The dreaded 2 a.m. phone call…

Yesterday afternoon, after being challenged by my cousin and a dear friend, I dumped a bucket of ice and water over myself for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  My maternal grandmother, you see, succumbed to ALS when I was thirteen; her diagnosis, decline and death happened in the time it took for me to turn thirteen and being a month shy of turning fourteen.  The pall her illness cast over our lives was significant; those of us who had not heard of ALS before then suddenly got an education on the subject.  Dumping a bucket of ice and water over my head was uncomfortable, but it was nothing compared to what my grandmother faced in her final months.

Around the time that I was serving dinner, a sudden feeling of dread overwhelmed me.  If I tell you that I felt tremendously tired, weak and achy, you’d probably say “ah, the cold water!”  No, this was something else…  Because our family has been under the strain of ailing relatives with varying degrees of severity attached to their conditions, a feeling of dread has become par the course for us.  I ate dinner while thinking that I was being a tad melodramatic, and then I gave myself an earlier-than-usual bedtime to basically sit and relax…

We tossed and turned all night.  We were exhausted, but still we couldn’t manage to sleep and rest.  And then the phone rang…

My father in-law passed away in the small hours of the morning.  Even though we’d been expecting the news, it wasn’t easy to hear.  Yes, there is a degree of relief in knowing whatever physical suffering the loved one has been experiencing is done, but…

In the car, driving to buy a take-out dinner we didn’t want but felt compelled to eat because the next few weeks will be long and we need our strength, Dada and I were talking about the intricacies of the process of grieving.  I lost my beloved aunt 23 years ago, and Dada lost him mom sixteen years ago.  Although my parents are still alive, I do have an inkling of the grief that comes with losing a parent because my aunt was a mother to me.  Our conversation in the car turned on the many ways in which one feels totally gypped when a loved one dies.  There are many ways in which this can happen…

Waking up to a ringing phone with bad news on the other side is not fun.  It’s hard to go back to sleep after that, or -if you do- you will fall asleep when it’s about five minutes before the alarm goes off.  I don’t know if this is a law of Physics, or of any other science, but it should be.

We went through the motions of “morning” with the tiredness of sorrow, and we managed to successfully send J off to school without causing him any major anxiety.  School started on Monday and, because J decided so, our morning routine was trimmed down to getting dressed and getting out the door.  The same kid who used to relish our “I love your nose…I love your eye…I love your cheek…I love your ear…I love your other eye…” and so forth routine actually went from what usually preceded it to what usually followed it without stopping in the middle.  Although I loved the whole routine, and the giggles that it extracted from J, as well as the bone-crushing hug with which he said “I love you” when it was over, I accepted this as yet another passage in the mother/son relationship.

Ok, I pouted for a while, and maybe my eyes got misty, but I understand that we’ve moved on from another childhood ritual that J had no everyday need for anymore. As with everything in life, time gets called on habits, routines, even people’s lives, and we move on in spite of our sadness and apprehension.

Louis C.K. says “People are always asking what happens after you die. Lots of things happen after you die—they just don’t involve you. There’s a Super Bowl every year…A dog catching a frisbee …”  Death directly affects one person, and then it stops; once you’re dead, of course, your suffering, tribulations, happiness, sorrow, illnesses, tics, quirks, and so on and so forth, disappear…they’re done…they’re over.  This is not about whether there is a Heaven or not…it’s simply a statement of fact: all the worries of the world will fall off once your time as a living, breathing human is completed.

The rest of us, however, are left flailing like fish out of water.  When someone is taken out of our life permanently, we don’t exactly know how to breathe until we figure out how to function again.  It is not that we are left without a clue as to how to live, but rather that we are suddenly painfully, suddenly, shockingly aware that that person is gone, and that we are solely responsible for keeping them “alive” by hook or crook.  As we sat in traffic, Dada and I started enumerating the many ways in which we remember our respective mothers (his biological, mine blessedly voluntary.)  We both agreed that there is, even after such a long time, a gasp that comes attached to the oft-renewed realization that they are physically gone, and that we will never see them again except in the ways in which we can conjure them up through memory.  The most  heartbreaking expression I heard last night, when the lights were out and rain fell rather insistently on our balcony, was my husband’s voice laced with sorrow as he said “my parents are gone.”

There are things you cannot get back, and there are things that you will never lose unless your memory suffer a catastrophic failure.  I have learned, however, that in the throes of dementia there is, clear in my mother’s otherwise completely confused mind, the very keen presence of her long-dead mother.  The children, well, we’ve been watered down, reviewed to fit the picture she would have preferred, but her mother is there, intact and still vividly present.

The dreaded 2 a.m. phone calls throw US into chaos.  And, sadly, life IS about the endless possibility of getting one of those at any random time.  The more the call crushes you, the more you know the person it’s about was worth the pain, and -trust me- last night was heart wrenching on so many levels that the rest of our lives will be affected by that trilling sound in the middle of the night…

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