Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.
It’s been nearly nine years (this February will make the 9th year) since my dad died. And yet, I still experience the trauma associated with it from time to time. My dad was supposed to call me by 7 that morning to assure me he was okay as he was staying alone the night after getting out of the hospital. He didn’t expect to sleep well, but just in case he did, I wasn’t allowed to call him to check on him until 9 a.m.
Seven rolled around and I started awaiting his phone call. As the minutes and then the hours dragged on, I started panicking. At 9 a.m. on the dot, I began trying to call him. His phone was busy, so I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that he was probably on his dial-up Internet. Twenty minutes later, I was pissed that he wasn’t realizing what time it was and getting off the Internet so I could call him. So I went over to his house (five minutes away) to check on him.
And that’s when I found him dead outside from a heart attack. He’d apparently been logged onto the Internet when he died 10 hours prior and that’s why his phone line was busy.
I explained this not to get sympathy, but because I wanted to set the stage so you’d understand why I still feel trauma from that incident.
Since then, I panic when I can’t get a hold of someone. I don’t panic immediately, but if my husband is late coming home (not from work since I know it keeps him late and he doesn’t have a phone, but from going out, etc) and he doesn’t answer his phone, I panic.
This weekend, I called my mom Friday night as I was coming home from work. I’d say about 90% of the time she answers the phone immediately and 5% of the time she calls me back before I can even leave a voicemail. About another 4% of the time she calls me back or texts me within a few hours. I don’t panic when I don’t hear back from her right away because she almost always gets back to me.
Saturday she didn’t call or text in response to my voicemail.
Sunday I called again and again got voicemail. And then I sent a text message. And I still didn’t hear anything right away. I immediately went into a panic attack. I started trying to find the phone number of her neighbor so I could ask her to go check on my mom (who isn’t old—she’s 64—but my dad died at 57) so my brother, who lives about five miles away, wouldn’t be the one to find her. I started reliving the panic of telling my then-19-year-old brother our dad was dead. I started thinking about life without either parent and the fact that it would leave any future children we may have with just one grandparent… my MIL. I started feeling the urge to vomit (which happens when I panic about this specific type of thing).
Luckily, an hour after the text I sent, she sent one back saying her phone was being wonky and kept shutting down on her and she’d never received any of my previous messages. It took about two hours for my heart to stop racing and for me to realize that my mom was still alive and I was not yet an orphan.
It baffles me that nearly nine years later, I still have these reactions that stem from the trauma of finding my dad. I would have thought I’d be over it by now. I’m starting to worry that I’ll always have this reaction and that my initial thought when someone doesn’t answer the phone is that they are dead.