It’s 7:30am. The phone rings and I answer. It’s my Grandfather, sounding serious, asking for my Dad. He’s outside shovelling snow so I take over and he goes into the phone. Too much time passes and, even with my little kid’s shovel, I manage to finish before my Dad returns. When I get inside mom and dad are sitting at the table looking serious.
This is the first time I hear the world death.
Although that part is singed into my memory, I can’t remember who it was. My memory seems to have repeated it as well. In my head, this happened multiple times, but I know some calls came in the summer. I know I didn’t always answer the phone. One thing is for certain.
Calls before breakfast are never good news.
Your dad’s cousin has died.
His uncle has passed away.
Grampa has had a bad accident.
Grammy suffered a fall.
He’s very sick and going into the hospital.
She’s going to have surgery.
He’s going into hospice.
She won’t be going home.
Visiting hours. Amputation. Ulcers. Dialysis. Sugar levels. Blood pressure. Pneumonia. Heart failure. Lung cancer. Words I learned before I learned cursive or multiplication.
This week’s #ppdchat is about triggers. I have many but there is one big one that cripples me everytime. Last week, as I studied a hospital map to see where best to entertain my daughter during visiting hours, childhood memories I hadn’t realized I’d retained came flooding back.
It’s a beautiful sunny day. My grandmother is in hospital again but no kids are allowed on the ward. My brother and I are making up games to play on the various pieces of equipment along the fitness trail outside. My dad pops out to check on us. We fall about with laughter as he does his best to complete our latest dare on the balance beam. He laughs too and applauds my sister as she completes our task with ease. Later, we are gathered by the car, saying goodbye to other relatives. Visiting hours are over. I can see my mom’s eyes are sad behind her smile. She hands me a small gift wrapped in tissue paper. It’s my birthday and she’s gotten me earrings - my name spelled out in rainbow letters. I couldn’t be happier. We had taken a break from that same hospital to go get my ears pierced exactly one year before............................My grandmother has come to stay with us for a while. She’s had both legs removed at this point, has emphysema along with several other things I don’t understand yet and won't know about until later. My Dad has built a ramp that fits over our front steps. We’ve borrowed a wheelchair from our church and have rented other things from a medical supply store.The bed is my favorite. Able to go up and down, prop you up or lie you flat, all by the touch of a button – brilliant............................She’s on oxygen now, though I rarely see her use it. I’m in her room watching our usual morning TV lineup - Captain Kangaroo followed by Great Space Coaster, then Price is Right…after that I’ll need to leave because that’s when Grammy’s ‘stories’ come on and those aren’t appropriate for me to watch. My mom pops her head in and notices the oxygen tubes lying on the bedside table.“Why is that off again?” she snaps.“Because the noise scares her so I turn it off when she’s in here with me.”I don’t know what gave her that idea as I think the steady hssss-ggssshhh of it is kind of soothing...it’s the tubes in her nose that freak me out............................Another phone call has come and my Dad is in charge. Grammy is very sick this time so we all do our best to help Dad out while mom was away. Everything is an adventure. I get to take slices of provolone cheese with me for snack instead of making it into a boring old sandwich. He’s used ice cream scoops so our lunches sit in perfect little semi-circles on our plates. We have goulash for dinner. Dessert is “pudding in a cloud” served in wine glasses - I feel like we were on some fancy vacation.When I get home from school, my sister is sitting on my Dad’s lap, my brother on the floor in front of him.“Grammy’s died.” “Do you know what that means?”Not really but I know I am sad and that I’ll never see her again. I also know she’ll never be in pain ever again and that makes me strangely happy.A few days later, my mom sits my brother and me down and asks us if we have any questions or feelings about Grammy dying. My brother asks if it was okay that he hasn’t felt like crying and my mom explains that everyone deals with it in their own special way and that’s ok. I ask if that means it’s okay if I do cry a little and she says yes, if I want to.
The phone rang yesterday just as I was pouring my daughter’s morning milk. My heart stopped. The lump was in my throat before I could answer the phone. Later, as I washed dishes and tried desperately to go about the day like all was normal, I had the clearest memory of my dad’s face the day my mother died.
The four of us who had been five just hours before stand in a group hug, silently crying in our kitchen. Then we sit down with coffees and wait until what feels like an appropriate hour to begin making phone calls.
7:30am. That’s respectable enough.