I barely heard the muffled sound of my cell phone in the pocket of my cargo shorts. With all the commotion of helping my son get his catcher’s equipment on and the chatter and cheers of the players, coaches, and parents, it took me a while to pick up on the constant ring tone.
If it goes to voice mail, you’ll know who it is, I thought grimly. The day was perfect for a t-ball game, but a dark cloud had finally moved in from the north, and it began to envelop my very soul and mind into its midst.
A type of cloud that I hadn’t experienced in about 15 years was back.
The cloud of death.
I then heard the triple beep of my phone as the caller finished leaving voice mail.
The night before, my sister notified me by text (how I miss personal phone calls) that our grandma was suffering kidney failure. Grandma, living with my mom, stepdad, and stepfather-in-law, alerted my mom that she was having trouble breathing and couldn’t move. After being transported to the hospital and evaluated, my grandma stayed overnight for more testing. My sister told me in her text that she would keep me posted if anything changed. A routine hospital run; no different than before.
My ignorant assumptions crumbled like a centuries-old letter.
I dialed my voice mail as my son took his position behind home plate. Leaving the chain-link fence next to the empty dugout, I quickly walked to the adjacent baseball diamond where, luckily, no game was being played. Putting my index finger into my left ear as I jammed the phone against the other, my sister’s voice came on: “Hi Scott. It’s me. Grandma’s not doing too well.” A long, horrific pause ensued, meaning only one thing: My sister, the one with a heart of stone, was actually choked up. I stood confused and helpless, trying to decipher her message.
I had to replay the voice mail to understand her through the sobs. “Her kidneys are failing, and there’s nothing they can do. The doctors are gonna give her a private room in another section of the hospital so she can go peacefully.” The last few lines after that were unintelligible.
Immediately dialing my sister’s number, I quickly wondered how my son was doing as catcher before remembering that it was t-ball and catchers didn’t do much. An instant later, my sister answered.
“So there’s really nothing that can be done?” I asked, walking toward the low right-field fence and looking at the trees in home-run territory. Birds sang in front of me, and parents cheered behind me.
“No. Grandma’s too old for dialysis and a kidney transplant. Dialysis would be three times a week for six hours each time. The doctor said she would live miserably. She could go on life support, but her and mom already signed a form refusing it.”
“Yeah,” my sister said, and then paused. “They’re saying she can only last several days without her pills or being hooked up to a machine.”
I knelt down and then plopped onto the tall grass with my back against the wooden fence. In front of me was part of a black, dried up seed pod. I stared at it during the rest of our conversation.
“Can family visit?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said, “It’ll be a nice room. Really nice. It’s called South Care Hospice House. At least everyone can be with her and…” Another pause. “say goodbye.”
My sister lost control, and I felt a sucker punch in my gut. She managed to choke out the sentence about her being en route to the hospital.
It was my turn to cry. “Can you… tell her… bye… for me?”
“Yes.” Very short and clipped.
“Sure. Bye, Scott.”
I stood up and looked out into the distance beyond the fence. Orange and yellow trees stood tall under the blue, cloudless sky. “Grandpa, please appear to grandma in her room right before she goes so she won’t be scared.”
As an afterthought, I continued, “But ask God first if it’s okay for you to come down here.”
Another afterthought: “Oh, and, while you’re at it, can you arrange a last-minute flight for me?”
I knew grandpa would do it because, well, he was grandpa.
After a few minutes, I went back to the ball game just in time to help my son put on his batting helmet.
The dark cloud loosened its grip on me, but it remained nevertheless.
In Memory of
October 31, 1920 – October 10, 2011
The preceding was written two years ago after the death of my last surviving grandparent.
(photo by Topaz)