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A Wrong Number

12 September, 2006 (21:17) | Creativity

On Friday, the phone rang.

In and of itself, there’s nothing special about the phone ringing. It rings quite often, in fact. Usually several times a day. Most of the time, it’s telemarketers, though I generally hang up before they come on. Sometimes, I find rude ways of dispatching them, like eating loudly into the phone or telling them they’ve reached a mortuary and everyone here is dead. Other times, I politely get rid of them.

On Friday, the phone rang, and it wasn’t a telemarketer.

“Snick and Snack Fat Camp, where you lose weight the Wolverine way,” I wittily answered.

“What?”

“Oh, hi mom.”

“Hi Ben. I’m flying out and wanted to know if you could pick me up at the airport.”

“Sure, I’d be happy to,” I replied. “When?”

“Sunday night.” The ticket in my pocket began to burn against my thigh. I winced and gritted my teeth.

“Umm… yeah, I can do that,” I said dejectedly.

“I can get your aunt or uncle to pick me up if you want.”

“No. I’ll do it. I have a ticket to the Jurassic Five concert, but I’ll give it to a friend or scalp it or something.”

“You sure?”

“Yes,” I stated. Suddenly it hit me. “You’re flying in Sunday? This Sunday?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“We’re moving your grandmother into a hospice.” I paused at the answer. Hospice. Hospice… A hostel is where students stay cheap while traveling. A hospital is where you go when you’re sick or injured. What’s a hospice… Oh, right… Shit.

“How long?”

“They aren’t sure.” My mother sighed, like she was depressed and aggravated. It was the same sigh she gave when I got in serious trouble as a child; pure disappointment. “The doctors say it could be anywhere from two to seven days.”

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“As well as can be. I’m just a little…” She trailed off.

“Frazzled?”

“Yes.”


I stumbled through the next two days. I sat around watching football, ignoring the world. On Sunday, I went to the concert and left early after only a half hour of the main act. It didn’t feel like $35 worth of concert. I was back home by 2 AM. I don’t remember there being a Monday.


By this morning, my grandmother had been settled into her new surroundings. I arrived mid afternoon to find my grandfather, my mother, and her two brothers sitting around. The facility felt different. I’ve never liked hospitals. They have a sick and sterile feel to them. I would walk down the halls, shivers running up and down my spine afraid to touch anything, as if I could easily be the cause of anyone’s death with one wrong step. When my grandmother was first moved into a home, this was how I felt. The hospice, however, was different.

A hospice doesn’t have any intention of healing anyone. The entirety of their being is dedicated to making the patient’s death more comfortable. The walls are warm and colorful and there are bird feeders outside each of the windows, populating the view with joyous chirping. A lady with a guitar and the voice of an angel wanders from room to room offering acoustic serenades of all your favorite hits from the campfire. The nurses stop in with a smile on their face and lovingly introduce themselves. Perhaps I’m wrong and hospices are just like any other facility. Perhaps I’m the one who’s changed. Regardless, something felt right.

My grandmother can barely talk anymore, let alone walk or feed herself. She was never very vivacious during my lifetime, but she’s regressed into a lifeless parrot. Her skin is sallow and sinks like a wet paper towel, translucent and ready to tear at the slightest tug. Her hands shake like bobbleheads if they’re not clutching the closest person as if she were hanging on to us in order to keep from falling off the earth. My grandfather sits next to her, cheering her on as she coughs up another piece of lung and hugging her hands. At dinner tonight, he said he doesn’t think he’ll live to be ninety. He didn’t add, “without her,” but we all knew it was there. Every once in a while, my grandfather asks her if she would like a drink. Sometimes, she coughs out a loud childish yes, at which point my grandfather carefully positions the straw in her mouth and says, “ata girl,” as she swallows. Other times, she moans and drools for a second and we ask again.

As each of the nurses comes on duty they come in and introduce themselves twice. The first time is directed at us, the coherent ones. The second, with exaggerated expressions and tone, they lean in and yell at my grandmother as if her deafness is absolute. “Are you comfortable?” they ask. Her response is always groaning and mumbling.

“She said are you comfortable,” my grandfather echoes, his booming voice reaching something.

“I’m okay, I guess,” my grandmother calls back.

“She guesses,” my uncle says with a smirk. Everyone laughs. Everyone but grandma and me. She can’t laugh and I don’t think it’s funny.


My uncle shows me to where the drinks are. I peel some ice cubes from the freezer and fill my styrofoam coffee cup with overbrewed iced tea. He grabs some yellow cake. “It’s for your grandma,” he says.

We come back to the room. “Want some cake, mom?” he asks. She smiles and gurgles a little bit. Carefully, my grandfather and uncle take turns spooning the cake into her mouth. Dinner arrives after only a few bites.

“Oh, look, it’s soup,” my grandfather says in mock excitement.

“You like soup, momma,” my mother chimes in. In the background, the news drones on about a missing marine who faked his own disappearance to go AWOL. His parents announce they suspect foul play on the part of his accomplice.

After a few spoonfuls of soup and a couple bites of pear, my grandfather offers another spoonful of soup. “NO!” says my grandmother forcefully.

“You don’t want anymore?” he asks.

“No!”

“How about some soup?”

“No!”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.”

“There are some words she can say well,” my grandfather says to nobody in particular.

“Cake!” says my grandmother.

“If she wants cake, she’ll have cake,” my uncle says as he goes back for another piece. He’s the middle child. My mother, the oldest, frowns as he leaves the room.


While my grandfather is in the bathroom, my grandmother says something incoherently. After a few moments of guessing and her saying no and I guess, my mom figures out she wants a drink. My uncle gives her some soda. After a few moments, he asks, “You want some more?”

“No.”

“What about water?”

“No.”

“Would you like a martini?”

“No.”

“My god, she really is dying,” my uncles says playfully. My mom hits him. “What!?”

“I can hit you if I want,” she says to him. My grandmother stares at the TV.


We went out to dinner, the five of us. It was silent while we waited for menus. All of us were thinking about her and none of us wanted to say it.

“Her feet are a lot better,” my mom finally said.

“How would you know that? Didn’t you just get here the other night?” asked my uncle accusingly.

“Yes, but the nurse said so. At the other facility. She had been with her for a while.”

“Oh.” We all buried our heads in the menu. For the next fifteen minutes, the only conversation was about what we were ordering and what we thought of the restaurant. I was the only one who didn’t discuss my order. My grandfather got a martini. I think everyone wanted one.

By the end of dinner, we weren’t discussing her. We were smiling and laughing. Naturally.


It’s slowly dawning on me that my grandmother—my racist grandmother, my infirm grandmother—is going to die. Soon. Every instance of her in my memory, from the pie-baking old lady I once loved to the frail shell of a woman she is now, is going to cease to exist outside my head. It’s a scary thought.


Tonight, the phone rang. I answered silently waiting for the sobbing on the other end. It never came. Instead, she wanted to sell me car insurance. I told her my grandmother was dying, but I had just saved a bunch on my car insurance with Geico. She didn’t respond. I hung up with a smile.

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  • you are amazing when you write like this…

    I hope it’s painless for your grandmother. :/

  • you are amazing when you write like this…

    I hope it’s painless for your grandmother. :/

  • Thanks.

    She seems to be in a little discomfort, but she’s not complaining. I don’t know if that’s because she can’t complain or because she’s doing well. I know they’re giving her morphine occassionally for pain and anti-anxiety meds to keep her from freaking out. To me she seems incapacitated, but alright.

  • Thanks.

    She seems to be in a little discomfort, but she’s not complaining. I don’t know if that’s because she can’t complain or because she’s doing well. I know they’re giving her morphine occassionally for pain and anti-anxiety meds to keep her from freaking out. To me she seems incapacitated, but alright.

  • I agree; this entry is so full of heart.

    I wish your grandmother the best possible home stretch, and your family the most comfort possible.

  • I agree; this entry is so full of heart.

    I wish your grandmother the best possible home stretch, and your family the most comfort possible.

  • Hearing that it’s full of heart makes me worry that I’ll get a letter about publishing it in some Chicken Soup for the Soul book.

  • Hearing that it’s full of heart makes me worry that I’ll get a letter about publishing it in some Chicken Soup for the Soul book.

  • When my grandmother was in a nursing home (in Hawaii, where she lived her last 18 years), my mother brought in a plain glass bottle filled with somewhat diluted vodka. One time, a nurse discovered it in my grandmother’s drawer, and asked “What is this? Holy water?” to which my grandmother replied “Indeed, it is!”

    She had been ill for years, primarily from overaggressive arthritis treatment, which destroyed her thyroid, and then an incompetent doctor who overdosed her on thyroid medication. Though she was in really bad shape, she hung on until my mother flew off to Colorado for a reunion with all her offspring. My grandmother died within minutes after my mother’s plane left the ground.

    Two days later, my father died of pancreatic/liver cancer in Spain. We were all at my sister’s house in Longmont.

  • When my grandmother was in a nursing home (in Hawaii, where she lived her last 18 years), my mother brought in a plain glass bottle filled with somewhat diluted vodka. One time, a nurse discovered it in my grandmother’s drawer, and asked “What is this? Holy water?” to which my grandmother replied “Indeed, it is!”

    She had been ill for years, primarily from overaggressive arthritis treatment, which destroyed her thyroid, and then an incompetent doctor who overdosed her on thyroid medication. Though she was in really bad shape, she hung on until my mother flew off to Colorado for a reunion with all her offspring. My grandmother died within minutes after my mother’s plane left the ground.

    Two days later, my father died of pancreatic/liver cancer in Spain. We were all at my sister’s house in Longmont.

  • I’m sorry. I’ve always been nearby when family dies. Except with my Uncle Buddy. I was in Cali when he died. Didn’t even get to go to the funeral. When my dad’s mom died, she collapsed outside of my bedroom while I was home over Christmas break.

  • I’m sorry. I’ve always been nearby when family dies. Except with my Uncle Buddy. I was in Cali when he died. Didn’t even get to go to the funeral. When my dad’s mom died, she collapsed outside of my bedroom while I was home over Christmas break.

  • anonymous

    Most fantastic dispatching of telemarketer in the history of the world!

  • anonymous

    Most fantastic dispatching of telemarketer in the history of the world!

  • anonymous

    i just want you to know that i found this entry really, really touching. actually there’s a kind of lump in my chest, because it says a lot of things that i can relate to a lot of people.

    thank you for sharing this.

  • That could easily have been written about me and my great grandmother. Except with less throwing of soup. I miss her.

    Very, very well written.

  • anonymous

    i just want you to know that i found this entry really, really touching. actually there’s a kind of lump in my chest, because it says a lot of things that i can relate to a lot of people.

    thank you for sharing this.

  • That could easily have been written about me and my great grandmother. Except with less throwing of soup. I miss her.

    Very, very well written.

  • thank you for sharing this, ben. it really touched me. i actually have a lump in my throat because it makes me think of my own grandmother. this could be her any day now. it’s strange when it finally sinks in that death is closer than we like to think.

  • thank you for sharing this, ben. it really touched me. i actually have a lump in my throat because it makes me think of my own grandmother. this could be her any day now. it’s strange when it finally sinks in that death is closer than we like to think.

  • Wow, Ben.

    That’s a really great story. I envy your ability to write so deeply with something like this looming over your head.

    I’m trying to start writing again. This is some really great inspiration.

  • Wow, Ben.

    That’s a really great story. I envy your ability to write so deeply with something like this looming over your head.

    I’m trying to start writing again. This is some really great inspiration.

  • I’m a little wary of how I want to compliment your writing right now. My first instinct is to cheesily say that was a great post, but that makes me feel evil and heartless. It’s just that the post is so honest, thoughtful, and deep… and it’s actually about a subject that one should be thoughtful about.

    I hope you’re doing okay.

  • I’m a little wary of how I want to compliment your writing right now. My first instinct is to cheesily say that was a great post, but that makes me feel evil and heartless. It’s just that the post is so honest, thoughtful, and deep… and it’s actually about a subject that one should be thoughtful about.

    I hope you’re doing okay.

  • ben, your post sucks! …not really, i just wanted to be original.

  • ben, your post sucks! …not really, i just wanted to be original.

  • I’m doing fine. I had a disconnect from my grandparents a while back, so it feels more like I’m watching the whole thing from the sidelines. That’s why I write; because I can and because it helps me deal with things I feel unclear about.

  • I’m doing fine. I had a disconnect from my grandparents a while back, so it feels more like I’m watching the whole thing from the sidelines. That’s why I write; because I can and because it helps me deal with things I feel unclear about.

  • It’s a scary thought. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to stare at her or avoid looking at her. Then I realized her reaction would be the same either way.

  • Thanks.

    What sort of grandmother do you have? I mean, how rude of her not to throw soup!

  • It’s a scary thought. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to stare at her or avoid looking at her. Then I realized her reaction would be the same either way.

  • Thanks.

    What sort of grandmother do you have? I mean, how rude of her not to throw soup!

  • On the positive side, it happened when all of us kids and our families were together for the first time in 5 years.

    The only family member whose funeral I’ve gone to was my paternal grandfather. He died of a heart attack when he was hunting in northern Wisconsin when I was living in Detroit, so I went to his funeral in Milwaukee.

  • On the positive side, it happened when all of us kids and our families were together for the first time in 5 years.

    The only family member whose funeral I’ve gone to was my paternal grandfather. He died of a heart attack when he was hunting in northern Wisconsin when I was living in Detroit, so I went to his funeral in Milwaukee.

  • Fantastic ending to your story. 🙂

  • Fantastic ending to your story. 🙂

  • when you decide you want to write you really do write well. incredibly well.

    just wow. you’re good.

    and i’m so sorry because i know it sucks to lose people, even if they’re people you don’t neccesarily get along with.

  • when you decide you want to write you really do write well. incredibly well.

    just wow. you’re good.

    and i’m so sorry because i know it sucks to lose people, even if they’re people you don’t neccesarily get along with.

  • No, for that you’d have to abandon your grandma after finding out her goodbye present for you was a Holy Bible. Then, after she died, you’d have to find the cheque she hid in the Bible for the cost of a new Mercedes.

    But Jack Canfield will not win this one. O, no.

  • No, for that you’d have to abandon your grandma after finding out her goodbye present for you was a Holy Bible. Then, after she died, you’d have to find the cheque she hid in the Bible for the cost of a new Mercedes.

    But Jack Canfield will not win this one. O, no.

  • Hehehe, I meant my great grandma did throw soup. She used to toss the bowl of soup that one of the nurses (this was also in a hospice) would put down in front of her, then she’d follow it up immediately with a “thank you kindly, dear.” Even though the poor sod had to clean up the mess. She’d do this fairly consistently, but they were under orders to always give the patients soup.

  • Hehehe, I meant my great grandma did throw soup. She used to toss the bowl of soup that one of the nurses (this was also in a hospice) would put down in front of her, then she’d follow it up immediately with a “thank you kindly, dear.” Even though the poor sod had to clean up the mess. She’d do this fairly consistently, but they were under orders to always give the patients soup.