answering the call

what do you say when someone tells you their mother is in hospice?  you don’t know the person well, or at all. and this person, alone, is the caboose for your project that is in a slow motion free fall.  i knew she was going to be out of the office, two weeks ago she told me she was headed to nashville to care for her mother. we were in a conference room the size of  closet when her phone exploded with an r&b song i’d never heard. she took the call.  i sat quietly, waiting. she hung up turned her back to me, picked up the pen and scrawled project details on the whiteboard.  she never missed a beat. the 60-second call  dissolved like a hologram and she was back in the room with me, focused.

her movements reminded me of so many women, those of us who do it all ourselves. not because we want to be SHEroes but out of necessity.  a friend of mine texted me a few weeks ago from a church parking lot where her car sat, right tire flattened to the pavement. i was picking up a pizza because, who wants to cook on sunday night? i told her i was on my way. she was going to “figure it out” as we often do. we avoid asking for help because folks are unreliable. they say “call me if you need me” (my uncle’s catchphrase that we all know is as empty as joseph’s tomb) but when the phone rings and your number is flashing they hit ignore and continue watching “power.”  it’s the season finale and they cannot be bothered.

i arrive at the near empty lot some 20 minutes later and she says, did someone mistake you for JESUS today? we laughed. we drove to her favorite thai restaurant and she shared a story the priest told about having dinner with a homeless man in an expensive italian restaurant. the man was floored at the kindness he was shown. we sat waiting for her take-out order, talking about caring for others.  i reminded her that this is what sister-friends do, we step in and fill gaps left by exes, by lack of finance, by broke down automobiles, by other folks who said they would and didn’t.  life is not a television commercial where you sing a song and a state farm agent appears, neither is it a miniseries where you magically shift from a smashed up front-end to a bar where a handsome man buys you a drink and then…no, we have all had those moments when it’s just you and the unexpected happens: flat tire, fender bender, emergency trip to the ER, home invasion and what you need in that moment is your own nine-one-one number.

as an SBF i need a network that will drop what they are doing and come to my aid. when i moved here 10 years ago, it was just me. no family close by unless you count my flaky cousin who i just met or my reclusive cousin who lived about an hour away and didn’t venture past her front door unless it was for work or church. my first year was immeasurably lonely. i visited churches looking for the right fit, i signed up for various meetups hoping to find a group of women to hang out with. there was no boyfriend (we broke up just before i moved) or husband to comfort me when i got lost trying to get home from the grocery store. it was just me and my flip phone. i cannot put my finger on the moment when i felt settled but i remember it happening. finding a sister-circle, a prayer group, women to hang with on the weekends. finally feeling at peace, like this massive city was shrinking enough to welcome me.

after our meeting today it dawned on me i hadn’t asked my colleague about her mother. i pinged her and got the answer. she passed away last thursday.  my fingers hovered over the keys. Jesus. I’m so sorry. then she said, i’m trying to keep busy. i have no family here.   loneliness is magnified when tragedy strikes. my colleague knew, as i did when my uncle went into hospice, that “the call” was coming. knowing doesn’t lessen the blow, if anything your emotions are stretched taut, anticipating the wave of sadness. i found myself offering to do whatever she needs done because i know, not that exact experience; i know the thought of getting on a plane traveling to a funeral then returning to a city where no one knows your name…it’s almost enough to make you stay.  so i said, let me know how i can help. she said, maybe dinner, when i return.  i will need everyone when i get back.  and i typed, you got it.


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