I picked up the silver phone with my shaky hand, clicked through the numerous phonebook listings and found the number for my parents. A lot had been happening. I had seen a ton of people the day before. There was so much to tell. She would want to know. I pushed the button to dial. As it rang, a slow and deep and painful depression overcame me. My stomach turned. I had just tried to call my mother and inform her of her own death. I had intended on telling her the details of the past few days, including information concerning her personal and heartfelt funeral, the lovely reception that followed with a slideshow and her favorite cake, and most importantly, the juicy gossip that I had learned during the whole event. My heart pounded and I stopped breathing as I realized that she would never answer the phone again. In shock, I hung up the phone and stared at it. The silent phone was blaringly loud.
It was a Thursday, the day I buried my mother. Her 13 year old grandson and the rest of the pallbearers gripped the side of the beautiful dark red wood casket she laid in. She was placed in the ground wearing her favorite purple sweater and matching button up, no wrinkle, cotton/poly blend shirt. Her face had more color than we had seen in months. In her sweater pocket were tokens the grandchildren had bravely parted with, in honor of their “Granny”. In her hands, my father had placed a copy of her favorite family photo. The people looked on with tears brimming in their eyes. Eight times more people than she had expected lined her grave to say goodbye. This is funny, because she always bought more than presents than anyone possibly needed, cooked more food than anyone could possibly eat and worried more than was humanly possible. Yet when planning her own funeral, she woefully underestimated the turnout.
The next day was a fittingly foggy Friday when I awoke, unrested, feeling that the prior day had been very busy and somehow unfulfilling. As I looked at my calendar that morning I realized that I had a haircut appointment that day. How could it be possible that life so quickly and callously returned to the mundane and normal, the insignificant and unimportant? The prior weeks and months had been a whirlwind assortment of factual and guestimated medical analysis that never quite made enough sense, attempted emotional support that always fell short of what was necessary and an underlying subconscious denial of everyone’s worst fear. And now, the empty and silent day after had arrived. Exhausted and confused, there were now only two things that I was sure of. Today, I would get a haircut. And there would be no phone call from my mother. The phone would be silent.
Over the next days and weeks, as I paged through the grief pamphlets from the hospice people and the funeral home, I learned that I would probably feel the typical shock, confusion, anxiety, anger, guilt and sadness. I might even experience some physical symptoms. What symptom surprised me the most however, was the profound and pervasive sense of unmatched loneliness that I felt. While I did not see my mother daily, we did speak on the phone nearly every day. And lately, the painful silence of the phone screamed at me loudly.
The greeting cards arrived with their attempts at comfort and consolation. The cards promised to share my loss. I am remembered in prayer and God will give me comfort. They reminded me of my inner strength and encouraged me to talk and remember the good times. They wished me courage. They wished me hope. They wished this sad time would pass quickly. Not one of those cards, however, wished that the silent phone would stop taunting me each time I walked by.
Kind neighbors would stop by to drop off their casserole. They would politely ask how I was doing. 2 hours later I was still babbling as the poor souls sat trapped on my sofa. Good friends emailed me to offer their support. 20 emails later I had forced them into the depths of analyzing death, family, psychology, philosophy, religion and the general meaning of life. They were left trying to catch up with their work. Sympathetic relatives would call to check in. I would jabber away about whatever crossed my mind in an attempt to fill the empty space. And when the neighbors left, the e-mailers logged off and the relatives went back to their lives, the loneliness returned and the silent phone started shouting at me again.
In this silent loneliness that echoes through me, I am left with the overwhelming sense that death is an expert teacher. I am grateful to death for pointing out, so obviously, the petty and extraneous and hollow pieces of life. Death has gifted me the pinpoint focus and mental clarity to know innately, without any doubt, what is now essential to my being. Through death, my family has gratefully been surrounded by people, worthy of daily emulation, who arose to provide support during the preceding months of misery. Death provided the camera in which I was able to see my own father and brothers behave in a way that can only be described as selfless, heroic and grand. Without death, my own husband would have never said that their example of not just proclaiming love, but actually showing it and living it, has made an indelible impression on his life. Death has shown me that even in grief and loneliness, a quiet peace can exist. In death, there can emerge goodness.
As I move forward, I am sure that I will continue to progress my way through this lengthy journey of grief. I know there will come a day when I will wake up having slept through the night. There will come a day when the nightmares stop. There will come a day when I will realize my inner strength and be able to remember the good times. There will come a day when you can email me or visit me and I won’t make you talk about the meaning of life. And I know there will come a day, as the grief pamphlet stated, that I will have worked my way through the 6 Reconciliation Needs of Mourning.
I also know however, in my lonely soul, that there will never again come a day when that phone will ring and it will be my mother. And that silent phone is one gift from death that I’d like to return.
Check This Out!
My friend Ben made this casserole for my family to eat during the sad times. This casserole is great anytime though, not just at funeral time!
Chicken and Rice
1.5 cups instant rice
1 can condensed cream of mushroom
1 can condensed cream of chicken
1 can condensed cream of celery
Mix all that together and spread in greased/sprayed 9x13 pan.
Place some chicken breasts on top of that.
Mix 2 chicken bouillon cubes in 2 cups boiling water and pour on top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours.