Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.

— Winston Churchill

When The Calls Come

It’s happened a few times now. Those calls from family far away announcing that someone I love is in the hospital. Tonight it was my mom calling, “Your sister is in the hospital,” she said.

It’s been three years since it was my sister calling to say, “Mom is in the hospital.”

There have been others…my brother, my grandmother, my cousin.

Whenever the call comes I immediately start a mental game of trying to decide how quickly I can get myself from Georgia to Vermont, where everyone except me lives. I’ll look at the clock to see if I can still make the evening flight or if I’ll have to wait for the early-morning departure. Would it be faster to just get in my car and start driving? Which client projects have immediate deadlines and which can wait a few days? What about my husband and my son? Should I take them with me or leave them behind? Would they even allow me the choice? How serious does the illness or injury have to be that it justifies packing my responsibilities into a ten-minute suitcase and heading out the door?

Really, all it needs to be is a certain catch in the caller’s voice that licks at my conscience, “come home.” My mom’s voice didn’t have that catch tonight.

When you live far away from your family, the calls are part of life but they always devastate my resolve. Tonight after my mom promised to call back as soon as she knew more, I hated myself for not living closer, for not being there for my sister and her four-month-old daughter. Here or there, she doesn’t actually need me. She needs doctors. She needs her husband. There’s nothing I can do, but sisters are always supposed to be there…to be your shoulder, your confident and even your nurse. She doesn’t need me, but I need her. Soon she’ll be fine and life will go on, until the next call comes, and I’ll start thinking again about packing my house and my family and going home.

Then I’ll remember if I’m there, I’m not here and for now, here is home. I’ll remember that two of my adult stepchildren are here, not there, and my husband’s family is spread across three continents. I’ll remember that life happens between the calls, and I like my life.

I’ve only had to jump a plane, rent a car and race to the hospital once. The call was about my mom. We almost lost her three years ago. We were in Vermont when she initially collapsed with a sub dermal hemotoma on her brain. We were having a family barbecue and she was laughing with her grandchild, and then I watched as my father knelt beside his bride and waited for the ambulance to arrive, ashen with the idea he was about to be more alone than he could conceive. I still can’t talk about those moments when I clutched my son against my heart and thought I was losing his grandmother.

We stayed in Vermont while my mom began her recovery and when we left, we all felt certain the little sprouts of hair beginning to cover her scalp again were our sign that enough time had passed, enough reassurances had been given that we could head back to Atlanta. She was going to be fine.

Within weeks we almost lost her a second time, and that’s when the call came. That’s when I had to jump a plane, rent a car and race to the hospital. That was the time I worried I’d not get to place the palm of my hand against her cheek and whisper about a daughter’s love. We were lucky. We got to keep my mom.

There will come a day when a call will come and I’ll not have the choice of packing my fear into a suitcase. I’ll be too late to say goodbye. The passages will have taken place without me, and someone will call to remind me to bring something black to wear. I’m not sure how much I’ll hate myself in that moment and wonder why I chose to live so far away. I simply don’t know.

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25 comments to When The Calls Come

  • I dread those calls. I have panic attacks about those calls. I never want any of those calls.

    steenky bees last blog post..Memed…Like a Lot, You Guys

  • That geographical distance can make you feel helpless when things happen but don’t beat yourself up over the choices you’ve made to live where you do. Feelings of anticipated guilt can’t be good. Things have a way of evolving as they should.

    I hope your sister is doing well.

    Hilarys last blog post..Fiery Skies

  • We live about 7 1/2 hours away from our families… it sucks sometimes, but, like you, I like my life so I deal with it. My dad had a heart attack two years ago and had to have open heart surgery. I went back by myself and it was one of the longest drives I’ve ever had to make.
    I hope your sister is doing ok… smooches.

  • Amy

    You really should not make people cry first thing in the morning!!!

    I hope Your family is doing well! I think that distance does make it hard (I have not had this yet) BUT even when you are right there you struggle with so much emotion so I agree with Hilary things have a way of working out the way they are suppose to!

    Hug to you!

  • Those calls are just as horrible when you live 5 minutes away. And, even being close, I never know if I will make it in time. Don’t blame yourself for living far away. Always make the most of the time that you do have so you won’t have any regrets.

    WickedStepMoms last blog post..Anger Management

  • Oh my goodness. We moved closer to my older parents just because of this…

    garys last blog post..BEAGLE CAM around our village of Etna

  • I hope your sister is okay…

    I got that call from my mom yesterday too…but it was that my sister was having her baby (a couple of weeks early)…so not really the same. But I understand how you feel about living far from family. I’m in VA, my parents in SC, my sister in MI, one brother in GA and one in TX. So we’ll never have those just-stopping-by-to-say-hi kind of visits like people who live near family get to have. Sometimes I get jealous when my neighbor can drop her kid off at her mom’s for a last minute appt. or can celebrate every birthday with family (the last time I was with my folks on my b’day was when I turned 16). But one thing’s for sure, when we DO all get together…it’s a celebration and we don’t take those reunions/vacations/special events for granted! You’re right, though…I know that once we get one of those scary calls, it WILL test our resolve.

  • I also hope your sister is OK.

    Yeah, the geographical separation is hard. My parents live in California and my sister and I live in Washington. When my Dad got sick, I left the next morning: everything stopped until I got back ten days later. He and my Mom are fine now, but..

    It’s hard to be so far away.

    goodfathers last blog post..Adopted

  • Jan

    I live 1,200 miles away from all of my relatives, too. For the most part, it’s a good thing to be away from the melodrama that is my family, but yes, when “that call” comes – like it did last year with AKJ – being so far away is horrible and gut-wrenching. However, the fact that I got the call at 8:30 a.m. and I was at my sister’s side at the hospital before 5:00 p.m. made the guilt of being so far away a little bit easier to bear.

    And being close by isn’t always a guarantee you’ll be there if something tragic should happen; when my mother died, I got a phone call from her husband saying she’d had a heart attack and was being taken to the hospital. I picked up my brother and sister and we were there less than 20 minutes later, but it wouldn’t have made any difference if we’d been there 5 minutes later – we found out she was gone before they’d put her in the ambulance.

    I hope your sister is all right.

    Jans last blog post..003.5 – License to Ill

  • I hope your sister is okay. Those calls are horrible. My family is all close, but it’s still hard and those calls freak me out. It must be so difficult living so far away.

    Mrs. Schmittys last blog post..The Bullet Catch Up

  • Oh boy, as much as I loathe living in Missouri, at least I do have all of my family within a few hours’ drive. It is tough to live apart, isn’t it? Best wishes for your sister.

    HeatherPrides last blog post..Are You Amazing?

  • I feel ya. I totally dread those calls. I’ve only gotten 2 of them in my life and to this day a phone call late at night makes my stomach drop.

  • donna

    Tricia this is the right thing for you and your family. We live far apart but our hearts are always close and we all know this. So please don’t feel guilty. She will be ok.

    Of course if you want to move home feel free to do that to. :-)

    See you soon. we are still coming and if she was not ok we would not

  • Tricia

    Jan, I’m so, so sorry to hear how your mom passed. You’re right of course, sometimes it doesn’t matter how close you live.

    TCB: I hope your sister and her new child are well, and that the labor and delivery were uncomplicated. Congratulations to your family.

    Thanks to everyone for your comments and well wishes for my sister. She is still in the hospital, but doctors say she’ll be fine in a few days. She has some type of bacterial invasion or a terrible case of food poisoning. They’re still running tests and waiting for cultures to grow for a definitive answer.

  • Oh, what a post. I cried through the whole thing! I hope your sister is recovering. Until this past spring, I was the long distance relative. I know how you feel. Hugs.

    Lisa Ps last blog post..Brown

  • Oh gosh, I am so with you as far as the fear of these calls go, living so far from my family and not knowing how to get there if/when a call comes. *huge hugs*

    Lisa @ Crazy Adventures in Parentings last blog post..Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty

  • We’ve been going through this this past year and half because of my brother-in-law’s kidney condition and my father-in-law’s operations…They live in the Philippines.

    Chriss last blog post..The Morning Ride

  • Oh, you made me cry with this one. Ugh – why does life have to be so hard that way sometimes? Remember back in the old days when everybody all lived in the same village? Of course that was probably 100 years ago, but still.

    Margarets last blog post..Two Great Tastes? That’s What You Think.

  • Those calls are always hard to receive whether near or far. I’ve always lived far from my family for the most part. I hope your sister is well soon. This was a very touching post.

    Smart Mouth Broads last blog post..ONE WORD WEDNESDAY

  • I know your fear. As the sister who has been the trigger for several of those calls, I will assure you…It’s okay. When I have had those calls made, I too feel bad. I feel bad because I know exactly what my family is feeling, how they are aching, to be with me.

    She knows your heart is there in this time, and you will know when it is time to have the rest of you there.

    I never want to re-live the day my mom did have to make that emergency flight to me. NEVER. The look on her face when she arrived pains me even now.

    Grandys last blog post..Because we have to be told?

  • Oh, that fear. I know it well. We all needs clones of ourselves to be in all the important places at once.

    Nora Bees last blog post..Nora raises eyebrows at life insurance man, changes nothing

  • is your sister okay?!?!?!?! That is tough. Dealt with the same sort of thing with my dad, who is on the other coast. This is beautifully written, touching.

  • Oh, I’m glad to read that your sister will be all right. I share your thoughts and feelings. My mom is on the other side of the country. My sister in another part of my very large state. And my poor husband? British. It’s so hard to be so far away, especially in times of crises.

    patoiss last blog post..All He Got at Disney…

  • Jen

    Miss me? I missed you!

    Your story was sad, made me cry. I’ve only ever gotten the phone call about my niece, that she was almost here. I dread them.

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