The call came at 7.34 in the morning in an apartment in Bologna, Italy. It came on my husband's phone, our sleep interrupted by the vibrating insistence. This was already a bad sign because my family always tries my husband's phone after calling mine. The first bad sign was of course, the time of day. As most people, I've always been afraid of calls in the early morning and middle of the night. Ever since my father received the call that his father had passed away in the middle of the night, I've always dreaded the same call. I must have had mine on silent, a rarity because I always forget. 7.34 on Sunday, January 21st in Italy. It's your brother, whispered my husband. I said "hello" a few times before realizing I hadn't even answered the call. I slid my thumb across the screen and heard a click as the line connected and then a sob. Hello. Hello, I said, sleep in my voice. My head automatically did the time difference calculation. It was late night in Canada, the 20th. January 20th. Exactly five months to the day since the death of our father. I felt myself exhale with relief. That's what he must be calling about. He's having a difficult moment as we all do when we realize the date has a connection to loss. How I wish that were the reason. I'm at the hospital, he says. Grandpa had a heart attack. He's passing away. I couldn't form any words, whether from the shock or the fact I was half-asleep. What? I kept repeating it flatly like a mantra. What. What. What. Not even a question, I wasn't even able to inflict my voice at the end. Just an affermation I continued nonsensically. I asked what he meant, as if there could be some kind of misunderstanding, as if we spoke different languages. There had to be. My grandpa was active, always on the go, in fact it was hard to even arrange to see him because my grandparents had the social schedule of teenagers. He was getting his sun hat ready for Hawaii, they were leaving in two weeks to spend a month in Honolulu, something they had been doing annually for years and years. They would take the bus to Chinatown and buy fresh shrimps to eat for dinner. He would buy grandma and I an ice cream in the evenings because he knew how much we loved coconut ice cream. I just lay there thinking about coconut ice cream in the perfect, white linen sheets, in the morning darkness, listening to my little brother cry from half a world away. Sometimes I ask myself how the human spirit can withstand so much. How can they be gone and I have to think about buying string beans for dinner? What kind of universe requires that these two realities co-exist? I kept analyzing my brother's words, the grammar was all off. What does passing away mean? Passing away belongs to cancer's realm. Heart attacks and the present progressive tense are an oxymoron. There is nothing in progress. A heart either beats or it is still. I think he chose to use that tense to avoid the finality, the completed action of the simple past. Of course he did. Avoidance of finality, of endings, is part of our nature. For years since I "grew up", my grandpa would ask me to come and stay over at their house like I used to when I was little. I kept putting it off, kept thinking I'd have another chance. I don't know why we have to continually experience death to learn how to live, to realize why putting things off is the dumbest thing you can do. If you're reading this, don't wait. Don't wait and always say yes. To whatever life asks of you, say yes.
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Jasmine is a former pharmacist turned writer and wine drinker from Alberta, Canada living "the sweet life" in Bergamo, Italy.
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