I sleep with my iphone. It is a horrible habit, I know. Although I now listen to the radio on it as I fall asleep and may spend a little too much time every night playing Boxicon it started off a well intentioned decision. When we got rid of our land line I started keeping the phone next to me at night *just in case*; And while I liked to pretend like that was a nebulous *just in case* that could encompass many things, in truth it was very specifically *just in case* something happened to my dad, whose health is not the best, and I got "the call" at night.
The text came in around midnight. The volume was off so I didn't see it until 6am. From my brother:
"yoyo. Gimmi a call if
you're awake, or gimme a
call in the morning.
(Please not my brother only speaks like a cross between Kid n Play and a Jersey mobster when he is under stress).
Dad is in the hospital. He was walking down the street. He fell. Luckily he fell outside of a bar (thata way dad) where he knew the bouncer (and no, his bad health is not due to a drinking problem, he has just lived in the same small town for 40 years) who called an ambulance. Concussion, brain bleed. Stitches, scans and observation reveal that the noggin will be fine and so the bigger question is why he passed out in the first place. He says he didn't trip but if you knew my dad you would know that he is not as attuned to his physical being as most people are. A common joke in my family is, after a trip or a drip or a bump, for someone to bellow "Fred (dad) encounters the physical world and comes out swinging". So he could have tripped and just not remembered or realized. Or he could need bypass surgery. Or a pace maker. Or have heart disease.
And I am on the other side of the country. My mom and my brother are at the hospital and I am at my breakfast bar. "I should be there" is what my brain is screaming at me.
In my family we are there for each other when the chips are down. Have a little bump, emotional or physical, and we may give you the old "stiff upper lip" talk but when the shit really hits the fan we show up. We are fond of the emergency cross country (or international) plane flight in my family. My mom has stayed on the phone with me while booking a plane ticket to fly to DC in the midst of my worst panic attack. She took care of both of her parents: flying from NC to London, taking the tube to the train station, a train to Swansea, renting a car and driving to Clydacch at least 3 times a year and often last minute for more than ten years. My dad's parents were geographically closer and he had more siblings but he and his brothers and sister were there for their parents, too. On his death bed my dad's dad was surrounded by children and grandchildren who literally sang him off to the other side. ("The Road to Mandalay" was the tune of choice in case you were wondering.) (Oh, and although I loved him very much my grandfather was an extremely charming womanizing cruel asshole who perhaps did not deserve the send off he received, just for the record).
I could be there tonight
"Wait" says my mom, "we have everything under control here".
"Wait" says my brother, "dad is doing well, acting fine, and we don't know anything yet"
"Wait" says Jeremy, "if he is looking at surgery it makes sense for you to go in a few days, take the kids and stay for a long time. If not it may make sense to go yourself for a few days over the weekend".
My guilt hangs heavy. I missed my grandfather's sing-off because I was on the other side of the world and didn't know what was going on until he was gone. I missed my grandmother's funeral because I couldn't get my depressed, anxiety ridden mind around getting from Boston to the UK in the middle of grad school finals. Those were grandparents - not my immediate responsibility. Not anymore. Now it is my parents who need me. And my kids. And my husband.
These calls, these moments, I hope that they do not come again but I know that they will. Eventually they will. I don't know how to balance taking care of the people who took care of me my whole life, who I love so deeply, who I know so deeply, with taking care of the creatures who depend on me to know and love and care for them and this life we have to them bequeathed. I don't know.