Don’t Ever Call Me Again

Since it’s my job, I don’t take it personally when phoning grievers and they don’t want to talk with me.

Which is a lie.

I do. Take it personally.

In a recent call, a spouse’s anguished voice telling me to never call again wasn’t only about me. Instead, this was a “No” to anyone at the hospice that had cared for his beloved. This griever was also saying “No” to receiving monthly letters that might help healing during the worst of grief. His “No” closed the door on a lot of resources.

This next part is fictionalized, because I know nothing about “Mr. No.” (Though it could describe many anguished wives and husbands.)

  1. His deceased wife was a soulmate for nearly forty years of marriage and they’d known each other since the first day of college.
  2. Like so many families, the kids were far-flung, with two working in other cities and another about to have a child. Their father didn’t like to bother them, in good or bad times.
  3. The family business was small and hugely dependent on 60+ hour weeks . . . and most work had been postponed for months during the time of dying.
  4. There weren’t many close friends (see #3 above) and the majority were really his wife’s friends. Would her death be the death of those relationships?

[Disclaimer.]

And, if you want to toss in a #5, anything that is a reminder of the death is devastating. He’s not the crying type and anyone asking How-are-you-doing? causes him to think about her and those damn tears might start spilling from his eyes. And that will make him angry, and he’s really not the angry type. No, he’s the type that sets goals, pays taxes, serves his customers, saves for the future, gives to charity, attends church, and generally everything in his life is good. He—they—sacrificed a lot to achieve this point.

Now good is gone.

His wife has died.

I have no idea if he now hates God. I have no idea if he resents the efforts made to get to this “good time” of life, only to be alone. I have no idea if he doesn’t want to bother his children because he doesn’t want them to realize their father isn’t as strong as he appears.

There is so much I don’t know about him. And never will.

Because, in the brief, stilted moments of our conversation, his conclusion was that he didn’t want me us to ever contact him again.

But it’s not about me.

Except there’s one reason it was about me. Let me inadequately explain . . .

+      +      +

Years ago, I backpacked across the Sierra Nevada with a friend. We traveled from the east to the west side, crossing mountain passes, spending a long, wonderful week on the trail. Well, mostly wonderful. The last major pass on our route was the aptly named Hell For Sure Pass. It was a vertical nightmare. My friend was several things I was not: skinnier, younger, and in better shape. We began the rugged, sky-bound climb to the pass together. But for every step I managed, he took two or three. My friend became a brightly colored object, always ahead of me on the trail, someone I could never seem to catch.

I hated him.

No, I loved him.

If he could make it, I could make it.

If he could keep moving, I could keep moving.

He made it to the pass first. About a day later (okay, an exaggeration), I joined him.

We hugged and high-fived. We snapped pictures. The wind howled. The sky appeared so blue it hurt my eyes. And then we kept going, heading for the next lake and next camp . . .

Would I have made it over the pass without my friend?

Sure.

But it sure helped to hate him. And to love him. And to see that I was not alone.

+      +      +

I call people because I don’t want them to be alone.

I want them to hear a voice on the phone letting them know that the hospice that cared for their loved one is still thinking about them.

I want them to get our bereavement mailings and have a reminder of the support resources that are available.

I want to talk for a moment and say, “Hello.” (And I’m willing to talk for a long time about anything they need to talk about.)

I hope they consider a grief counselor or a support group or an informational workshop.

Mr. No didn’t want anything.

Any contact would be too painful. Any contact would tear his soul up again. Any contact might mean that he’d lose another hour or day of work because his emotions would wreck his concentration. The business hole he was trying to dig himself out of would just get deeper.

And I get it.

Really, I do.

So, with a few clicks on the screen and a delete button, I confirmed he’d never hear from us again.

He will grieve. And cry. And rage. And survive. Not everyone needs a group or counselor or voice on the phone to make it through the next day of missing the most important person in the world.

I know he doesn’t need me.

My slow and torturous climb toward Hell For Sure Pass was a stroll in a city park compared to the lifetime journey he will take with his loss. I do believe he will get better. His kids likely love him. His job will give him a sense of purpose.

But I will forever be grateful for the tiny figure of my hiking companion, who I hated and loved, as he kept moving forward. With curses and blessings, I followed him . . . knowing with every step that I was not alone.

(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)

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Comments

  1. When my family member got ‘the call’ it was a no. No, no, no, no, no! I’m fine, just fine. As soon as I was alone with the phone, I punched redial and happily got the same person, explained who I was and asked that they not call but please oh please send me those monthly mailings. They were a godsend. Honestly a godsend. When they’d arrive I’d read them and then leave them out for my family member to find. Nobody listens anymore was normally the beginning of the conversation. I’d follow the paragraphs or bullet points and comment about my take and we’d talk and cry and storm around the house, dusting, vacuuming and refolding towels. It was a long year but those prompts, suggestions and reassurances helped. Thanks for all you do and write.

    • Thanks. No is always understandable, even when it can’t be explained. Glad the mailings came, though!

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