Donna Smaldone
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Monday / August 22 / 2011

The phone call you never want to get

Our Monday morning started with more frivolity than usual. Casual dress, sunscreen in hand, and a cooler filled with fruit salad and grill-ables. We couldn’t have picked a more glorious Adirondack day for our staff picnic on Lake George.

And then the phone rang…

The next moment we saw our friend, her face was wounded, her cheeks tear-stained. It was her brother on the phone, calling to say their Mom had died.

The news hit us all like a spear in the heart. And we mourned together.

“I miss her already,” was all she could utter as we wrapped our arms around her in group solidarity. In the quiet embrace we shared her tears, her heartbreak, her pain — whispering, “we love you. we’re so sorry.”

We helped her gather her things, conjuring ways to assist. It was that desperate-to-be-of-service moment you find yourself in right after a cherished friend shares such life-altering news. The desire to do the impossible: help ease the pain.

After escorting her down the stairs and to her car, our remaining team sat together trying to absorb what had just happened. Our friend told us to carry on with our picnic as planned. But we all knew we wouldn’t, and couldn’t.

You see, we’re not just co-workers. We are friends. Sharing-life-together kind of friends (one of the benefits of a small team). To move forward as planned with a man down would have been — well, just wrong. Incomplete. It was hard enough to go on with the day as if it were just any other day.

I returned to my office with a grateful heart. Grateful to be in this place, in this job, at this moment. Grateful to belong to this little band of vastly different individuals, who’ve bonded together not only as a staff, but as a troop of friends committed to our inside jokes, team song, and nicknames.

Death is the one thing we’re certain awaits, no matter our beliefs, upbringing, health habits or how ‘good’ we’ve been. It’s unavoidable. Mandatory, if you will. It didn’t matter that her Mom was 85, or that she had lived longer than either of her parents had. What mattered is that she was here, and now she is gone. The “now what?” questions left blindingly unanswered.

With just the ring of a phone, life was catapulted into perspective, bringing us face-to-face with the fragility of life and the strength of relationships.

This blog post is lovingly dedicated to Mrs. P.
To her extraordinary life.
And to the love she baked-into her children.

 

10 responses to “The phone call you never want to get”

  1. Pasquale says:

    INCREDIBLE! This is one of the most compelling and beautifully presented descriptions I’ve experienced in a long time.

    It makes the reader feel as if they were right THERE with you…….and with the all-too-recent passing of my own father, this particular story is SO very relevant.

    Your last sentence (and subsequent dedication) brought it ALL together, perfectly…!…and done so with a Grace and empathy that help convey the “life lesson”.

    I just HAD to write back (soon) on this one — and although I’ve never met their family, I feel connected to them….through the universal experience of….’loss’……and because she’s a friend of yours.

    Extending sympathy, condolences and respect to your friend’s family.

    And thanks again, for sharing this powerful “moment-in-time”.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful words, Pasquale and for your concern and sympathy. I know you can relate to this post at a very personal, empathetic level especially with the recent passing of your precious Dad – and I appreciate you sharing with us here.

  2. Debbie says:

    Beautifully written. I’m sorry for your friend’s loss but glad that she was surrounded by such warmth, comfort and caring when she heard the sad news.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you, Debbie. The timing of the call was also amazing because had it come within moments before or after it did, she would have either been alone in the office or out of cell phone reception. We were glad it came when it did so we could be there with her and for her.

  3. Annie Racette says:

    WOW! I will never forget the look on your brother’s face when he got the call about my sister! I am sure it was the hardest thing he ever had to do, to tell his wife that her twin died. Grief and utter devastation marks your memory just as much and if not more than the good times. Now, when I hear of losses like this I just cry for the families. I feel for the utter pain they are feeling, nowing first hand what it is like to have to go thru the steps. I am so sorry for your friends loss, and I pray they find peace. God Bless, and you are in my prayers.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      I can barely imagine how it was for you to hear that news, Annie – or how it was for Mark to tell you. You have a big heart and I know you feel others’ sorrow in a unique and personal way. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and prayers. It means a lot.

  4. Rick says:

    Nicely written, Donna. And, even though I don’t know your colleague and friend, I’m sorry for the passing of her mom.

    I hesitate to admit this, but I live in fear of that call, because you never know when it will come and who it will be about. The absolute hardest thing for me would be if I got the call about Chris, who is now, as I write this, eight hours away by car visiting his father. I’m so grateful Chris made it safely there last Tuesday, but I worry about him being on the road by himself this Thursday, when he returns home. I pray for his safe return.

    Thanks for sharing this piece. Yes, all of us face certain death, eventually, but, in the meantime, we have wonderful people around us to help us through the challenges of life, whatever they might be.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      I appreciate your kindness, Rick. I also appreciate your worry, particularly about the one you love most. It’s disconcerting to think of life with our life partner. My hope is that none of us allow worry about the future to grow so big that it overwhelms our here-n-now.

      I hope Chris has an enjoyable visit with his father and makes it home safely to you on Thursday.

      You’re right, we’re blessed to have wonderful people surrounding us to help us face the challenges of life. Thanks so much for your comment.

  5. Rachael Shorr says:

    Ms. Donna, That last sentence just pulls it altogether. It is the hardest phone call you can ever get from a family member! I am so sorry to hear about your friends loss. I know how hard it is to loose and parent. Sending love and prayers your way!

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