phone call

august 9, 1994 is a day that i will always remember.

my parents and sister were vacationing on the eastern shore and i, in my newly discovered post-high-school independence, remained at home to work at the local veterinary hospital.

that afternoon, the front desk informed me that i had a personal call. i picked up the phone and was surprised to hear the voice of my mother’s cousin, sandy.

“heather,” she said softly, “i’ve been calling all of the veterinary hospitals in maryland looking for you. we couldn’t get a hold of your mother. i didn’t know what else to do.”

“okay,” i said, confused, “the rest of my family is away on vacation this week.”

“there’s something i need to tell you. you should probably sit down.”

reflexively, i grabbed a nearby stool and took a seat.

sandy continued, “heather, uncle jack died today.”

in that moment, i remember desperately searching my mind for uncle jack. i didn’t have an uncle jack. who was uncle jack? and then it hit me, her uncle jack was my grandfather.

i couldn’t say anything.

“can you get a hold of your mother? have her call me back, please. i’m so sorry.”

“yes. i have the number to their beach house at home.”

i hung up the phone and grabbed my things and walked out of the hospital. it wasn’t until i was driving home that i realized what i was about to do: i had to tell my mother that her father had died.

the burden of the knowledge i carried was overwhelming. i felt sick. i felt scared. i knew this piece of information that was going to change my family’s life forever. right now, though, everything was fine. i pictured them relaxing on the eastern shore, playing miniature golf, eating thrashers fries, walking on the beach, and it was all going to come to a screeching halt with my phone call.

i made it home, located the number, and dialed the phone. i counted the rings — one, two, three — maybe they weren’t there — four, five — and then my mother answered. i can’t tell you what i said to her that day because i don’t remember any of it, i only know that i said what i had to say, and it broke my heart.

my grandfather, jack patrick, suffered a massive heart attack that morning and died before he left home for a doctor’s appointment. he had no previous history of heart disease and was in otherwise good health. it’s hard to believe that nearly 14 years have passed.

no matter how irrational or unfounded, my heart will always carry a sense of guilt for having to make that one life-changing phone call.


That must have been life-changing on two levels for you – not only did you have to deal with the grief and the loss of your grandfather, you had to deal with a very difficult situation, one that I don’t know if we can ever really be prepared for, in having to tell your mom that her dad had died. Heartbreaking, all around.

Posted by Deb on 5 August 2008 @ 6pm

deb, you are absolutely right — that was a life-changing moment for me, on many levels.

Posted by heatherdyan on 6 August 2008 @ 8am

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