Wednesday, March 21, 2012


There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that I hate worse than talking on the telephone.

Clearing a shower drain of decomposed hair is a close second, but it's still second. Thank God for Facebook, email, and text messaging so that I rarely have to actually pick up a phone to see how a friend is doing, or confirm weekend plans, or share information about how awesome the kid is to far-away family members.

And of course, since my mom's cancer diagnosis, I've spent most of my precious little free time on the phone.

My sister, bless her heart, passed along all telephone-notification duties to me while we were sitting at Mom's bedside the night she was admitted. She's older, and she's bossy, and before I could say "No," she had volunteered me for the one job I didn't want. No matter; for a variety of reasons, Mom's friends have chosen to seek me out, anyway. Believe it or not, dear readers, but people find me approachable. Yeah, I know. I don't get it, either.

I knew this was coming. The night my dad died, I was the only one able to form complete, coherent sentences. Grief has a way of not hitting me until well after the fact. Plus, I am a Responsibility Champion. True story. I have that title on one of my favorite coffee mugs, so it must be accurate. I do not allow myself the luxury of a nervous breakdown until all my chores are finished, because I want to enjoy the nervous breakdown, and I can't do that when I'm worried that I never did get my bathroom cleaned. So, being the responsible one, between the hours of 3am and 5am on the night my father passed away, I broke the news to his brothers, his sister, his best friend, and to various friends of the family who we knew would pull through for my mom at first light. This is my role in my family during deathly crises, to speak in a calm voice while everyone around me sobs. My sobbing waits until hours after the funeral, when the kid's in bed, and Jason hands me a beer, and I know all my responsibilities have ended.

Knowing that this is who I am, I sucked it up and called Mom's sole surviving sibling and her large circle of cousins, nieces, friends, and neighbors. And it was, without a doubt, one of the hardest hours of my life to date.

No one ever takes the news that someone they love has cancer the way you think they should. The ones I thought would cry were stoic and in shock. The ones I thought would be strong and offer help cried openly and had no words to offer. The common thread I heard over and over, with only slight variation, was, "But she can't die. I love her so much."

I have yet to form a good response to this.

Since that first day, I have been on the phone more than I've been off it. Every day is a different day for someone who is fighting leukemia, so her status changes more than Kentucky weather in springtime. Which is to say, more than daily.

When I'm not calling, people are calling me. And I take the call, no matter what I'm doing. Because I know every call is someone who loves my mother, who cannot visit her in the hospital because her immune system is wiped out, who cannot call her in her room because she is so often sleeping or trying to catch her breath. The irony is that it's my mother who is the great telephone communicator in good times; the woman spends HOURS a night using the only social media she's ever cared to learn. I have never called her, in the years since she got call waiting, when I was not the second person she was trying to have a phone conversation with.

But she cannot do that now, so I am her voice. A somewhat reluctant voice, but a voice nonetheless.

I will continue to have a close love-hate relationship with my phone until she gets better. And I know that there is a chance that she will not beat leukemia, and I will once again find myself in the kitchen of the house I grew up in, being the calm voice that delivers bad news while those around me begin to grieve.

And when this storm has passed, I know I will still have to make the occasional phone call. But loved ones, take note: my first choice from here on out will always be text.

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