Unexpected Phone Calls

            Journal 5

I jumped at the sound of buzzing and rattling across the wooden desk. I picked up the phone. The insistent noise ceased with the press of a button. The caller id announced that Home was calling.

“Hello?” I answer with a glance at my clock. It glowed with the numbers 2:30 PM. It was odd for anyone to be home at that time. My brother’s voice answered me.


“Yeah. What’s up Nicky?” I grinned at the nickname. Nick hated when I called him that.

“Mom wanted me to call you.” He coughed as his voice shook.

I waited for him to go on. I knew something was wrong. My brother and I have a love-hate relationship. We loved each other because we were family, but that didn’t mean we got along. Any conversation where he wasn’t making fun of me automatically took on a serious tone. And why wasn’t mom calling me herself? My mind quickly searched for any harmless reasons my brother would deign to call me by my mother’s request. None came to mind.

“Sam. It’s, it’s about Grandpa.” He paused breathing heavily into the receiver. “He’s in the hospital again. He, well mom said it didn’t look good. She said he–” He coughed again trying to cover up the fact that he was crying.

My panic built throughout his speech, but I couldn’t contain myself at the sound of my brother’s tears. My breath came in quick gasps as I collapsed in my desk chair. The staccato sound of my breathing echoed through the receiver.

“Sam. You need to come home. Mom says he’s not gonna make it this time.”

I tried to level out my breathing, but the tears and the early grief were choking me. I could feel my lungs banging against my rib cage, protesting the rhythm at which they were forced to operate.

“How, how long?” I filled my mouth with air and slowly exhaled. He understood my meaning.

“We uh… we don’t know. Mom said she would call me when she got more information. But Sam he’s pretty bad. You just need to hurry.”

“Ok. I, I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I choked out.

“Ok.” He sighed. The beep signaling the end of the call sounded so loud in my ear. Placing the phone back on the desk I put my head between my legs.

I had hyperventilated before. I just needed control. I took another deep breath, letting it out. Breathe in, breathe out. I concentrated on the process of filling my lungs with air as I mentally reviewed all I would need to do before I left. Pack a bag, email teachers, text my roommates-an unwelcome image of my Grandpa from last spring passed across my eyes.

He hadn’t been well all year. A year of tests, and hospital visits, restrictive guidelines and diets. All the man did was complain and ignore them, much to the distress of my Grandma. Stubborn, stupid, old man. Look what you did to yourself.

I tried to see past the picture of him in a hospital bed, tubes and wires sticking out every which way. Banishing it to the back of my mind I got up, going through the necessary steps to begin my journey.

Fifteen minutes later I was speeding down I-95 praying I wouldn’t be caught going twenty miles over the speed limit. I blasted the local pop station hoping it would distract me from the horrible movie forming in my head. Tears threatened to drown out my vision the entire hour I was on the road. The white rectangles blurred into a single line, easing my mind. It was better to focus on nothing than to be trapped inside my gruesome imagination.

I pulled into the hospital parking lot and laid my head on the steering wheel. I can do this. I repeated it like a mantra. With a sudden determination I pushed the door open and strode to the entrance.

The automatic doors welcomed me with an efficient whooshing. Scanning the plastic chairs and sick faces I found my family crowded in a corner.  I rushed into my mom’s arms and lost all the control I had promised myself earlier.


My mom led me through a maze of doors and curtains. The hospital staff drifted around me while the sterile smell of antiseptic stung my nose. I could hear the incongruent beeping of various monitors mixing with the sounds of forcefully calm voices delivering bad news. The symphony of a hospital delivered with a crescendo of hacking coughs and the squeak, squeak of sneakers shuffling on linoleum.

We stopped at one of the orange and blue checked curtains. Drawing it back with the halting ring of metal on metal she revealed my grandpa. I stepped inside

My mom squeezed my shoulder, “I’ll give you some time to say goodbye, sweet pea.”

She pulled the curtain back and closed me in. The beige walls were crowded with blinking, grey contraptions and smiling outlets. Screens with rapidly weaving lines announced that I was not too late. The room was silent, punctuated only by the short, high-pitched signal of his heart monitor.

He was a pile of tubes. They coiled around his arms and across his stomach like vines. They encompassed him. All I could see was clear plastic and a mass of blue fabric. The standard hospital gown overwhelmed his skeleton frame.

Grandpa opened his eyes at the sound of the curtain moving. He squinted at me, as I hesitantly moved forward.

“Grandpa?” I asked, as I took one of his hands.

He applied the slightest pressure to my fingers as if confirming his identity. The blue patch holding the tube in his mouth obscured his face. He turned his head to the side watching me as I sat in the hard plastic chair.

“Hi.” I whispered. “I… don’t know how to do this. Mom told me that you’re not going to get better and I should say goodbye. But I uh, I’m not sure how to. I don’t, I don’t want to say, goodbye. I, Grandpa. I umm….” I laid my head on his arm and let the tears fall.

“I love you.” I mumbled into his arm. How was I supposed to say goodbye. They were such awful words.

“I love you so much. And I don’t want you to go, but I guess it’s ok if you do. I’ll be alright. And they said you’re in a lot of pain and I don’t want you to suffer so…” My voice was thick with emotion and I couldn’t seem to say that necessary word.

I was supposed to say it, had to, but goodbye wouldn’t come out. It was too final. I couldn’t look at my grandpa and say goodbye for the last time.

“I can’t do this.” I confessed to him. “I can’t tell you goodbye. I’m not good with death. Please, I’m so sorry.” My voice breathed out the last sentence.

He squeezed my hand again. I suppose he was trying to tell me that it was ok. I watched his distant blue eyes close.

“Please don’t do that.” I begged, but the somnolent drone of the heart monitor drowned me out. I started shouting. “I’m not done. I have to say goodbye–” The words tripped out of my mouth.

“Grandpa?” I yelled, disbelieving. I heard the screeching of shoes running toward me as the curtain flew back. I shook his arm, but he was limp.


I gave his hand one last squeeze, the only goodbye I could manage, before I was shoved back. Shouting orders and moving equipment the doctors swarmed his body. One nurse looked back at me.

“Sweetie, you should go back to the waiting room. You don’t want to see this.” She told me as she yanked the curtain closed.

My back hit the wall and I let myself fall to the cold ground. The panic overwhelmed me again, like a wave that will always come back to the shore. I hugged my knees to my chest and let my head rest in the space between my chest and my legs. My face contracted as I began sobbing.

The flurry of activity in my grandpa’s room stopped.

“Time of death. 4:46 PM.”







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One Response to “Unexpected Phone Calls”

  1. Warren Rochelle Says:

    Is it better to witness the last minute, or to look away as the nurse suggested?

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