The sound of the phone ringing barely roused me from my sleep at four thirty in the morning. “Hello?” I said, drowsily, hesitantly.
Hearing my sister say just one word, my name, with an edge of panic in her voice, had me wide awake instantly. “Di,” she repeated, and continued, panic rising, “I think Kenny is dead. I called 911.”
At first I had some hope. I kept as calm as possible. I told her to stay on the line with me while she waited for the ambulance. Her fears, her reality, continued to spill out. “He didn’t turn off his alarm. He wasn’t moving. I touched his face. He was cold.”
“I’m sorry, so sorry. Keep talking. Don’t hang up.” Wanting not to believe the unbelievable, that my sister’s husband was dead, suddenly, unexpectedly, at only 54 years old, I tried to offer comfort, to assure my sister someone was with her.
“They tried to tell me how to do CPR. But it’s too late. He’s cold. He is so cold.
Wait…I have to go let them in. The ambulance is here.”
“Don’t hang…” Click.
Shaken, and shaking, I dial my brother. No answer. Probably his cell phone is not loud enough to wake him. I dial my other brother. He answers, groggy as I had been earlier. I deliver the dreadful message. “Stay there,” he says, “I’ll come take you out to Sue’s in my truck.” This, at least, is welcome news. I won’t have to go alone, and I won’t have to try to drive on the icy roads.
I redial my brother. This time he answers. Again, I force out the words I wish I did not have to say. My brother and his wife agree to go to my mother’s house to be with her, to tell her the sad news.
My brothers’ compassion, I know, without words being spoken, is for my sister, but for me, too. They know I am remembering another day, when my husband died too young. Their love surrounds me, strengthening me so I can be there for my sister.
My sister calls back. She, too, had a brief moment of hope. The EMTs had gone in ahead of her. When she walked into the bedroom, she saw Kenny’s head lifted up off the bed. In the split second before her mind registered the fact that the EMTs were moving him to the stretcher, she thought, “Oh, thank God, I was wrong.”
But now there is absolutely no doubt. The EMTs want to know where to transport the body. We talk about it briefly, and my sister makes a decision. I tell her about the conversations with our brothers. I say over and over, “I’m on my way. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Hurry!” she says. Then, “No, just be careful!” We both wish that the distance between our two houses was much shorter, the day already lighter, the roads much clearer.
She talks, and I listen. Pain and sorrow are in every word. The words hurt, but even so, the healing begins with the words. In telling the story over and over. Minutes pass like hours.
Sue’s friend, who lives close by, arrives. I reluctantly get off the phone and start throwing some things together so I can stay at my sister’s. Finally, my brother comes, and we head out to my sister’s house. During the drive, I talk, and he listens.
We arrive. I rush in. My sister and I fall into each other’s arms. For now, no more words…just tears.
The call came. It woke us up.