Fearful Phone Calls Abroad

I recently read one of Jorge Ramos’ articles describing a phone call he received while covering a story abroad. His father had a heart attack, and Ramos hopped on the next plane to Mexico City where he met his family and simply waited. Fortunately, his father survived.
That phone call is that last thing everyone living abroad wants to receive – the one that wakes you up in the middle of the night with frantic voices attempting to piece together how, why, and when a family member was admitted to the hospital and how serious it is. Like Ramos, and countless others, I received this call abroad as well.

The first call wasn’t that bad, and my family sounded relatively at ease. My family told me my mother had been admitted to the hospital, but she had been battling cancer since September, 2013, and in the past few months, it wasn’t out of the ordinary, but two things struck me as urgent. They mentioned that she was retaining fluids and that her kidney was failing. That was an instant red light for me, and I decided to book my ticket back home anyway for three days later.

It was a couple days after New Year’s and I was communicating with my family on Skype and Facebook because I left my cell in Valparaiso. Since I would be leaving Wed. night, I went to Valpo that morning to retrieve my phone only to receive a voicemail that sounded too desperate to ignore. The whole way back to Santiago, I sat there in a trance wondering what was the story behind that message while trying with all my might to push aside the most negative thoughts. Panic set in, and all I could think of was ”Why am I not there!?”
My mother went into cardiac arrest that morning, her heart stopped for a few minutes, and she was back but I had no idea what that meant. All I kept asking, ‘’Can she talk??’’ in an anxious attempt to speak to her one last time. I had a feeling she had passed that day and my family was waiting to tell me in person. They were very insistent to know when I would be there, and the tone in their voice was of worriment and complete disarray. She passed a couple minutes after my brothers arrived at the hospital – I believe she held on for her boys.

Everything happened so quickly and unexpectedly that I barely had time to process. Right now I can’t tell you why I waited 3 days to leave, but I know I will have to live with arriving too late. After reaching the US, I found out my mother passed on Facebook as aunts and cousins sent me messages and updated their statuses as if it were some live event. I sat with my phone in hand reading statuses and comments crying and wishing I hadn’t found out this way. Thankfully, I was with Francisco who comforted and supported me through everything. 
Once I got home, I was afraid to ask my brother and aunt who picked us up from the train station and I pretended like my mother was still at the hospital so I could see her – I think I was too afraid to confront the idea at first sight of my family. Once we got home and saw my father, there were no confirmations, we all knew, and there was nothing to do but hopelessly cry in each other’s arms.
I know that my mother is at peace now. She suffered so much during her battle, although it was short (1yr and 3mo.), they originally gave her 3 months. Despite the anger, regret, confusion, sadness and an array of emotions I’ve been feeling, there are two things that I am grateful for.
1. My mother and I got very close after her diagnosis.
I can’t even begin to explain all of the conversations and events that brought us closer once I moved back to the States for nine months to help my mom. I remember vividly during one conversation we had about her life, that she said she felt she could tell me all of her secrets because I was her best friend – an honor I never expected, but deep down had always wanted.
2. I got to fulfill her last wishes.
My mother wanted to do two things; go to California and Mexico to see her mother and family and go to Chile to see where, as she would say, ‘’her future grandchildren’’ and I would live. We did both of those things together, and I can say that she had so much energy that at times, she didn’t even seem sick. This is how I will remember her, by my side at my wedding, dancing with me in Mexico, and walking through our old neighborhood in Oakland reliving our memories.
I’ve learned so much from her, and as I get older I see more ano more parts of her in me. I always considered it a cliché to say that someone lived in or through you, but now I know what that really means. Part of her warrior spirit, her lioness strength, her sensitivity and concern for others, her ability to overcome hate with love, all of the things she had taught me until the last moment – those are the things that make up a person and what I carry with me because of her. She was an inspiring individual, I know I have gotten this far with her help and support as a mother and friend.
As my good friend told me, this will pass. My sadness and grief will pass, but my mother lives in me, and I will forever celebrate her life through my memories. 

One comment

  • Oh Crystal, I’m so sorry for your loss. I had a similar experience when I lost my uncle to cancer. No idea why I hesitated to see him the day before he passed, but I did, and I missed the chance to say one last goodbye.
    That guilt feeling goes away over time after the really tough stages of grief. I’m wishing you and your family comfort.

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