My father passed away unexpectedly last month. He hadn’t been what anyone would call super healthy for a while, but complications after an unsuccessful attempt to clear some arterial blockage caused bleeding, which then caused the cascade failures of kidney damage and heart attack, and his body just couldn’t last long enough to get it all sorted out.
Late the night before he passed, Dad called from the hospital. He sounded tired, but optimistic, as usual. We hadn’t been able to visit because of the coronavirus pandemic, so phone calls were all we had. Hearing from him that night was a relief. They were monitoring him, and he was in good hands, and he’d call us in the morning. I love you, I love you, good night.
The next time the phone rang, it was early the next morning. Before 5:00 am. I’d slept with the phone near my bed because Mom doesn’t always hear too well. A phone call that early in the morning is never a good thing. It’s a universal truth of life. A doctor on the other end said they were performing CPR on Dad, and yes, your mom should come up to the hospital. Mom didn’t make it before Dad was gone.
I have nightmares, two months on, of that phone call. Maybe not nightmares, exactly, but I don’t know the word for that anxious catch you feel in your gut during that space between awake and asleep. I don’t know the word for that split-second of hopefulness I felt when I heard that phone ring (like my dad, I am always optimistic, too) or the dashing of hope I felt before I even answered. On the front end of the ring, possibilities were endlessly positive. They were gone before the end of the first ring.
How many good phone calls are there in a life? I remember getting called for two job offers, one for a resident advisor position at university I really wanted, another for a university teaching job I really wanted. I remember where I was when I answered the phone, who was there with me during the call, the sounds of the voices on the other end of the line. And though I don’t think I’ve been cursed by much more bad news than most people, the bad phone calls are easier to list.
Maybe good news is best delivered in person. Delivering bad news over the phone saves the messenger from the pain of the change of expression a person gets on their face and preserves the caller’s power to leave the situation by hanging up. Maybe email is becoming the new phone call, though I haven’t gotten much bad news through email. No one’s sent me bad news through text.
A month or so after Dad’s passing, our Detroit Tigers drafted the player everyone, including Dad, knew they were going to draft. I picked up the phone to call him. I suppose he already knew he’d been right all along. I suppose I need to make more good phone calls.
I remember Dad’s reedy voice the night before he died, the sounds of a room full of doctors working to keep his heart beating. I remember that good phone call. I love you, I love you. Good night.