Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Home to Stay

That morning I was awakened by a phone call. As usually happens, the cell phone disconnected before I could get it to pick up. My brother’s name showed up on the caller ID.

That’s not good. They don’t call at this hour. Is something wrong with Bob?

I immediately hit the call button, but went straight to voicemail.

This is so not good. Who else would Deb be calling at this hour?

I set the phone down and waited, knowing she’d call again. When the phone rang I grabbed it. It had my other brother’s name on the caller ID.

What the hell...?

His wife was on the line. “Deb died in her sleep last night.”

I gasped.

No, she’s not gone. It’s not time yet.

We talked for a minute, then I called my brother as I walked down the hill to Mom’s apartment to break the news to her. My brother had to put me on hold and I quickly told Mom, so he couldn’t hear my voice break.

This isn’t real.

When my brother picked up I handed the phone to Mom and asked for hers in return. I called my daughters, neither of whom answered before the call goes to voicemail. They each called back as soon as they saw Mom’s name in the caller ID. The tears started as I told my older daughter the news. I was able to talk a minute later when the younger daughter called.

The older one cried with me. The younger said she’d let me go since I had the other one on hold. I learned later she called her husband and cried to him, shielding me from her pain.

I made it through work in a daze, the hours broken by calls to my brother and from my girls. It still didn’t really hit.

The next night I lay down and cried hard, but as soon as the tears came, my daughter called. She has a way of doing that. She talked about everything but our loss. She told me about the conversation she just had with my brother.

In her amazing way, she rambled to him about her memories of my brother when she was young. She reminded him of the Thanksgiving when she was two or three. She had stuck olives on each of the fingers on one hand and offered them to the grownups. Everybody ate their olives, except for Bob.

Bob didn’t like olives so he said no thanks. My daughter went on around the room, but found her way back to him. “Uncle Bob, it makes me sad that you don’t like olives,” she said, one olive still on the tip of a finger.

He caved. He ate the olive.

She laughed about it on the phone with him. “You must love me to eat olives.” She acknowledged that her fiancĂ© wouldn’t do something like that for her, so her uncle must love her even more than her fiancĂ©.

Bob agreed. At some point their phone call ended. The next morning he emailed my daughter and me to say thanks. After laughing with her on the phone he was able to go to sleep, something he’d been unable to do the night before.

Through the next few days, my younger daughter called to check on me, filling me in on the little things going on in her day. She knew how much I was hurting, even though she didn’t say so.

Within a week, life seemed normal again.

Wait, no, she can’t be gone. Let me call her and tell her...

She was only sixty. In my family, that’s so young. In hers, it was old. She’d told us for years that she wouldn’t make it into her 60s.

No, you can’t know that. You can’t just decide you’re old and leave. You have to wait ‘til we’re old, too. It’s the rules, isn’t it?

I laughed with my brother over the thought of her waiting for us at the Pearly Gates. She’d have her hands on her hips and be smiling. “I told you so.”

But, Deb, you can’t go...

I hear her laugh every time I picture her like that.

As the pain lifted, I noticed my dog slowing down. There was nothing specific, nothing to tell me to take him to the vet. Then one morning he woke up with his muzzle swollen. I assumed it was an allergic reaction to a bite, and in the next few days, the swelling lessened.

Then it came back, and this time he would only eat treats, not his usual food. We went to the vet who thought it was an abscessed bite. After shots and a prescription we went home to get better.

The swelling went down, but he still didn’t eat. Now he only wanted soft foods. We went back to the vet.

“It could be that it needs more antibiotics so we’ll try them for three weeks. But it could also be an infected tumor.”

The word hit me hard.

He’s too young, only 13. Old for his breed, but my last Aussie lived to be 16. He has three years left.

He had three days left. The first day, he stopped eating at all, even when I forced liquids on him. He grew weak, but he still followed me around. The following morning he could barely stand and we went back to the vet.

“We’ll give him IV fluids and antibiotics while we wait for the biopsy results.”

But I already knew the answer. A day later the vet called to tell me he was gone.

But, wait! He can’t be gone! I’m not ready. I still have three years with him...I don’t want to play this game anymore. This isn’t what we agreed to, is it?

Around me people are doing the same things they did a month ago. Going to work, school, parties, parks. The little stray dog who rescued me still wants to play. The guinea pig wants his lettuce. Can’t they see something is wrong?

He’s gone. She’s gone. Can’t you see the hole where they are missing? Can’t you see the hole in me? They’re gone...

I picked up my dog’s ashes today. The receptionist petted the box as she carried it to me. “Here you go, Woody. Your mama’s here. You can go home now.”

Deb, take care of my boy for me. Woody, don’t bark when you see her, you always scare her. Watch out for Deb ‘til we get there.

The box is so small. It doesn’t fill the hole in me. But my boy is home to stay.

Deb Fish
December 17, 1948 - April 2, 2009

Ridgerunner’s Ebony Woods
March 1996 - May 1, 2009