The phone rings and clicks into the automatic recording. “We are sorry. You have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service.” My stomach churns at the same time I smile. I knew she was ready. That is ready for death, if that is indeed what happened.
I do what I always do when I need more information. I go to Google. There is not a lot of info on the internet for this 88 year old, but there it is. Muriel Cottrell’s obituary, leaving behind 7 children, 21 grandchildren, 19 great grandchildren and 2 great-great grandchildren. She died two months earlier and had left me a voice message at some point that I had not returned.
So strange to have a friend die and not be notified. It is no one’s fault - how would her family even get my number? We had a special friendship but very few were privy to our circle. Our chats often included discussions about death, how much she missed her husband since his passing, how sweet I was to Irv, how she never expected to outlive him these long fifteen years. She shared her concerns about her children and grandchildren and shared her health updates on hypertension and her eye condition.
I met Muriel when her husband Irving was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I treated him monthly for two years in an out-patient chemo office in New York City. I adored Irving as much as Muriel. He was a medic in WWII and ran a radio station with his wife while raising a bunch of kids. They had a strong faith and took in unwed mothers in their free time. Muriel was a pillar of strength beneath the dainty, feminine facade she wore. Her love was the source of her strength, to do things like travel to Cambodia alone in her late seventies to spend time with her missionary son and his family. Her crystal blue eyes sparkled as she giggled with Irv during his treatments. One time she couldn’t stop giggling when he mistakenly referred to the Doctor as Father (as in priest). It’s not every day that you meet a priest named Father David Wolf!
I’ll miss those phone calls and her gentle prodding about my love life. Muriel always wanted me married and settled like any well-intentioned adoptive grandmother. I told her she and Irv set the bar so high that I was waiting for the relationship that would knock my socks off. I’m still waiting. It’s a bummer that I didn’t get that last phone call, but do we ever know when the last phone call will come? I do know that I always had beautiful, honest conversations with her that ended with “I love you”- not the good-bye kind of “I love you,” but that slow, sweet, genuine “I love you” - that you know in your bones is genuine.
When the next unexpected death arrives at my doorstep, I can only hope to feel this content about the quality of my relationship with that person.