I’ve had to make difficult phone calls. I think we all have. And we’ve likely all been on the receiving end of those difficult phone calls too. So we know, a little bit, about what’s going on when all we hear is silence.
When my grandfather passed away I’m the one who called everyone. My grandmother wasn’t in a position to do it, having lost her daughter 4 years prior and her son just one year prior. When my mother died, my grandfather called me. I don’t really know what he said after “Sara, this is Grandpa.” It didn’t really matter because I knew why he was calling. Same with when he called me when my uncle died. Despite knowing it was going to happen, there was nothing I could do to keep my brain from not wanting to hear the words.
Yesterday I was the one making the call. Not about death, that call will come sooner than later. It was that call I thought would be the hardest. I never thought about the one that would come before.
My grandmother and her baby brother are best friends. Have been since the day he was born. He was “her” baby. She was 7 when he was born and as the youngest it was her job to help take care of the new baby. Today, they’re both in their golden years, she in her 90s and he in his 80s. They speak every day. That’s how it’s been for almost 20 years. The only times they’ve not spoken were when my grandmother’s been in the hospital and unable to use a phone.
This past spring, my Uncle and his wife came to visit his sister. My grandmother and Aunt are very good friends, having known each other over 70 years. It’s like they’re sisters, to some extent. They laugh, share stories of people they’ve known since childhood, and talk about friends who’ve passed away. That last part, at their age, is very common.
I adore my Uncle. My great uncle, really. And, he truly is great. If I could call him my super uncle I would, he’s that wonderful. Which is what really makes having to talk to him yesterday so difficult.
So far, in my nearly 45 years, calling him yesterday morning was the second most difficult phone call I’ve had to make. Yes, the second. The first will always be reserved for the one in which I had to tell my husband something bad happened to our daughter.
I knew there would come a day I had to call and tell him his sister passed away. When you’re 93, it’s not a matter of if just when. I also knew that would be a hard call to make. But he’s been on the receiving end of 7 of those calls letting him know a sibling has died. It’s how things go when you’re the youngest of 9 kids.
But this call. Sigh! My grandma is dying, and while it may be days or weeks all I know is it is imminent. And in her whispery breath she said she needed to say goodbye to her brother. Who am I to deny her that call? She’s weak and doesn’t open her eyes, but when she asked for this I knew I was the one who’d do most of the talking.
How do you call up someone and tell them that in a 24-hour period of time things went from bad to terrible to worst? I had to do that. And while it was difficult, I did it because it’s what I had to do as her granddaughter and caregiver. So I called and told him she wanted to talk to him. I know what she said, and I know what he said when I got back on the phone. She said goodbye to her brother, her best friend. The last person she’s known all his life.
I’ve never seen my Uncle cry. So hearing him choke back what I’m certain were tears, I can’t even explain how I felt. All I know is I wish I didn’t have to do, but I’m glad I did. Because sometimes not being able to say goodbye hurts more.