Friday, February 01, 2019

Bad News

I was in the shower when Rick came in. "Babette is here."

Why would the woman who owned the grocery store be visiting for the first time in decades?

I finished my shower and went to the living room. Babette was with another woman. She held an address book in her hand.

"Barbara est morte." Barbara who Rick saw at lunch time? Barbara my friend of 40 years at three addresses in two countries? Barbara who lived down the street? Barbara who was my role model on being true to myself? Barbara with whom I shared meals, books, events?

Babette handed me her address book. Barbara lived across the street from the grocer who had the keys to her house, often taking care of Ptah II, the cat when Barbara was away. "I thought you would know her daughters to tell them." She said it in French, of course and handed me the address book that she had found.

She was right. The girls would not understand her even if she knew which addresses were Barbara's daughters.

The pain of my loss had yet to sink in. It would take a long time. I found Wendy's number but before I could call, Rick said, "Make sure Wendy's not driving. You don't want her to have an accident."

I can't remember my exact words. It was quick and direct. Wendy, whom I've never called, even when I lived in Boston, I saw her frequently, so she must have known something was wrong. It was why I didn't prolong it.

After I hung up I remember a telephone call some years before from a beloved uncle in Florida who never called. "Are you sitting down?" he asked. I said yes, although I wasn't.

"Your father died this afternoon." I sank to my knees. He couldn't have. That afternoon at the same time he was dying, I was mailing a Christmas present to him. His birthday had been the day before. He'd shot his best round of golf ever.

"I'll call you back."

My housemate Bill left the room while Susan, my other housemate, said the right things. He came back with all the information on our flight the next morning from Boston to Florida along with the car rental arrangements.

As shocking as my uncle's call was, other than the preparatory question on my being seated, he went straight to the subject. Anything else would have made the surreal more surreal.

We had been expecting my mother, who was suffering from cancer, to die. The doctor was the one who called. He too was direct. "We've lost mama," he said. I thanked him. No one should go through what my mother was going through. Her suffering was over.

A phone call brought more bad news when the son of a friend called from Massachusetts. I'd already had an email from his father labelled with the warning "bad news" telling me of his cancer. I knew before the son told me. At the end of the conversation I said, "I'm sorry you lost your father." He replied "I'm sorry you lost your friend."

I hope I don't ever have to break news like that to anyone again, but in reality, it will be possible. It will be impossible to escape the words, "I've bad news for you." That is the price of loving.

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