I don’t mean a quick hello-how-are-you kind of checking in; often we talk for nearly half an hour. And because we’ve spoken the day before, there isn’t much news we have to share. But I know the particulars of my mother’s life: the television programs she watches, the trouble she’s having with her Hebrew homework, the stir-fry she made with all the vegetables in her refrigerator that were getting old. I know about the books she’s reading, the floor she’s having installed in her kitchen, the walk she took or is about to take when we say goodbye.
It started a few years ago when she ended up in the hospital after a fall. Following a visit of several days, daily phone calls were the best way to alleviate my worries about her, and to offer her some distraction until she could return home. When she did, my calls became less frequent — until she fell a few months later and was back in the hospital once again.
I’m the one who calls her, usually late in the afternoons. And because I’m generally not one for prolonged telephone conversations, I prefer to talk when I’m doing something else. Sometimes I chop garlic or unload the dishwasher or fold laundry; if the weather’s nice, I’ll use my cell phone and go for a walk. I have to confess that there are days when I wish I could take a break — when the call begins to feel like an obligation.
Then the other day I got an early morning email from my brother, who lives with his family a few miles from my mother. On the subject line I read “Mom (she’s fine)” and my breath stopped. My mother had been in the hospital the previous night, I learned. She’d been feeling dizzy, something related to the timing of her blood pressure medication. “She was discharged about 3 a.m.,” he wrote. “She’s probably sleeping now.”
I waited an hour before I called her. She filled me in on the details of the episode; she was okay, she said, planning on taking it easy for the day. As I listened, it struck me that no matter how mundane our conversations, they have become a part of my life. They are a touchstone, a simple pleasure that I already know I will miss. It is a gift that I get to have them at all.