how to ruin a perfectly good saturday afternoon


I'm sitting in the living room this afternoon, contemplating the boxes that need to be filled with stuff to be shipped back home, when the phone rings. It's my aunt, up in Marysville. I ask how she is, and she hesitates. "Oh, Liz....oh, dear...can I talk to Gerald?" That's very odd. They like my husband, sure, but why would they ask to talk to him first? I ask what's wrong, and she says again "Is Gerald there? Let me talk to him." Now I'm worried.

[And if you are, too, let me break out of the narrative for a second to tell you that everything ends up fine.]

I bring the phone up to Gerald, who speaks briefly to her, says "Let me find out what's going on," and hangs up. He says to me "Before I say anything, you need to keep in mind the source of this information." I'm getting increasingly worried now. "Your grandmother called them to say that your mom and Don [my stepfather] were killed in a car crash."

I sit on the edge of the bed, trying to process this information.

My grandmother is in her 90s, and in an assisted living facility. When I saw her a few weeks ago, she was having a lot of trouble confusing past and present, dates and times. Gerald's right to be cautious. But...I'm still starting to freak out.

"How does she know this?" I ask. He doesn't know. He points out that nobody has confirmed this information from another source, and that it's coming through extremely unreliable channels.

I try calling my mom's house. No answer. I call her cell phone. No answer. Now I'm starting to worry. She often doesn't answer her cell phone, so it doesn't necessarily mean anything. But still...

I can't find Don's cell phone number, so next I try to figure out if there has indeed been a fatal car crash in the area. I call the Monroe County sheriff's department, and they are remarkably unhelpful. If I don't know where the supposed crash took place, they can't find anything out. "How many fatal car crashes are there in the county each day?" I ask. Doesn't matter. They're useless. I hang up.

Next I call the assisted living facility where my grandmother lives, and explain (while trying not to fall apart) the situation. Can they have a nurse or aide talk to my grandmother and find out how she got this information, I ask. I don't want to call her directly, because I assume she's overwrought. They'll do that, they say, but it may take a little while because they're changing nursing shifts. I leave them my phone number.

I check Google News for anything about a fatal crash in Rochester. Nothing.

I finally break down and call my grandmother directly. An aide answers the phone, and confirms that my grandmother is indeed very distraught. "How did she get this news?" I ask. The response is that my grandmother hasn't heard from them in 36 hours, when she believes they were leaving for Boston, and thus has determined that the only possible explanation for the lack of contact is that they were dead. I start to remember how bad my grandmother is at dates and times of travel. I had to tell her at least five times at dinner last month that I was leaving for Seattle the next day, and she still didn't seem to have remembered it properly when I left.

I'm starting to calm down a little now.

While I'm on the phone with my grandmother, Gerald locates Don's cell phone number and calls it. He gets Don on the phone, which I can hear while I'm talking to the aide. Don is apparently fine, as is my mother. I relay this information to the aide, and promise that I will have them call my grandmother right away to reassure her.

I call my aunt, and tell her we've spoken to Don, and that everyone is fine. She is (appropriately) apologetic for scaring the CRAP out of me.

Gerald's cell phone rings. It's my cousin in Ann Arbor, who's close to my mom, checking to see how I'm doing. Gerald, and then I, tell her the good news. We commiserate.

I pour a glass of wine. A big glass of wine. It's not very good wine, and has been in the fridge for several days, but I really don't care. I'm drinking it for its medicinal properties. It would be nice if my hands would stop shaking.

My mother calls, trying to figure out what all the fuss is about. I explain. She apologizes. Three times. It's not her fault, obviously. Going 36 hours without calling her mom is not in any way irresponsible. But I don't think I've ever been as relieved to hear her voice.

I hang up, and get hugs from my son (who's been listening to all of this) and Gerald. I drink some more wine.

And now I'm blogging it. Because only by writing this down, I think, will I see any humor in it. Or be able to let it go.


Good grief, Liz. I'm so glad to know that everything turned out well, but what a nightmare. I hope you're okay.

Thanks. I'm fine today. Was shaky most of last night...couldn't get all those "what ifs" out of my head.

I'm glad it all turned out okay!

Let me quote my wise cousin Jody (when she and my sister and I recently convened on a family crisis): "Oy, family!"

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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on June 10, 2006 6:45 PM.

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