Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Phone Call

This is the first post in this series.  Please see The Preface for further explanation.

The phone rang just as Antonio was going to turn out the light.  We looked at each other and then at the clock.  It was just after midnight on a Saturday night.  My heart pounded as I leaped over the bed to pick up the phone.

"Your Mom collapsed.  She . . . they."  My father's voice was shaky.  "They took her in the ambulance.  They couldn't wake her up.  I'm on my way to the hospital in the truck.  They're taking her to Baptist. I can't get a hold of Glenn.  She called out to me from downstairs.  And when I got to her, she  . . . was at the bottom.  She was passed out.  She barely has a pulse.  Her pulse is so weak."

"Don't worry, Dad.  We know Baptist hospital is really good, one of the best in the region.  I'll call Glenn." I hung up. 

Adrenaline.  All sleepiness was gone.  Oklahoma City never seemed so far away from Austin.  Nothing could be done but to call my brother and pray, but my brother didn't answer his phone.

No thoughts could form clearly in my mind about my mother.  It was all action and words that simply tumbled from my mouth.  Antonio and I talked about it without panic or fear, but my heart raced; my mind was numb.  It refused to think of what was happening at the ER of Baptist Memorial Hospital.

I sent an e-mail to my brother.  Then a text.  Then another phone call.  It was only just after ten in Seattle.  He and his wife were night owls.  Why wasn't he answering? I needed to tell him.  God, please, make him call me.

My cell phone rang. 

"Glenn?  Did Dad get a hold of you?" 

Yes, Dad did.  Glenn had been editing his movie.  His phone had been on silent.  He just happened to check it.  They talked, in a strange calm sort of way over their worries.

I tried to pray with my brother over the phone.  As I opened my mouth to start, the words were suddenly difficult to form.  I forced them into shape and sound.  My heart stopped racing, but my brain was fumbling.  A battle was being waged within me, peace at war with fear.  I stumbled over the last words of prayer.  Peace won. We exchanged words of assurance before hanging up.

Antonio kissed me.  He looked into my eyes, "It will be alright.  Your mom will live a long time.  It's not time for her to leave us yet.  We need sleep!  We have church tomorrow."

Antonio turned off the lamp. I turned on my side, telling myself it would be better by morning.

It rang.  Not moments after the light went out.

"Mom died." Dad's voice was calm and stoic.

"No, she did not."  I was steady and firm, as if my father would dare to joke about such a thing.  I was defiant.  It could not happen.

"Yes, yes, she did."  Grief carried in every syllable of his words.  "She's gone."

I didn't cry. Instead, something inside me clicked.  Peace. My mother was gone, but a vision of her being safe and happy came to mind. Everything my mother had ever taught me, along with all the Sunday school lessons, Bible studies, sermons, and hymns came together at that moment:  Mom was not here, but she was alive.  Peace.

My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives.

"She's at peace.  She has peace." I said this to Antonio as I clicked off the phone.  He was as bewildered as I was. I wanted to weep, but instead all I had was calm.  My husband held me.  He spoke loving words over me.  But still I couldn't shed any tears.  I waited to call my brother, knowing that Dad was talking to him.

Minutes passed.  I called Glenn.  He answered.  It was so unbelievable.  Shocking.  Yet I couldn't get upset.  I was thankful my brother didn't condemn me for being so quiet. His mother-in-law had died of stomach cancer just before Christmas the previous year.  It was unbelievable that now our mother was gone, too.

I wanted to be angry, wanted to weep.  My mind told me that the peace I felt was a sham, it was just shock.  But the peace prevailed.  It wouldn't leave me.

After talking to Glenn, I still couldn't sleep. I told Antonio to go to sleep.  I knew the morning would be difficult, and I knew that one of us adults needed to be in a good frame of mind for the children's sake.

Then I decided to call Bo, her mother's cousin, a woman who was more like her mother's sister.  Richmond, Bo's husband, answered.  More shockwaves rippled the night air.  Bo didn't understand at first.  It was impossible.  Still no tears, but we talked.  We talked for an hour. We had exhausted all speech, but still I couldn't sleep.

I called Glenn.  Logistics.  Of course.  Logistics were necessary to work out.  I had had surgery just three weeks before.  Because the surgeon had to repair a whopping three hernias, he had put me on more restrictions than the usual patient.  I wasn't even allowed to lift my toddler.  So it was decided, Glenn and Tina would fly later that morning.  Morning?  Yes, it was already 2:30 am in Austin.

Things, the stuff of life.  Matters of consequence, of need. All had to be worked out.  It was decided that our family, with four kids ages nine to twenty months old, would have to drive up to Oklahoma City closer to the time of the funeral.  It was Sunday.  Glenn and Tina would be there by evening to help Dad.  Guilt told me that as the oldest of my parents' kids, I should be the first to arrive.  Yet there was no getting around the facts--it would be best for everyone for me to let go of perceived duty, for our family to go later.  Glenn and Tina could handle what needed to be done. 

It was a relief to let go of the guilt, the false expectations, and to let my brother take charge.

It was nearly three in the morning.  The lights went out again as another effort was made for sleep.  It was dark.  My stomach churned as I tried to disengage from reality, knowing I needed rest. I knew if I could weep and just let it all out, my body would at last unburden this mounting tension that centered itself in my stomach. 

I went to the bathroom to cry, but no tears would come.  I went to bed.  No sleep.  The Song of Mary from the Gospel of Luke came to my weary mind.  Then words from Zechariah's Song.  The Canticles, those ancient proclamations of praise. It made no sense.  I should be thinking of the Psalms, Lamentations, something more to do with mourning.

The peace had given way to a need, an inexplicable urge to move, to pray, to be in His presence.  I stopped fighting it.  The sun wouldn't be up for another two hours, and I didn't want to lie there in the dark.  I was thankful Antonio was sleeping and didn't want to wake him.

I slipped out of bed and quietly went down the stairs. I turned on the light in the breakfast nook which cast a soft glow into our adjoining family room. The room was silent.

"Hi," I said, just as I had as a little girl when I'd sneak into the sanctuary to sit alone with God, while the rest of the congregation gathered in the parish hall after the service.  There was no audible answer, but I knew He was there.  "I need You."   

And again the Canticles of Mary and Zechariah flooded my mind. I grabbed my Bible so I could read them, word by word.

©2009-2015 Emily Woodham


  1. Dear Emily, my heart goes out to you. I read your previous post, I know you are okay - but writing down our memories can be so cathartic, I understand completely your reason. Thank you for sharing your story with us... I have a few of my own, on my old blog... and another one that I need to publish, a recent event, but - well, I can't do that, just yet. The words that will ease my pain, somewhat, haven't formed yet in my mind, so I can't get my fingers to type them.

    With much love in Him, and much prayer,

  2. Praying for you, learning from you!

  3. You ladies are such a blessing! Thank you! Becky, your blog is a wonderful source of refreshment for me, and I have learned so much from you!

    Laura, I wondered if you had written about your brother. I'll look for the posts and read them as soon as I can. You are so sweet and I love how you put your heart in everything you do!

    I need the prayers; thank you! :)