Our dream trip would take us first to Paris, then to England, where we would meet our friends to go narrow boating through the back country canals. The flight, though long, was uneventful, and we reached our destination with every piece of luggage we brought. It was late, and the mother of the man we rented the apartment from in the 16th arrondissement met us with a bright smile and disposition, even though it was really late. The Parisan flat was small, but perfect for our needs. The week was magical, with trips to the Eiffel Tower (dinner included), Notre Dame, L’arc de Triomphe and the L’ouvre, which were better than I’d dreamed. The weather was sunny and warm. We found a favorite café down the street we visited most mornings, and a grocery store we shopped at every day. It couldn’t have been better for our first visit to the City of Lights. We kept saying that we’d wished we had a bit more time in Paris.
Our last morning, we woke early to take a train to London. As we gathered our belongings and looked back over our small appartement, we talked about returning some day, closed the door, took the small elevator to the small lobby, then marveled at how blue the sky was through the all-glass wall and doorway. Just then we noticed a young nun outside walking toward our building, her habit flailing in the wind, her steps quick but solemn. She took a sharp right before reaching our building. It was such a surreal sight, I couldn’t help but think it was some sort of sign. “I hope that isn’t a bad omen,” I blurted out as we picked up our luggage and headed out the glass doors into the bright Sunday morning sun. I looked for the nun when we got to the street, knowing she should still be in our sight. But she was no where to be found. I quietly said to myself, “It’s like she disappeared into thin air.”
Just down the street we found a taxi, told him our destination, helped load our luggage, and went on our way. My husband and I discussed what we needed to do once we got to the train station. Then my phone rang. It was Dot’s house supervisor. I sent her to voicemail, then texted her to text me instead of call, as calling was just too expensive. Her text simply said, “Call me NOW.”
Several months before our trip, Dot had been given a phone she could use to call five numbers, all family members. All she had to do was push a single button for each person. My cell phone was first, her dad’s second, sister’s third, and so forth. She loved to call each of us, mostly one at a time. There were times when she would abruptly end the conversation and push the next button without hanging up her call. With the quick tones of the dialed numbers ringing in my ears I’d say, “Dot, I’m still here,” and she’d giggle. She got into the habit of calling each of us at least 10-20 times a day.
The day we landed in Paris her calls started to come almost immediately. We’d read horror stories about phone bills from Europe being 100s and even 1000s of dollars due to roaming and carrier charges. I tried just silencing the phone, but she still kept trying to call. So….I blocked her. I promised myself, and my husband, that I would call her several times during our trip. I felt tremendous guilt, but didn’t want to have a large phone bill when we got back home. Besides, I’d ask family to pass along pictures and texts about the trip, along with a big hug and kiss. The week progressed. As promised, I texted family, reminding them to check on Dot and let her know we loved and missed her. I checked my phone’s blocked calls log periodically, and noticed she’d tried to call several times a day. I just deleted them, thinking I would have more time when we reached England. More. Time. The last time she attempted to call was the day before we left Paris. She only tried two times. The only thing I could hear in the messages she left were voices coming from her tv.
If only I had taken a bit more time and answered just one call. Just. One. Call.
In the taxi heading to the train station, I looked for the number of Dot’s house supervisor on my phone, and thought to myself, “What did Dot do now?” Dot hated taking showers, and would throw a fit. She also got into arguments with one of the other residents once in a while. And, she wasn’t a great driver in her power chair and had broken a few pieces. I was somewhat curious about the urgent nature of this call.
The supervisor answered on the first ring and simply said, solemnly, “Hey.” I laughed and jokingly told her what I’d been thinking. In a direct and serious tone she said, “Dot has had a couple of seizures that she is not coming out of. The paramedics are working on her, but not getting a response. You need to call the house now.”
It hadn’t dawned on me that this was a Saturday night back home, and the supervisor was not on duty. Just seeing that she was calling on her day off should have alerted me that something was wrong. Some how time itself had stood still during our magical stay in Paris. I still didn’t fully realize the gravity of the situation. My brain was growing numb. My heart started to race. But I didn’t think it was what it was…
An unfamiliar voice answered the house phone. I just remember bits and pieces. I think I told him who I was, and he tried to relay all that was happening. The voice said, “It doesn’t look good.” “We tried to give CPR until they came.” “There is no heartbeat.” “She has been out of it for a while now, no oxygen.” My husband asked what the problem was with fear in his usually calm voice. I responded, in a sobbing voice, “They can’t bring her back.” He kept yelling “WHAT?!! No!! Dot?!” I heard someone in the background say something about calling it, and then a different voice say, “I’m so sorry….”
We asked the cab driver to take us to the airport, and again, a lot of it is a blur. My husband called our friends who’d be waiting for us in England and left them a message. I called my mom and broke the news through sobs: Dot was gone. We knew she’d had two seizures back to back. We knew they’d worked on her for 40 minutes. We knew my parents, my sister and my brother-in-law had to go to Dot’s house on our behalf and be with her. We knew it would be at least 10 hours before we’d be in Seattle. We were numb. We could hardly speak. We were in shock. All I could think was, why the hell had I blocked her calls? WHY???!!!!!
Ted made one more call. This time it was to a dear friend of ours who used to be our priest. He loved our girls dearly, and had baptized both of them. He even shared his birthday with Dot. He told Ted he would go and meet my family at Dot’s house. Then we just sat in mind numbing silence the rest of the way to the airport.
When we arrived the driver helped us with our luggage. Completely in a fog, we made our way inside the terminal and tried to look for Delta. Everything seemed so surreal. I heard a faint sound of rushing wind in my ears, and my heart was beating out of my chest. Somehow we found the ticket counter and managed to tell Delta what we needed. The only flight out was not for another 6 hours. We didn’t argue. Just stared. They showed us where to take our luggage, and continued to offer us profound, and real, sympathy. As we picked up our luggage, the lady at the counter told us to wait for some help. A young male attendant grabbed two of our bags and sweetly asked us to follow him.
We followed the agent, who rushed us to the front of the line. Some young girl yelled at me that people had been waiting in a long line. I turned around, faced her, and loudly and very angrily snapped back, “Sorry. I’m trying to get home. My daughter just died!” She looked stunned and shrunk back, and several other passengers gave us quick words of condolence.
The nice Delta agent told the person handling our bags that our plans had changed. We didn’t pay attention other than to give him what ID he needed. We just stood there, looking around, not knowing what to do, think or feel. He once again asked us to follow him back to the ticketing counter. He spoke in French with the lady from before, then turned to us and said, “There is a flight leaving in 40 minutes. We have booked you on that one. Another attendant is going to help you through security. Hopefully it won’t take too long. Please follow this young man.” He pointed to another attendant who didn’t really say much. He just looked sad for us, really. He had us board a little cart, and off we went.
If we went through any security I honestly don’t remember it at all. I just remember sitting on the cart watching a strange and foreign world go by, trying not to think about the horrible reality we were heading home to, and crying but not feeling. Just so mad at myself for blocking Dot’s calls. Just a stupid lost chance for more time with her.
When we got to the shuttle that was to take us to the terminal the young man put his arm on my shoulder and sweetly whispered, “I have no words for your loss other than that I am so very sorry. God bless you.” And with that he got in the cart and left. Ted and I stood, in silence, and waited for the shuttle. Reality was trying to settle in. And the world seemed incredibly sad.