A Personal Update

One of the most difficult years of my life, which I hope to god is now over, Delta-willing, just concluded today. My mom, Connie Wong, passed away this morning. I had been taking care of her in hospice at her home the past two months. My sister, her husband, and other family were holding the fort while I had to do my jobs the rest of the time. She lived alone in Southern California.

It was a tragic end to quite an epic life story, a long battle with a non-cancerous brain tumor she discovered in June 2020. Amidst Covid conditions in hospitals, Covid-teaching, Covid-childcare, I zipped between coasts to get her through a botched and failed surgery, daily radiation therapy that ultimately failed and may have accelerated her decline, attempts at physical therapy, and finally, a quick descent into a very debilitating state characterized by painful seizures, the loss of use of half her body, her memory, then speaking, then swallowing.

If we have been collaborating on anything the last year, I apologize for how uncharacteristically difficult I must have been to be productive. Most of all I apologize to all the listeners of the podcast for how tardy the next season has been, but of all the things I could have suspended to prioritize my mother’s care, it was the only one that made sense (in addition of course to the quality of my undergraduate teaching). But the next season is coming, I’m putting the episodes together now, and Slate and I are aiming for a release this October.

The story of the past year is a long story of a series of catastrophic medical mistakes that occurred one morning on July 30th, 2020 , the people who were left to clean up the mess, and the tragedy that ensued. Its also about how the end-of-life system in this country needs to change. As a fan and supporter of all makers of audio, I’m happy to share the story with anyone who wants it for a public audience, but I’m not going to talk about it on my show.

Connie was a single mother with an 8th grade education, sent to the fields by Mao at 15. She fled Guangzhou in 1971 with a satchel of flour and oil. She biked for 40miles, lost her shoes, spent 9 nights walking over hills, and then 6 hours in the water swimming to Hong Kong. She then moved to a foreign country at 30, became a bank teller, raised two children alone who ended up with PhDs, and fully bought and designed the house she retired in. I think her life is a win. She was 72.


  1. Barry, I’m so very sorry for your loss and for the struggles you and your family have faced this past year. Thank you for sharing. I’d love to hear your views on end-of-life care, if you’d like to share them.

    1. I’ll probably be talking about it publicly one anyone else’s show if people ask me about it. I don’t know if I can bring myself to do it on my own show. Short story, she wanted physician-assisted dying but it just wasn’t available.

  2. Good afternoon Barry,

    I am so sorry to hear about this tragedy in your family! Having met you when you were at Duke and your wife was singing with us in the Choral Society of Durham, I have enjoyed many of your Pod Casts since you resumed your work in NY State. I sincerely hope that you and your family can find peace after this incredibly difficult time.

    Looking forward to hearing more of your excellent work in the future.

    Doug Butler Durham NC


  3. Hi Barry,

    Was just checking the site re. status of season 5 and saw this. So sorry to hear about your mom’s ordeal and the toll on you and the rest of the family. It’s so frustrating to watch how much suffering is caused by the US medical system and our society’s inability to deal with death and palliative care, and to see little that can be done about that.

    Your mom’s story reminded me of a brilliant postdoc that worked for me (to the extent that I felt embarrassed to be included on our papers !). Her father had been a promising young physicist who’s life was essentially destroyed by the cultural revolution. This led to a tremendous amount of pressure put on her, his only child, re. education. She eventually came to the US as a grad student at Stanford and did well as a grad student and postdoc but the effects of her childhood went pretty deep and it was hard not to be able to figure out many ways to help with that.

    Looking forward to season 5 but totally down with waiting however long you need to get it out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s