December 8, 2005

Antonio? Alexander? I thank you both!

Since my sister moved back to our home town, I'm the only one of my siblings and parents who lives more than 5 miles away from the others. I live a 3 hour drive away, so, generally, I feel lucky -- I'm able to see my family fairly often.

But last night, when my father called to tell me that my grandfather passed away, that 3 hour drive was a curse. I've never wanted to be in my hometown so badly and I've never felt so far away from those I need and who need me the most.

The phone partially bridged the distance, but not entirely. My sister called me, her words rushing out quickly between deep choppy breaths. Over the phone, I tried to calm her down. My dad and I spoke several times. He alternated between choked up, fine and possibly in denial, and tired. Each time, I tried to listen hard enough to understand what he might be looking like and feeling. The first time we spoke, my brother talked slowly and quietly in his deep voice and sounded as if he might be crying a bit, something I don't think I've seen since he was 14. I just wanted to give him a hug. I wanted to give them all hugs, but I missed my brother more than I thought possible. He and I weathered many childhood storms together, and I learned last night that his mere presence calms me, reassures me, and reminds me that this too will pass, and we'll get through it.

My main concern was my father: he's had a difficult year and had taken his father's illness very hard. Plus, he lives alone. I asked my brother if he and my sister would go and make sure my father was okay. Many phone calls later (dad: "I'm fine, I just want to sleep." sister: "Dad's being a jerk, I'm still going over to get a hug." brother: "yeah, we're going over there, just briefly though.") it sounded as if my siblings were going to be able to comfort each other and my father. 150 miles away, I relied on E and waited for my sister to call me after they left to tell me how my dad was doing.

I also did some thinking and decided that part of the reason my dad probably was reluctant to see his kids was because he's overwhelmed and knows that they are upset too -- perhaps he didn't want to feel obligated to care for them instead of himself. So, I did one of those over-reaching things that only family can get away with. I looked up one of my dad's best friends' phone numbers, called him, and told him that my dad's father had passed away. I asked him if he'd mind looking in on my father tomorrow. B, the friend, told me that my father had been in bed with the flu (didn't know that either...) and that he'd definitely stop by to make sure everything was okay in the morning. My papa's death was not my message to deliver, but I wanted to be reassured that someone who wasn't directly involved in the sadness would be there to support my father. I knew it was the type of action that could have gotten my father frustrated with me, but I didn't care.

After they left my father, my sister called, sad but calmed. She told me that B called dad while she and my brother were visiting and that dad was touched and wondered how B knew. When I heard that, I felt relieved, because even though I wasn't there, I was able to do something to support my dad last night.

When my brother got home, he and I stayed on the phone for an hour. We talked about everything and nothing, caught up, listened to my niece sing christmas carols and made plans for the holidays. It wasn't quite the same as waiting out the storm with him in person, but it was much better than nothing.

At the end of the night, 150 miles away, I felt pretty okay about the whole thing. I was included and I helped. All of this, of course, would not be possible without the telephone. While I may prefer email for quotidian communications, there is no substitute for the human voice in emotionally charged situations. So, Antonio Meucci, Alexander Graham Bell, and all the others (?), I sincerely thank you.

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