This story starts the way so many real life stories start; with a phone call. The moment I answered the phone I knew everything had changed forever. My life was going to be irrevocably different in ways I felt immediately and palpably, but also in ways I had not yet begun to fathom. Probably in ways I have yet to feel… My mother had just died.
It was mid-January and I was stuck in the day-to-day drudgery of my job and falling prey to the ennui that sweeps through Seattle in the middle of a long grey winter. I was leaving the office with my boss and one of our vendors when I got the call. My caller ID said “Mom” so I immediately felt a sense of dread. Mom never called unless it was something bad. Besides, my 99 year old Grandmother lived with Mom. Chances were, something bad had happened with Grandma…
I answered and it was Mary, a family friend. She said in a voice that broke my heart, “Oh Robbie this is a hard call”. I asked without thinking about it whether it was Grandma or Mom. “Your Mom” was her answer. Silence. At least I think there was silence. There must have been minutes of silence because how else could I have thought through a dozen scenarios? Was it a heart attack? Stroke? Mom was a lifelong smoker… And how is she now?
What happened?” I asked, my mind still formulating scenarios and possible outcomes. “She’s gone…”
“How’s Grandma?” My poor Grandma. This must be such a shock to her.
Little did I know…It was at this point that Mary told me the rest of the story. A mutual friend hadn’t heard from Mom in a while and was concerned because Mom had been sick. Mary agreed to go by the house to check in (Mom had done in-home childcare for years and had taken care of both of Mary’s kids so Mary is practically family). She let herself in and found Mom in her room. She’d apparently died in her sleep. Based on the condition of the body the coroner guessed she’d been gone one to two days.
Mary found Grandma in her bed, curled up. Grandma had discovered Mom’s body at least a day before. Since that time she’d fed herself, kept the fireplace going (mid-winter in Idaho is a very cold place to be) and kept to a routine as much as possible. When asked why she didn’t call anyone she said she was sure someone would come by eventually. I think the real reason is because she is hard of hearing and wouldn’t know if she actually got anyone on the phone. Besides, she was in shock.
I had Mary put Grandma on the phone and she sounded good. Almost strong. She was, of course, sad and in shock, but she retained her sense of humor (which runs to the morbid) and was heartened to know I’d be home the next day (somehow!). I got off the phone with my mind whirling and knowing I had two more phone calls I had to make before making my flight plans home.
I was lucky to get both my only brother Brandon and my Dad on the phone in one try. I explained as much as I knew to each of them and promised my brother that I’d see him the following day at our Mom’s house in Idaho. Each of them asked the first question that I myself had asked: “How’s Grandma?”. We were all thinking the same thing. With Mom gone, what was to become of Grandma? One of the many questions we’d have to answer in the coming days.