Monday, January 26, 2009

Through tears

Mom called over the weekend. She had to deliver bad news. Mom is the one who generally has to deliver bad news. She’s gotten better at it, though. When I was twelve and my cat died, Mom turned off my alarm clock, left a note and went to work. I woke up in a blind panic, and ran downstairs shouting, “We’re LATE!” The house was empty. My parents were gone, my brother was gone and the cat was gone. Then I found the note: “Sheba died in the night. You can stay home today. Love, Mom.” On the plus side, it was nice to have a day off to grieve.

This time, Mom was calling to tell me Aunt Helen had died. I knew bad news was coming from the long silences, during which all I could do was wonder who had passed away. When Mom finally told me, it took a while for the truth to sink in, even though Helen had been fighting cancer for years.

All I wanted was to go home. I began looking for flights. I have a Delta voucher, but the cheapest Delta flight was $1500. I did some more searching and found one for 1,100. Wow. Just 11% of my yearly pre-tax salary. I looked at buses and trains, which would have taken a day or two of traveling time. I looked into flying to nearby cities and driving into Des Moines. Nothing would take less than a day.

I called to discuss it with my parents. Mom warned me that weather might make my trip take even longer. Could I afford to spend that much and miss that much class and work? With two grandparents in the hospital, would I need to make another trip soon? I certainly hoped not, but what if I did? I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to come home so much, but intellectually I knew I couldn’t. I felt guilty. Mom told me it would be okay for me not to come, which I needed to hear.

Dad suggested that I could come home for Spring Break. Right now, Unkie, Karen, Lynn, Connor and Hannah would have many people around to comfort them and keep them company. During Spring Break, I’d probably be able to spend more time with them. I wanted to call and talk to them, but I told Dad I wanted to wait until I could do it without crying.

“That might take a few years,” he replied, making me chuckle through my tears.

My dad’s funny bone mainly emerges in three situations: 1- when he is interacting with small children, 2- during parties when he tells stories and jokes and 3- when I am crying.

When I was a child, I would be crying, and dad, in a baby-talk voice would croon: “Don’t laugh! Don’t laaa-augh!” or “Uh-oh. Careful with that lip sticking out. Some bird’s gonna poop on that lip!” I would get so mad, but would always crack up. When the tornado wrecked the farm, reporters were amazed at my parents’ good spirits. “Well, it’s either laugh or cry,” Dad replied.

Or, as in this case, both.

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