I lost someone yesterday.
Everyone I know that lives overseas has that fear- the fear of the phone call. That phone call that changes things forever, that magnifies the distance between you and your loved ones 1,000 times.
I received that phone call yesterday, and while it wasn’t unexpected, it still grabbed my insides and shoved them to the floor
She was the closest thing to an aunt I had. While not related by blood, there were a few years I didn’t believe that- how could a family with which we spent so much time, not be our relatives?
She was there for big and small occasions: trips to the zoo and to Disney World, family outings to museums and musicals. There were camping trips and canoe trips- and hours of watching the slide shows that resulted (this was the 70s and 80s- digital convenience did not yet exist).
There were snowy marches down State Street to see the Christmas windows followed by spätzle at German restaurants. There were ski trips and sledding days, beer gardens and Cajun food, bridal showers and weddings, and even handmade quilts for each of my babies.
When Paul and I had a second wedding reception in Australia for his family, she and her husband joined my parents for the trip down under- a small party of Americans who good-humoredly laughed and enjoyed the hospitality of rural Australia- even though they only understood roughly half of what was said.
I did know this was coming- I even made a quick trip home in October just so I could see her- a fact I hid from her at the time. To admit that I was flying all that way just to spend a short time with her was to admit that I was accepting the doctor’s prognosis- I knew our next trip home wasn’t soon enough.
And now I sit 10,000 miles away- after crying over Skype as my sister broke the news. I am too far to offer much comfort- to her family, to my family, to my mother who has lost her best friend.
I am too far to take part in the traditions and processes of seeing someone off. I will not be there for the wake, I will not be there to hug friends and family or to laugh softly in the memories awakened by the lifetime of photos on display. I will not be there for the funeral that follows- the gathering at the church, the procession to the cemetery and the final resting as we gather around in solidarity. I will not be there to comfort; I will not be there to say goodbye.
My youngest recently suggested an invention: a secret tunnel in her closet that, like the wardrobe of Narnia, would tumble her out in Chicago whenever she wanted to duck back for a quick visit.
I wish I had that tunnel now.