64: Phone Calls

64: Phone Calls

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

Phone Calls

The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them.

~Bernard M. Baruch

“Mom, Mom, wake up, Aunt Gloria is on the phone,” said my daughter Jen as she shook me awake.

“Tell her I’ll call her back. I don’t want to talk now, it’s late,” I mumbled. I had fallen asleep during my favorite evening television show and didn’t want any long conversation. I wanted to curl back up and retreat into my dreams.

“No,” Jen insisted. “She said it was urgent.” I reluctantly agreed to talk to her.

“Sallie, Mom is gone. I can’t believe it. I just talked to her earlier this evening,” my sister said.

“Gone where? What are you talking about?” I replied, yawning.

My brother-in-law, Ray, then got on the phone and said softly, “Sallie, your mom passed away about an hour ago and your dad is wandering around the hospital. We need to get there right away.”

This couldn’t be MY mother he was talking about. My mom was NEVER going to die. Who would comfort me, nurture me? Sure, I had my husband, but my mom was special. This was not supposed to happen until I was a very old person. I was only 44.

My husband came into the room and gently took the phone from my hand.

“We’ll be there soon,” he replied and hung up.

“Where are you going?” I asked, following him around like a lost puppy.

“To the hospital.”

“But, you can’t do that; I’ll be here all by myself!”

“Then you can come with me, if you want,” he said tenderly, putting on his jacket. In his wisdom, he knew better than to push me.

Reluctantly, I decided I would rather brave it at the hospital than stay home alone.

When we arrived I looked for my sister and her husband. Gloria rushed up to me and hugged me. I stood still, not yet comprehending how this nightmare had started.

“Like I said on the phone, I just talked to Mom about eight o’clock. I can’t believe she’s gone,” Gloria said. “I need to see her. Come on, Sallie, let’s go find her.” And with that she took my arm and started leading me down the hallway.

“Wait! I don’t want to see her,” I said.

“Well, of course you do,” my sister insisted.

“You have to go say goodbye.”

“No, I can’t. I can’t,” I said, yanking my arm away from her.

“Well, I’ve never heard of someone not wanting to say goodbye to their mother,” she fumed.

“Gloria, we all grieve in our own way,” my brother-in-law counseled her. “Leave Sallie alone.”

With that Gloria stomped off down the hall to find my mother. I leaned against a wall and started to sob. It hit me. My mom was dead.

“Sallie,” my husband whispered, putting his arms around me, having witnessed the dialogue between my sis and me. “Your dad needs you. This is very hard on him too. Let’s go see if we can find him.”

I approached the nurse’s station and announced who I was and asked where I could find my father.

“He’s been wandering around here for at least an hour,” the head nurse stated. “He seemed lost and couldn’t remember any phone numbers. We found your sister’s number in his wallet.”

“Where is he?”

“In there,” she said as she pointed down the corridor to heavy mahogany doors. “We thought the chapel was a good place for him to wait.”

I dreaded seeing him. He was so emotional he choked up when he heard the National Anthem at baseball games. I didn’t want to face him or his pain—our pain.

As I walked toward the chapel, I heard my mother’s words coming back to me, “You’re so your father’s child. You have his brown eyes, dark hair and his strong determination. The day I found out I was pregnant with you, he was so happy he took me shopping and bought out the baby department.”

As I neared the doors, I hesitated. In the last hour my world had turned upside down but I had to pull on my inner strength. I might not be able to see my mother lying still on a gurney but I could be there for my father.

I stopped as I turned the handle on the chapel door. I took a deep breath, as I whispered, “Come on, Mom. You’re our guardian angel now. We’ll take care of him together.”

Easing my father’s heartache became my goal over the next year. I knew he was hurting tremendously. He had cradled the love of his life in his arms as she suffered a massive coronary before the ambulance took her to the hospital.

We met often after the funeral and it was so awkward without Mom there. All my dad wanted to do was talk about the good old days. So I would sit and listen. I learned a lot about my parents and their life together. After our talks I would come home and draw a hot bath and sit in the bathtub sobbing. We were working through our pain together.

The first year was the worst: the first Christmas without Mom, my birthday without her homemade chocolate cake, and Mother’s Day. No sharing the joy of my first grandchild or my son’s wedding.

The old adage, “Time heals all wounds,” wasn’t working, at least it didn’t seem that way. Then one day a few months later the phone rang.

“Hi honey. I um... um... wanted to run something by you,” my dad said nervously.

“What’s up, Dad?”

“Well, uh, I’ve met someone. Her name is Theresa and I’d like to take her out to dinner, nothing fancy mind you. But I didn’t know how you’d feel about that. She would never take the place of your mom, you know that,” he rambled on and on.

“Wow, Dad,” I said, taken aback. I’d never even considered the possibility of this happening. I thought for a moment. “You know, Dad, no one should be lonely and I know she’ll never replace Mom, so you go have a nice time.”

“Thanks honey,” he said, sounding relieved.

That’s when I knew we had both started healing. I still think of my mom when I hear a special song she liked or something I wish I could tell her. She will always be in my heart, but we must continue living until the day we are together again.

~Sallie A. Rodman

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