on the wall for the first time after a round of treatments… for Janet it was probably a much earlier memory of first meeting him in high school… for Serena probably their first kiss... and for his mom and sister – so many possible key moments to choose from to capture him in forever.

A tear drop? An orb? A fire hydrant? A box? A bag? A memory? An emotion? What form do you put on the remainder of a person when all that is left is ash?

Frankly… I say none. Alex isn’t in the ashes; Alex is in my heart and memories. Even if I were to take the fragments of DNA available and reconstruct a person from it, that person wouldn’t be Alex. Though he may look like Alex, his memories and experience would be completely different. Maybe he’d become a musician instead… or an artist… or maybe an electrical engineer at Stanford, but even then he still wouldn’t be Alex. The Alex I knew lives on in my heart and mind – not in ashes. As such… since he’s still alive to me – I can talk with him whenever I need and go to his memorial spot to find some solace. Granted… that still doesn’t help with deciding what urn to pick out for him. It does, though, help me to focus on the important facts – that Alex’s spirit could never be contained by an earthly vessel and that it lives on. We have his ashes, we hold on to memories and we move forward knowing he’s looking out for us. Someday we’ll meet up again. Until then – we live.

Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Alex

If things were right with the world...Alex would have turned 32 today.

He would have celebrated with his mother, sister and Dennis. They would have enjoyed a dinner of duck, he would have opened a gift or two and then they would have watched a movie before heading to bed on Christmas Eve.

If things were right with the world... Over the summer we would have gone climbing and hopefully brought Serena, Janet and maybe even Alan along as well. Alex would have scrambled up something and I would have yelled at him to do it faster, more graceful or something ("Use your legs!) no matter how well he did it. At least I'd yell with a smile and we'd still go out to eat afterwards.

If things were right with the world Janet, Serena, Alan and crew would have gotten him out skiing. The snow is amazing this year. He would have loved it.

Sadly I'm not the judge of what is right and what isn't. Unfortunately cancer... abnormal cellular growth... does happen. Though so small it can spread and grow and ruin a beautiful life.

All that we can do is hold on to the love that he had for each of us. Remember his words of comfort, his strength of character and his sidelong looks at us when we did something that he didn't quite agree with but tolerated. He's no longer here, but we are here for each other. Though distance may separate us, and some of us will never meet, we share a common bond in having a great friend named Alex Tung. Someone ... who in his quiet way did what he could to make things right in the world.

Keep up the good works for all your neighbors, all over the world, this holiday season and throughout the new year if for no other reason than that Alex would have wanted you to.

Happy Birthday Alex, and Happy Holidays to all.

Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Alex Tung Lab Room Dedication Ceremony

Recently there was a dedication ceremony for the Alex Tung Laboratory for Assistive Technology and Experimental Mechanics (Building 550 Room 134) at Stanford. It was a very nice ceremony with a good attendance of friends - whether faculty, fellow students or other.

Below are video clips of the speeches. Thank you to everyone who helped make this happen and a special thank you to Micah for organizing the event.

Opening speech by Brad Osgood, Professor of Electrical Engineering & Senior Associate Dean for Student

Speech by Bob Dutton, Professor, Electrical Engineering at Stanford.

David Jaffe - Associate Director, Assistive Technology Laboratory at Stanford (ATLAS)

Julian Gorodsky
- d.shrink, Hasso Plattner Institute of Design

Sheri Sheppard
- Professor, Mechanical Engineering

Ed Carrye
- Consulting Professor, Mechanical Engineering

Carlotte Jacobs
, MD - Alex's physician.

Greg Brown
, Director of Education and Membership at Resource Area For Teaching (RAFT)

Leonard Ortolano
- UPS Foundation Professor of Civil Engineering in Urban and Regional Planning, Former Faculty Director of the Haas Center for Public Service.

Closing remarks by Brad Osgood

A quick look at the room which will become the lab. Right now it's being used more for storage.

Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Good Grief, Grieving SUCKS!!

It's been 2 months now since Alex's passing. We've cleaned out his room, packed away clothes and remembrances his mom wants to keep, friends have also taken various items -some practical (e.g. clothes, sleeping bag, etc) and some not so practical (a bendy smile face guy). Just whatever we felt we could honor, or remember, Alex by holding on to.

I've compiled all of his external hard drives (3), laptop and desktops (2) ... boiling it down to less than 1TB of data... mostly pictures and music. Along the way I've read some very touching stories he wrote, a whole lotta school stuff and the various random assortment of just random bits and bytes.

Slowly I'm getting back to doing the things I enjoy (I actually wrote most this post from Yosemite). So today I'm going to write about my grieving experience over the loss of my bud, Alex.

Everyone is unique. Everyone grieves differently and differently for each relationship lost. How I grieved when my Italian grandma died from the cancer that was noticed years earlier and never treated until it was too late was very different from how I "grieved" over my Czech grandfather who finally passed away in October after being on death's door for some 6+ years. Neither of those deaths had the sudden impact, nor the same grief I felt at the loss of Mark, an extended family member and friend in 9-11 who I was suppose to visit that summer, but pushed out the trip to the upcoming Christmas break due to work.

Yes, there are general phases that folks can go through. You can DABDA me all you want - but remember those are just general, and fluid, phases. Grieving isn't some step-by-step process, it's a day-by-day, moment-by-moment one. Folks don't go through it like Lowell on Wing's: (time frame: 5:07-5:55)... but it sure would make thing easier.

This is just how I'm grieving... how I'm feeling... what I'm experiencing... over the loss of my buddy, Alex.

Losing someone sucks. As an extroverted-introvert I'd love to have 1:1 time with everyone. Fortunately over the last few years I had a lot of 1:1 time with Alex.

"But he's just a friend?!"

Yeah - I've heard that from folks by their words and actions. "Just cheer up!" has been another common one. Those comments are seen in the opposite extreme from folks who just look confused/hurt around me and do the stutter speech and quickly retreat.

And, of course, my grief just isn't for my loss of Alex, but also those I know who cared about him greatly. Time and time again I use to watch as his mom did the same thing I saw my mom use to do when my sister was going through chemo. She'd come into the room with a tray of food and a smile on her face and try to make some joke or smart aleck comments which just usually was responded to with eye-rolling and a groan. She'd sit and encourage her beloved child to eat "Come on, just take one more bite" and when finally finished she'd pick up the tray which still contained most of the food it entered the room with, walk out of the room and in to the kitchen and by the time she put the tray down on the counter the tears streaked her face.

I saw this time and time again, until the tears ran dry and just a sullen look remained. The only grace I could offer was a hug - a hug to let her know that though I'd never know her pain, I do recognize that she is in pain and loved.

It's a Toothbrush!

While going through the boxes of items which were his, I found a toothbrush with his climbing and camping gear. Climbers use them to brush off holds, this one could have been used for the same purpose.


I drop it.

I stare at it.

I slowly reach down and pick it up again. I examine the worn and splayed toothbrush that belonged to a friend of mine... and I toss it out. It's only a toothbrush.

There are still moments when it really gets to me that he's gone. And even though I may "accept" it, it doesn't make it suck any less. I miss my bud.

It is good to know I'm not alone. As Janet put it after editing this post:
"2 months has almost returned to normal, which, not too long ago, seemed unimaginable. of course, it's a new version of normal, and i'm certainly still very fragile emotionally, but at least i don't feel like my world is about to fall apart all the time. it still hits me every once in a while, and i'm momentarily stunned by the reality of it, but it doesn't entirely overwhelm me like it used to. guh, but i do miss him. a heart-wrenching, insides-twisting-up feeling of loss. i wonder if that'll ever go away."

Yeah... grieving sucks.

Doesn't just suck for the bereaved either...
Not knowing what to do though also sucks. I had a lot of friends say they didn't know what to do or say. In response, I put together the below things that will hopefully help. Again though - this is just from my perspective of this loss.

"I'm sorry"
Just saying "I'm sorry" means and helps so much. Don't try to search for "the right thing to say" just keep it simple and say "I'm sorry"

Understand the relationship

Ask "How did you know ____
", "When did you last see him/her", "What did s/he mean to you" That way you'll get an understanding of the level of a relationship the person had and the level of loss now felt.

Be there, not just "available".
A person grieving doesn't (usually) want to depress others - so s/he will withdraw. So don't say "Call me if you need anything" but "what can I do to help?" Don't say "Call me if you want to grab a bite" but "Let's go get something to eat/drink." In the immediate aftermath of the events the bereaved doesn't think clearly and proper eating, sleeping and exercise habits are gone. In the immediate future - food is generally the most important, so work on that.

Laughter, isn't always, the best medicine
Don't try to cheer your friend up, just hang out and be with him/her. Be supportive, understanding, and above all - patient. Phrases like "Just cheer up!", "I hope you're feeling better!" and "C'mon- smile!" just hurt. They trivialize the situation. Yes - all meant with best intentions I'm sure - but it's like having an arm ripped off and someone saying "Here's a little band aid for you!" and expecting it to be all better.

Don't force/drag your friend out, but just nudge 'em along. "Hey - lets go grab some coffee" and later "How about dinner with some other folks". It's much easier to hang out with people who are like-minded... who have suffered the similar loss... but it's also necessary to get back to living and hanging with others who may not have felt the loss.

Love on & Allow time (aka Be Patient)
In all you do, in all you say - just love on your friend as much as possible. Even if you're confused - just be there; if you don't know what to say - just hug; if you don't know what to do - just sit down and hang out. Life does go on, but for the bereaved it just slows down to a crawl. So try to match the pace for a little while and just take it slow.

These are the things I found most helpful - so hopefully they'll help you. Please feel free to add on your suggestions as well.

Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Alex Tung's Memorial Service

Updated 5/23/2010 with David's speech.
As I said before, the day was beautiful. The sun was shining through lightly cloudy skies, the usual strong coastal wind was a comfortable breeze, and the roaring ocean was only a murmur.

Alex loved being outside in nature and we were able to find a great location in Half Moon Bay. The first day we saw it, the weather was stormy and gray, but the next time it was bright sunshine and hot. We just had to hope that the weather would be okay on Sunday.

A view of the bluff where the service was held, taken from an adjacent bluff.

People had already started gathering on the ocean bluff point by 10:30am last Sunday.

A picture of Alex was set up so that the people would look at him and the speaker with the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.

People continued to gather, laid down their blankets, and consoled each other as best they could.

Friends continued to stream in and sign the guest book and tried to provide words of comfort to Alex’s grieving mother and sister.

Shortly after 11:00 over 200 friends and family members, some of them from far away - East coast, Europe, Hawaii, Taiwan, New Mexico, etc. were asked to take their seats for the service to begin. We knew that many more people were unable to be with us in person, but attended in spirit.

Before continuing on, please start the music playlist below. The songs are the three selections sung and played by friends of Alex during the service.

Angel was the first to speak and officiated the memorial service. After him, family and friends who covered Alex’s entire life came up to speak. The text of their speech is included below, but I have left out all of the breaks for tears and trembling voices. Each speaker spoke from their heart, and told of his or her love for Alex. He touched so many lives and is deeply missed.

The following is the speech by Angel, Alex’s undergraduate advisor.

“Dear Family and friends of Alex:

Today is a truly unique day in our lives. All of our paths cross together at this place and time. The spirit, the memory, and the life of Alex brings us all together, his body having already followed his will that it be donated for research to benefit others. We come here with sadness in our hearts, we come with a higher appreciation of life itself, we come with the joy of times past, and with the regrets of opportunities missed. Some of us, who were older than him and who ignored the futility of making life plans may even come here with a little bit of anger; anger at life itself because with Alex, life did not respect the natural order of things. The order that dictates that a mother leaves before her son does, that a professor departs before his student, and that friends and lovers shall march away together.

I first met Alex on September 18, 1996….at 4pm….I was appointed as his faculty freshman advisor at Stanford. In a million years, no one would have picked us to become friends. He was a 17-year old kid with shoulder-length hair; dyed blond for good measure. Intellectual, but pretending to be cool, rejecting pomp and circumstance, and deeply wanting to change the world. I, on the other hand, was twice his age and the type of person who thinks that a shirt and tie are casual clothing. But friends we did become, and thus we were, since that initial meeting until we said goodbye, for four thousand nine hundred and thirty five days. And what I received from Alex in all those days was nothing but affection, smiles, understanding, an open heart and mind, and a love and friendship that grew at least a little bit every single day. I cherish all those times, and for most of those days, I went to bed giving thanks for the great gift that I had been given in Alex.

Each of us wonders what we have achieved in life. For one, we want to love and be loved in return. For two, we want to learn to be virtuous and live life in peace. If those are the measures, then Alex overachieved all his life. Even though I meet many of you here today for the first time, I know nevertheless most of you already through Alex. He would tell me how much he loved his high school friends, how he cherished his family, how he felt a lifetime bond with his freshman dorm mates, and how deeply in love he was with his girlfriend. Wherever he went and whoever he met he gave love and found love. And then, as a professor, I learned much from this student about the virtues of man. I saw humility, I saw kindness, I saw charity, and I saw fortitude in his words and his deeds. He travelled far seeking a measure of justice for the poor, and he worked near to promote the human side of doing business: A young life indeed, but with a century’s worth of heavenly gold.

And thus, we will now seek to keep the light of Alex glowing in our lives and in the lives of others. We can do so in our everyday actions by learning from his virtues and by remembering his love. His life is in each and every one of you; it has not departed and sad will be the day if you ever let it leave.

I brought my young son with me today. He is too young to understand this moment. But I wanted above all that his life path would also cross with all of ours in this place and time. Whereas for us this intersection is a destination, for him it can instead be a departure. The day will come for him when he will have to choose between right and wrong, between love and hate, and between virtue and sin. When that time comes, he will not have to search in books for answers, he will not have to stare at a poster or fall for a false prophet. Instead, I’ll be able to come to him and say: “Son, search no more for a virtuous man, you have already met such a man, let me tell you all about Alex”.

Thank you all

God Bless you Alex”

** ** **

Next to speak was Alex’s cousin, Monica

“I am so grateful to see and have seen all the support and friendships that Alex had throughout his life and present today. My name is Monica and I’m Alex’s cousin.

Even though we’ve lived far from each other most of our lives, I have many fond memories of my cousin Alex. My childhood memories of him include hot afternoons at the swimming pool, and running around with our lanterns in during moon festivals. But it was not until recent years, into our adulthood, where I’ve gotten to know Alex as the supportive, generous, and playful person that he was.

Alex has been a supporter and a true family member to me. It meant a great deal to me when he showed up at all of my recent big life events, getting married, having children, bringing us his cheerfulness and sharing our joys. I had a canopy that was collapsing at my wedding ceremony, he was the first to rush to save it. He and Serena were also the ones to take me on my first outdoor stroll after my first baby.

In always a gentle manner, Alex told you the truth on his mind, and supported you in the best and appropriate way that he knew how. He also had a sarcastic edge to him. I am not to admit “losing” any heated discussions, but I did take a few well-thought-out jabs from him.

Our family is so proud of Alex, both of his professional and personal achievements, and even more so of the incredible man that he was. All of us here knew that he was brilliant at what he did and generous with his time with Cosmos Education, his friends and families. I am heartbroken that he’s left us, but cherish the memories that I have of him. I love you Alex.”

** ** **

Janet, a friend of Alex’s since high school, spoke next.

“I first met Alex in the ninth grade back at Conestoga High School in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. I remember walking into science class on the first day of school, where he flashed me a smile, and I instantly developed a huge crush on him. While that never quite panned out, it was the beginning of an amazing friendship. Throughout the years of high school, our circle grew to include a small squadron of friends. One of the things that made us unique was our inability to make decisions. We could never decide where to go or what to do, but in the end, we realized that it really didn’t matter. All we wanted was to simply be together.

And we truly always were together. Every free moment we had, we’d be swimming at Alex’s, or shooting pool at Tom’s, or playing video games at Andrew’s. We were this group of – not just friends, but best friends – that insisted on doing everything together, even when it was actually just doing nothing.

I always felt that Alex was the moral backbone of the group, which extended and matured well past high school. He grew to become a man of such integrity and compassion, and was the most honest and genuine guy that I’d ever known. I could always count on him to tell me what he truly thought, and nothing ever got past his watchful eye. I’ll miss having that voice of reason keeping me in check.

Alex loved meeting new people, trying new things, and exploring new places. It was invigorating for him, and through these new experiences, he became much more than an engineer - he was a musician, a photographer, a poet, a humanitarian, an outdoorsman, and so much more. He was never afraid to launch himself full force into something he was passionate about. As a result, he was able to touch the lives of so many people, many of whom I see here today.

Alex always expected the best out of all of us, and so we always strived to do our best and to achieve our full potential. I’m a better person because he was in my life, and I’ll continue to live it as he would have wanted me to. Alex, we love you and we miss you.”

** ** **

After Janet, there was a musical interlude as two of Alex’s friends – Jeff and Tom – through tears and throat clenched pauses, played and sang heart-touching renditions of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole’s “Over the Rainbow”, REM’s “Night Swimming” (one of Alex’s favorite bands), and Rusted Root’s “Send Me on My Way” (the informal theme song among his group of high school friends).

** ** **

Then Mike, Alex’s friend since freshman year of college, spoke.

“Alex and I met because we lived in the same dorm our freshman year in college. From the moment I saw him I knew there was something special about him. We were both in engineering, had the same freshman adviser, and had the same girly hair. Little did I know it would take most of our undergraduate years for people to figure out who was Alex and who was me. Alex was such an amazing and unique person that I can't believe that anyone would actually think I was him.

Early in that first year at Stanford, Holly Thomas decided she didn't really like her own room and started looking around for places to study and hang out. She tried using my room, among others, as a second home and didn't always find a hospitable environment. She ended up spending most of her time in Alex and Michael Vortmann's room, essentially living under Michael's bed. Alex never said a word, and welcomed Holly into the room, letting her come and go as she pleased. When he knew she was feeling down or having a bad day, Alex would surprise her with her favorite food - macaroni and cheese. Holly became so comfortable that she started answering their phone and chatting with Alex's friends, mostly Amina, who today is as much of a friend to us as Alex was.

Alex's concern for others was not isolated to this one person or time. He was always doing things to surprise other people that no one else would think of, and he brought us all so much joy. For instance, after Michael graduated from medical school, Alex sent him a box full of photos from our time in college together, and made him a poster with pictures of the most special moments. He put a quote on the poster by Zora Neale Hurston that read, "There are years that ask questions. And years that answer." When we were sophomores, Alex snuck into Xanadu dorm where Jessica, Holly, Neiha, and Kerry were living, really early one morning. When Jessica woke up, she found that the dorm had been decorated with a giant poster reading 'Happy Birthday Jess!" And after undergraduate graduation, on his European backpacking trip with Jannon, he was always coming up with ways for the two to make the most of every city.

Alex spoke about wanting to make the world better, but he backed up those ideas with his work. He was so great at combining his love for science and engineering with his love of public service. He helped people through education and outreach on both on a local and international scale. He championed and worked countless hours for organizations including Cosmos Education, Stanford Anthology for Youth, the Haas Center, the Office of Engineering and Public Service, and the Science Bus, among others.

Alex had an exceptionally open and welcome spirit. So many people I know have reflected about special conversations that they had with Alex, or how they enjoyed just being around him, or even just how they had a crush on him. That was the effect that Alex had on people. Alex not only surrounded himself with these wonderful people, but connected them to each other too. Throughout college, Alex told us so many great stories about his friends from Pennsylvania that when he got around to introducing his weird college friends to his weird high school friends, it was as if we had known each other for years. Because Alex surrounded himselfwith such great people, it's no surprise that those friends became our friends, and that they are now among the people we talk to and lean on every day. I am so thankful that Alex brought us together.

Alex's strength is amazing. Whenever we would visit, he managed a smile and perked up, even when he wasn't feeling great. More often than not, I felt like he was the one lending support to me instead of the other way around. He never stopped living and learning. This last summer, we took a trip to Lake Shasta to spend a weekend on a houseboat, and Alex did it all. Alex rushed from a doctor's appointment and traveled for hours to join us. He brought his camera, and spent the weekend capturing a beautiful weekend on the lake. He even found time to learn how to water ski. His smile during that trip was something I will remember forever.

I love that Alex would stick up for the people who need to be defended. I love the memories of all of those summers packing 4 or more people into apartments and making the best of it. I love Alex's cynic and sarcastic wit, and the optimism that lay just beneath. I love that we could always talk, no matter how long it had been, and it would be like no time had passed at all. I love Alex, and I will never ever forget the time that we had together.”

** ** **

David, Alex’s graduate school co-advisor, spoke next.

It is odd that only in times like this that we truly understand and appreciate those around us. In seeing this gathering of friends and family I see the richness of Alex and his life that I did not truly understand until now.

The facet of Alex that I know of Alex was as his PhD dissertation advisor. I first met Alex about 7 years ago shortly after he passed his PhD qualifying exam. He was looking for a project that fit his intellectual interests, but also fit his sense of things that were important. He came very highly recommended by Bob Dutton and Steve Connolly. As any good advisor would do I promptly set him off on directions that led him no where. Fortunately, he learned from this and ultimately formulated a cohesive body of work that lays a foundation for new medical tools to treat patients with less suffering and pain.

Although, Alex proved to be a determined and outstanding scientist and engineer, his heart as many have already related was with service and education. I remember Alex taking the summer to go to Africa with Cosmos. When he returned, he had such enthusiasm from his experience that I was certain that he would never return to the hum drum life in the lab. As is typical of Alex, we went through and analyzed his interests and goals and he realized that the doctorate would give him the credentials he would need to achieve greater impact. He didn’t let his return to research, however interfere with his love of service and teaching. There were many evenings when I would come to the lab at night to find student projects from the Science Bus scattered throughout.

It is sad that Alex life was cut short, but we can find solace in hearing of his deeds and seeing his friends around us. We can know that his life was a full one. In the end we should not judge the value of a life by its duration, but its richness. In this regard Alex’s life has been and will be very valued by all around him.

** ** **

Dana, a friend from Cosmos Education was up next.

“My name is Dana. Alex and I worked together on Cosmos Education, an organization that many others have already mentioned today. Cosmos is a nonprofit that does work to improve science education in Africa. Alex was a true anchor for the organization and he will be missed tremendously.

As I look out on all the wonderful friends and family that have gathered here today in memory of Alex, I can't help but think of all of the people who could not be here. This includes Cosmos colleagues in Kenya, in Zambia, in the UK, and countless secondary school students from across Africa. I know that they are also here in spirit.

While I was reflecting on what to share with all of you today, I thought about the numerous ways in which Alex was special. But what stuck out for me above all else was how thoughtful and reflective Alex was. And how he was always thinking with both his head and his heart.

On the intellectual side, Alex confronted the complexities of development and was always asking smart questions and learning as much as he could. He knew that good intentions alone were not enough and that if he truly wanted to make a difference (which he did) then he needed to understand the complexities. Alex put his knowledge to practice as he strove to increase Cosmos's impact.

On the human side, Alex didn't let the complexities of development keep him from acting. He was the first to respond in times of crisis. When the house of a Zambian colleague burnt down, Alex was the first to rally support. Five days or so after I met Alex for the first time, we were together on a Cosmos trip in Zambia and I found myself in the unfortunate situation of having an ATM card that had expired and knowing I still had two months left to go in Africa. Even though he barely knew me, Alex didn't hesitate to start withdrawing money from his own account for me and bankrolled the rest of my trip to Africa. (Yes, I did pay him back!)

There is a quote posted on one of the walls at the Hewlett Foundation where I work that is purportedly a favorite and William Hewlett which says "never stifle a generous impulse." I think Alex lived by this every day, and in his passing I hope we are all able to follow his example.”

** ** **

Serena, Alex’s friend from graduate school, and recent girlfriend then spoke of Alex’s quirkiness.

“Seeing everyone who came today really shows how much Alex's generosity has touched everyone's life. I don’t think that any words could fully capture his spirit, but I wanted to share a couple of quirks that made Alex truly Alex.
  1. Alex hates chocolate, but will eat oreo cookies

  2. He loves cherry flavoring, including cherry coke and cherry flavored antibiotics.

  3. His sign is a smiley face with tongue sticking out to the right

  4. Alex gives a disapproving face to people who don't recycle or properly dispose of trash; he will carry trash for miles to throw it away properly

  5. Alex is a loveable nerd; I especially appreciate his 3dB wall

  6. He is very huggable since he has a very nice curve to his shoulder

  7. He is a packrat because he really cherishes everything, including all the cards and messages you all have sent him through the years.

... of course there are many more attributes which make him so unique and memorable.

I would like to end with one of Alex's favorite quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson, which I think really exemplifies him:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.”

** ** **

Last on the schedule, having known Alex for the shortest amount of time, was me.

“The first day I met Alex… I yelled at him.

I told him to “climb harder”, “watch your footwork”, “keep going”… he left the Rock Climbing Strength and Conditioning class that I was teaching at Stanford with a smile on his face and sweat on his brow.

I knew I did my job well when he came back the next week for more.

I just loved how he gave it his all – constantly giving his best effort and making such a great impact on the rest of his fellow classmates as well by shouting words of encouragement and pushing, whoever was his partner for the day, to his or her limits.

After the quarter ended we continued to hang out – and I took him out on some group climbing trips – and at some point, somehow, we became good friends … and his climbing did improve too.

Now that I’ve been able to see a much more complete picture of who Alex was, and all the amazing things he did, it’s surprising that he had the time to climb at all.

Alex was involved with so many, and such diverse, groups. From helping middle school students find “their voice” through writing to science education and sustainable living in Africa.

He helped countless people all over the world.

Despite having such a short time, he managed a high impact. In reading the outpouring of responses and emails I’ve received since updating his blog it has absolutely amazed me the positive impact he had on so many lives. Each “Alex experience” that was shared showed his great and caring personality – each had a touching story to tell about how he impacted their lives for the better - pulling out the very best in those around him.

People who got to know Alex were changed for the better.

And I, like you, have the pleasure, and honor, of including myself in that category.

Though he’s no longer here to climb with, laugh with, or make fun of me – he will always be with me in my heart and memories. He helped shape me to be the person I am today.

You never know when will be the last time you say goodbye to a friend – so cherish your friends and follow Alex’s example - and make a positive impact.

I love you buddy.”

** ** **

Afterwards Angel closed out that portion of the service and other individuals, who felt moved to speak, also came up and shared their stories.

First was Alan,

“Hi all, I'm a friend of Alex's post undergrad era. According to gmail, I've known him since at least 7/26/2004. In those 6 years, I'd say Alex was one of my closest friends who also understood me the best. In our discussions among friends, he'd be the only one who grasps where I was coming from and could explain it to others (although he wouldn't necessarily agree with me). Hopefully I'm channeling some of him today.

Looking through our chats and e-mails, I've clearly gotten more out of our friendship than he did. He's given me so much advice on getting my degree, and has provided a good butt kicking at times when I'm procrastinating. Showing me that one person can and should try to impact the world (cosmos, science bus, etc.). A former labmate e-mailed me last night, and she said.. onething she remembered about Alex was that he would bring us Jack In theBox at night when we were working late, even though Alex was not in this class.

What did I bring to him? I got him to watch shows like Glee, America's Best Dance Crew, and So You Think You Can Dance. Quality American television. Believe it or not, he's even telephoned in votes for that show. As usual, we would disagree on who was the strongest dancer.

I do want to tell him he's wrong about one thing. He would occasionally say that he was jealous of the number of friends that I have. I hope he's here today seeing this. I should be the one jealous of him. The number of you, the intensity of everyone's love for him, and, as cliche as it sounds, the fact that we all are better people just for knowing him. I really hope he can see this. I love you Alex, I'll miss you.”

Allen also read a message prepared by Winston Hsieh, an award-winning historian and biographer, who is a cousin of Alex's mother. The message outlined the impressive family line that Alex was born in to.

** ** **

Several other friends then got up to speak..


Finally Alex's sister Julia and mom gave heartfelt thank you's

It was also mentioned again that Alex was awarded his PhD in EE and that approval has been given to name a laboratory room at Stanford in his memory. The lab houses the new Assistive Technology Laboratory at Stanford (ATLAS) in Building 550, Room 134. Angel then dismissed us, and we retired to my research advisor’s nearby house for some food and to view many of Alex’s photos and writings. We also watched a slideshow of his life, with incorporated comments of remembrances, that Serena so thoughtfully put together.

Alex’s high school and college friends also took the time to make poster collages, showing many highlights of Alex’s life. One such poster below:

Some people sat alone with their memories of Alex and slowly went through the albums and notes.

Others gathered in small groups, reaching out to those around them for support as they looked into moments of an amazing life.

And yes, us climbers did take one more climbing photo…

The slideshow was definitely the impressive remembrance.

Feel free to download the slide show pdf. Warning: it is a large file.

It truly was very impressive, and the writings, very touching. Thank you very much to all those who sent something in.

Folks slowly trickled out and went back to their homes as Alex’s mom and sister sat and relaxed. It was a great spot to take a much needed nap.

The next day we did gather together for a dinner… and though it was a full table, it felt empty without Alex... who just a few days earlier had insisted on eating dinner at the table and not in the hospital bed in his room.

We also continued the cleaning, and soon had his old room and office packed up

I am still going through his hard drives - compiling his photos and documents in one place, and am enjoying all the emotion that he put into what he wrote and his amazing photography skills. He truly was an artist.

And yah… now that the service is over, the cleaning done, and only a few more hard drives to go through… soon I’ll have nothing left to do for Alex… soon I’ll just be going through my days again, back to my normal routine.. staying busy with all the stuff I do… while still wearing my “LiveStrong” wristband to honor Alex, and remembering how much I miss my bud.

Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

Sunday, April 04, 2010

One Week+ Later

Hi, this is Julia, Alex’s sister. Those who know me know that I never post anything – I call myself a Facebook lurker, someone who enjoys reading what others are doing, but never thinks that anything they’re doing or thinking is worthy of posting.

So this is very unusual for me, to say the least. But these past few weeks have been both heart-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time, and I feel a little obligated to share some thoughts with you (dear reader).

Alex wasn’t just my brother; he was someone I enjoyed as a friend, someone I would have chosen to spend time with even if he wasn’t related to me. And I’ve been stunned and amazed at the number of people he touched, and the outpouring of support my Mom and I have received.

I mean, Alex has almost 350 friends on Facebook. I’m not sure I even know that many people. That’s the heart-warming part, knowing that Alex had connected with so many.

The heart-wrenching part is, of course, missing him. I’m thankful that his passing was relatively fast, as it was so painful to watch him deteriorate. I am even more thankful that his last day was filled with so many visitors, and that he was able to enjoy the time with them all. It really was one of the best days of that last week. But it’s still hard to accept that he’s gone, that there will never be another goofy moment with him.

The memorial service was a week ago today, his passing a week and a half. Seems like such a short time, and yet also so long ago. My Mom & I went to put some flowers down at the bluff today – it was raining & the wind was driving pretty hard. We tucked the flowers into the cypress log by the grassy area. It was a reminder on how fortunate we were to have the stunning weather at the memorial. At this point, they've probably been scattered by the winds, but that's fine, as Mom had wanted to throw them into the ocean but we were thwarted by the weather.

Regarding the memorial, we have to thank so many people for pulling it all together. I know Mom & I would have been overwhelmed if you hadn’t taken over & just planned everything. I also know that I’ll be missing people who either did things in the background or I just plain forgot – forgive me. But I want to thank these people again, hopefully a little more eloquently than what I said at the memorial.

Thank you, Blase, Alan, Janet, Serena, and Gloria for scouting out locations and doing all of the planning for the service.

Thank you, Serena for pulling together the slide show, with loads of assistance from Alan, Blase, Amina, and everyone else who sorted through the boxes & gigabytes of photos.

Thank you, Amina & Sarah, and I’m sure lots of the other high school folks for putting together the posterboards and helping to sort through Alex’s stuff.

Thank you, Jeff & Tom for the music, both at the service & the great playlist at the house afterwards.

Thank you, Mike Ying, Holly, Amina, and whoever else from the college crowd for getting the flowers & pulling together more photos.

Thank you, Mary, for really just being there and happy to help with everything from hauling truckloads to the dump or Goodwill to cleaning.

Thanks to all of the speakers at the memorial, both the planned & the impromptu. Angel, Monica, Janet, Jeff & Tom, Mike, David, Dana, Serena, Blase, Ryan, Kevin, Amanda, Amina (hopefully I didn’t miss anyone).

And I just have to thank Blase tremendously again. I thought he was strange at first for coming over all the time – I mean, didn’t he have a life? Why was he coming over everyday at lunch and in the evenings? But, as I said at the memorial, he saw what was coming before we did, and knew how hard it was going to be. And he really helped us through it – and continues to be a great source of strength & solace. Plus he’s a good blogger :-).

Thanks everyone. I hope our paths continue to cross.