A Gift from the Sea
“Don't wish me happiness
I don't expect to be happy all the time...
It's gotton beyond that somehow.
Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor.
I will need them all.”
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh,
Even in the most emotional, excruciating moments there is the matter of record keeping. My father called just after midnight. I did not answer the call assuming he had dialed mistakenly. The voicemail he left was a shot in the heart. I did not listen to it, I saw the words transcribed by the inept voice to text technology.
It was bad.
My mind raced with what "bad" meant. I was shaking as I called back. Terrified of what could have happened.
The worst calls happen in the middle of the night. The calls that you don't want to receive. The news that you hope you never hear.
They had tried. My father tried, Michele tried, the paramedics tried. But it was too late.
She was gone. There was nothing more that could be done.
Now it was down to record keeping and administrative tasks. The mundane details that need to be sorted out after a life-altering event.
Somehow I had gotten downstairs, although I do not remember walking down the stairs. Perhaps I was concerned about waking Mr. Smith and the children? I can't remember.
I just remember hearing that she was lost to us now and not being able to understand how a stomach ache could tear my family apart.
Mr. Smith was still sleeping. The children were still sleeping. No one else knew what I now knew. I had to tell them. I went to tell Mr. Smith, but at first the words wouldn't come. Saying the words, telling the news, would make it more real. I still wanted it to be a terrible dream. I did not want this to be true. It couldn't be true. They just went on a vacation. People don't die on vacation, they have a nice time. They spend too much money and come home refreshed and renewed.
My father texted that the funeral home needed her Social Security number. On some level, it was a relief to have something to do. I would have to look it up on the computer, in their tax forms. It would be simple.
My mother had years ago memorized by father's Social Security number and could rattle it off without even thinking about it. My father, was not the record keeper that my mother was. He did not remember everyone's birthday and to send cards. Nor had he committed her Social Security number to memory, even after 51 years of marriage.
So I had to battle with TurboTax to release the needed information. It seemed to take forever to finally yield it and I broke down in frustration. The one thing that my father had asked me to help him with and I couldn't even accomplish that simple task. I was finally, after several minutes, able to text it to him.
What to do now?
I started making lists. People who needed to be contacted. Appointments that needed to be cancelled. It was a torrent of people that would have to be told. It seemed so daunting, having to repeat the story over and over again. Watching people go through it, since they were just finding out, and accept their kindness.
As I went through her address book, I found a postcard with the above image on it. Her first initial formed in seashells, on a beach. She bought it at Nordstrom and tucked it into the back of her address book.
It felt comforting to know that she had bought it, never used it, and now I had discovered it.