Thursday, March 12, 2009

On Two Phone Calls

It is not often that you receive bad news when you are expecting it. Bad news just doesn’t come that way. It comes in the surprise announcement that makes you hold your breath or, as I like to call it, suck air. Or in a manner that makes your heart drop and your mouth dry up. At times it comes in ways that make you forget what you were doing the moment before it was delivered and then, upon remembering, feel guilty that you were doing something carefree only moments before finding out such information. But it rarely comes when you’re looking for it. In fact, it almost never does.

Today has been no exception.

This afternoon I made what is a rather routine phone call for me. For as organized a person as I tend to be, I have a terrible time remembering when we have scheduled our hair appointments. Due to an upcoming trip over spring break, I knew that we had scheduled them differently than our typical four week intervals, so I called to check. Asking for her by name this time, however, begged a question from the receptionist.

“Are you one of her clients?” Uh-oh, something’s wrong. They never ask that.
“Yes, I am”. Make it quick.
“And you haven’t heard?” No, but pretty sure I’m about to. Please tell me she’s quit or left the country or something. Don’t tell me anything close to what I think you’re going to.
“Her son was killed in a four-wheeler accident Sunday.”

She proceeded to give me a list of details while I promptly went numb. I had never met her son, but I had heard many stories about him. He was a couple years out of high school, had just bought the four-wheeler. I think he may have even still lived at home. The details were not what caused my numbness, nor was there any personal connection to him specifically other than through her. The immediate numbing came from the fact that, to a large extent, I know what she’s going through.

And it hurts.

Those feelings of compassion for her and her family soon became mixed with guilt on my part. I received this news the day after his funeral. So while I have been going on with my life-going to work, getting some yard-therapy, walking the dog, spending time with my daughter-she has been living her own personal nightmare. And I could not be there for her.

Now, most people would not feel this way given the circumstances. Most people would be sad for them for a few moments and then properly move on with their lives. I am not one of those people. I don’t think you can be after you’ve lost someone as close to you as a spouse or a child. She is not one of those people you are on a superficial level with. She is sweet as sugar, with a Southern accent to match, and the heart to back it all up. She’s a good wife and mother, in addition to being good at what she does.

Plus, she was there for me at a time when I needed her.

When my wife passed away, she called and offered to take care of her hair and make-up for the wake we had here. She would not let me pay her for it. She did it because she loved my wife and my daughter and me. Maybe this is not that uncommon, but it was one less thing I had to worry about during that time. She also attended the wake, and stayed for quite a while. She is a genuine person who went the extra mile when I needed her to, and I was not able to at least go to her son’s wake. I know she’ll understand, but it’s still hard not to feel a whole lot of guilt heaped on top of all the sorrow I feel for her tonight.

After the shock of this news, I managed to resume my somewhat normal routine. This news had come after work, so I picked up my daughter and we headed home to do some more yardwork/playtime/dinner/dog-walking after which time I made another phone call. This time it was to my wife’s parents. I had not talked to them since the weekend, so I started with:

“How are you?”
“It’s been an interesting day around here.” Definitely not normal, but I wasn’t panicking like I was at this point in my previous phone call.
“What happened?”
“Grandma’s here.” Must be grocery time. He takes her to the grocery about once a week. Her memory must not be good right now-
“She fell today.”

She proceeded to give me a list of details while my mind raced back over two years to a time when I found someone else I love in a fallen position. It’s one of those memories I try to block out and yet with three words, there it was, at the forefront of my mind. I wasn’t numb this time, but a different kind of emotional pain ensued.

“Grandma” is actually my wife’s paternal grandmother. She is the only living grandparent on either side (my dad’s mom died just a few hours before my daughter was born). She has seven biological grandchildren (and eight great-grandchildren), but in the ten years I have been a part of the family, I have always felt like number eight. She will turn 81 on Saturday and until a few years ago was still pretty spry and seemed to have most of her mental faculties. But something happened to her after February 26, 2007, and both her physical and mental health have suffered.

It’s not surprising that something like this has happened. Her three sons have been trying for months to figure out what to do and how best to help her. Making decisions about things like long-term care is not easy, and I think they were trying to wait as long as possible. It looks like the decision might be made for them now. He is taking her to the doctor tomorrow, so we should know more then. I just hope her doctor does more for her than my wife’s did after her fall…

So where does all of this leave me? Tired. Drained. Remembering that which I’ve tried to forget. Sitting bleary-eyed in front of the computer trying to piece together my thoughts so I can crawl into bed with as light a load as I began the day with. It’s not going to happen. Between the sorrow for her son, the guilt for not knowing till after the services, and the worry about my grandma, it could be a long night.

Sadly, it will be a lot longer for two families I really care about.


  1. It's hard sometimes when you find yourself an expert on grief. As indeed you are.

    This situation makes you a lot more considerate about other people and their feelings. And it makes you realise a lot of things which are really important.

    What a way to learn. But now you've got that understanding, you can use it. I see no reason for guilt -- just an opportunity to make a difference. Good luck!

  2. Roads - Of all the things I ever thought I would be an expert on, grief wasn't even on the list. The opportunity to make a difference is precisely the reason I started this blog. I just had hoped I wouldn't have to do so "in my own backyard" quite so soon. Thanks for the well-wishes. I think I'm going to need them.