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.