You never know where you’re going to be when you get one of those phone calls.
I’m on Virginia Street about to turn right onto LeRoy Avenue, on my way back to the car after walking Cedar Path (#107) and La Vereda Steps(#109) when I get a call from my sister in Oklahoma. I know immediately that it’s bad news. I head instinctively toward my car on Hilgard Avenue, which unfortunately takes me right past some noisy construction work when my sister tells me that her husband died.
I’m trying to hear her by pressing my phone hard against my left cheek while plugging my right ear.
He was at home in bed when his heart finally gave out.
My head is down, and I am power walking, first toward, and then up the LeRoy Steps (#112) until the buzzing of the power tools fades to a dull roar and I stop.
She performed CPR on him for ten minutes before paramedics arrived and whisked him away. But he was unconscious and she sensed that he had already left her. At the hospital, doctors kept him alive long enough for his daughter to arrive and say goodbye.
My sister is one tough cookie. A retired judge and the eldest of my siblings, she is usually in charge of whatever activity she participates in. She’s decisive and calm. The family member that everyone goes to for support, she’s a rock.
But now she’s grieving for her mate of the last 31 years, and I could hear the fragility in her voice. Our other sister was there with her, along with the rest of her female posse (plus her teenage grandnephew), to make sure she got something to eat and to help her with funeral arrangements.
From 1600 miles away, all I could do was tell her it was okay to cry. She shouldn’t have to pretend that she was fine. Family was there to help her get through it, I assured her, even though I wasn’t one of them. Her response: she was worried that if she let herself fall apart that she would never be able to pick up the pieces. I couldn’t argue with that. But she assured me she would try to get some sleep.
For most of the conversation I was leaning on a concrete structure at the top of LeRoy Steps while my sister recounted her horrific day and I feebly attempted to comfort her. A young mom passed me descending the steps, and I hadn’t moved when she made her return trip several minutes later with a toddler. We may have been on the same staircase, but we were in different worlds at that moment. It felt strange asking my sister about her husband’s funeral while this little boy gleefully mounted the steps hand in hand with his smiling mom.
I could hear the deep weariness beneath the grief as she turned the phone over to our other sister, who assured me they would take care of her. I asked her to make sure they gave her lots of hugs before we said goodbye. And I knew she would.
The not-too-distant Campanile pealed five times in its deep tones that sound so final. Five o’clock–I needed to pick up our little foster dog from the vet before it closed. My brother-in-law was no longer alive, but there were still things to do.
In the car on my way home, I wondered briefly how I would handle the situation my sister was now in. I’ve lost both my parents, all my grandparents, and several friends, so I’ve experienced loss. But I don’t think I could face waking up in the morning without my husband/best friend/soul mate. I’m no rock.
When I was perusing the photos from my walk, I remembered the sundial I came across that was between Cedar Path and La Vereda Steps. (See 10/15/16 post.) It seemed the most appropriate photographic accompaniment for this post, not just for its symbolism for the passage of time but also for the words etched on it: “Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be.”
My sister is not yet old, but she did get to spend 31 years with someone she loved, which, I suppose, is more than some people get. It’s not exactly a silver lining, but it’s something to hold onto.