The Bad News That Wasn't
The phone jangled insistently, startling me out of my data entry reverie. My parents' home number flashed on the console screen, a world away in Maryland.
My grandmother died, I thought; I'm sure of it. It's an "anytime" thing, you see. My mother tries to dissuade me from coming to see her, saying "She wouldn't know me, anyway". I think she's just trying to protect me from what she feels when her own mother looks at her with that bewildered, painful expression of knowing you should know who someone is, but knowing you just plain don't.
She didn't know me at Thanksgiving or Christmas--she actually asked me in a sad, desperate tone of voice where I was. She missed me so very much, and I was right there. But that's how it is, I suppose; with her and those who love her. We miss her, and she's right there.
I sat with my hand on the handset, not ready to answer the phone; savoring the last few moments when I wouldn't yet "know". I've seen enough death to recognize those strange minutes for what they are--odd and surreal in retrospect, the instant before everything changes. It all flashed before me--me as a little girl, my tiny hand folded into her soft wrinkled one; hopping barefoot on the soft grass of her front yard. Her puttering in the garden, a floppy summer hat on her head, a smile on her face. Summer days with watermelon and strawberries. Winter days with roast beef dinners. I thought of seeing all the cousins I rarely see; crying and laughing, remembering and letting go.
And then, taking a deep breath, I answered the phone.
"Hi, honey!", my mother chirped brightly. "How are you doing?"
And so, she hasn't died after all. It was a false alarm. But in those few seconds when I for some reason assumed that she had, I had already buried her. And it's strange to think that I'll have to do it again.