Sunday, February 7, 2010

Midnight Calls

There is nothing more jarring than the phone ringing past midnight and before dawn. It always means something bad, always. No one every calls at 2 am to say they are getting married or having a baby. In my experience, 8 times out of 10 someone has died. The 9th time might be news of a hospitalization and perhaps once you get lucky and it’s a wrong number.
I hate the sound breaking the silence of my sleep. The ring is so clear against the cold air. My half peaceful heart, always braced for disaster, wakes up pounding, dreading the worst, constructing obituaries for various names in my head.
Two years ago, just before Christmas, it was my husband’s grandmother.
I had been sick so I stayed in bed while he took the call. His family lives across the country so I reasoned they simply forgot about the time difference. But, the odds were against me.
When he came back to bed I asked him if everything was okay. He replied, “No.”
Its such a rare response to that question that I sat up, startled. He said, “Nana just died.”
I felt sick to my stomach. I felt the suck of words draining from my vocabulary- nothing to say. Fear of losing everyone filled me. Bad news never seems to come alone. I was afraid that this loss would divide us, hopeful that it would not. I was lost in his loss. I was uncomfortable, scared and still sick. My head ached with exhaustion but I could not sleep.
The rest of the week I prayed for peace, I looked for flights and finished up the exams and papers for my graduate classes.
After the funeral, after we were back, I got my end of term work back. One of my professors had scrawled, “Writing seems a bit rushed,” atop a paper. I tossed the work aside in great anger. It’s funny how quickly sadness can turn bitter and angry. “He doesn’t have a clue about my life,” I thought. Which was true. Yet, I had no desire to open up and give him a clue. So, I kept the B. It was the first B of my graduate school career.
Grieving authentically is a skill which our culture seems to ignore. How do we do that? What is a genuine response when things are not okay? My impulse is to write...and write...and write some more- pulling all I perceive out of my pain.


  1. Grieving is highly individual, and there is no right or wrong way to express or feel it. Unfortunately what we're confronted with often is an expectation from our society that is at odds with how we might feel. You know the kind of thing - 'it's been a year now. You should be getting over it.' I haven't ever experienced this kind of reaction but you do hear of it a lot, and I admit that sometimes I've thought it about others.
    When each of my parents died I cried at the finality of it, but in neither case was it a shock and I more or less just got on with things after a brief period of mourning. Sometimes I wonder if there's something odd about me because I could do that. We're all different, and my way of mourning is no less authentic than another, really.

    Writing is enormously helpful to me, and I urge you to follow your impulse to do it, Kate. It allows for a long, introspective look at our deeper feelings and that's got to be good. I think it's also an exorcism of sorts.

  2. wow this peace is moving, and thought provoking...How do I deal with greif? Cry, sleep, ignore it. I think writing is good, it lets it out. I liked this piece because of the great word choices and combinations. They made ideas stronger and come across more life like.

  3. Deborah- Expectations are exactly what I have been musing about and yet could not put my finger on. Thank you for sharing your experience. I agree that each of us is so unique that mourning will look different in every case.

    Anne- I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece. Ignoring or minimizing grief certainly is the most tempting to me. “Letting it out” can be scary, because it’s frustrating to be labeled, “overly emotional” or “overly sensitive.”

  4. Yes, those middle of the night calls. The adrenaline rush, the panic, the sinking feeling. My heart always races and I have trouble catching my breath.