The phone call

 

The last time I saw my father was a couple of weeks before he passed away, only four days before my scheduled monthly trip to go visit him. Four days. The day before, I could not get him on the phone for our daily chat. He was too weak. It didn’t occur to me then. I refused to even consider the possibility until the phone rang at 7am the next morning, as we were getting the kids ready for school. Before I even picked up, before I even saw that it was coming from my parents’ home, before I heard my brother’s voice on the other side – who would not, normally, have been there so early in the day –, I knew.
I had been dreading that call. I had been dreading being away when my father’s time came. Shouldn’t I have sensed something? Why didn’t I change my ticket and fly back to see him earlier? Why couldn’t I have been there by his side? Why did I choose to live in another country?
I’m not the only one haunted by the “dreaded phone call.” Most of us who have chosen the nomadic lifestyle and live far away from ageing parents or other close relatives, are bound to feel that at some point. It is part of all the things we miss while we are away. But, more than birthdays, graduations or weddings, missing death – or rather, missing life – may be what haunts us the most. I have many friends and family who, at some point or another, have had to drop everything and get on a plane to go help out when a parent got sick; who have had to change their lives to accommodate taking care of an ageing relative; or who worry if they can’t get them on the phone at a time when they should be reachable. It’s not easy, yet we accept it as an integral part of our fragmented mobile life. We are fully aware of the consequences but we still choose that life.
Sometimes we even change our life plans, willingly. I dream of living in California and would move there in an instant; but at this point, I know that not even the East Coast would be a realistic option. I don’t think my mother would ever forgive me for taking us – especially her grandchildren – so far away from her, where even the transatlantic journey to visit us would increasingly become a challenge for her. Others would still choose to go – and have. Indeed, life is too short. But I use the same argument for my choice not to go. I want to be around, as much as possible. I want to be able to be a couple of hours away, not a whole day’s journey. I also want my children to be around
their family. I want them to hear the stories and create the memories that will become part of their identity. A while ago, my husband, having just come back, enchanted, from a trip to Australia, asked me when we are moving to Sydney. My reply was: “When all our relatives are dead.”
Do you live far away from (ageing) family? How do you cope with that?

2 Comments

  1. I remember, I was in 7th grade when we got the dreaded call of my grandfather. We had seen him 'last' during my winter break in Mexico City. The last words he said to me was to stay in school, keep exploring new ideas. An explorer and a researcher at heart, he was the first person to show me what an encyclopedia was. Perhaps, he showed me the essence of "google" way before the technology age. I still feel the "I should've haves" at times. I should have paused going to school, skip finals and fly to Japan. Visit him at his funeral. But then, there's another part of me that keeps thinking: this was his wish, for me to stay in school. To keep my life abroad, still feeling connected to Japan emotionally. It wasn't an easy time for me, but I suppose it's one of the many lessons I've learned as a TCK.

    1. Thank you. I think your comment reinforces the idea that we are shaped to a great extent by our families, even if, ironically, we leave them behind as a result. Your grandfather wanted you to be an explorer, just like my father wanted me to travel the world and never look back. It is up to us to maintain all the connections and nurture the bonds that make us who we are.

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