A Call from Above

James is visiting. He’s let us be grieving parents when we need to be or can’t be anything else. He’s also helped us find moments to talk about nothing in particular. To hang out with a friend and talk aboutthe little things that people do.

James was one of my geek friends who made the transition to one of my close friends the day he met Kim. When I had to teach a class, he hung out with her and was just an overall great guy. The three of us were on a Geek Cruise to Alaska. During one of the day trips we met by chance at the top of a mountain and hung out and had a cup of cocoa together and have been friends ever since.

I watch him with my children. Kids love him and are naturally drawn to him. One of the reasons is that he lets them know he is there but doesn’t force himself on them. With my girls the pattern was always the same. They are very glad in advance to see him. They talk about him non-stop. But when he’s there, they aren’t ready for a hug. They just want to chat with him and test him a bit. Within a half hour they are all over him.

I do feel bad that he’s been so there for us to help us with our loss that we haven’t really helped him with his.

He’s stayed in our house on the way to MacHack. Elena got him to play Barbies with her and Maggie has loved the time with him on the computer. They refer to the room where he stayed as James’ room and they don’t like other people staying there. Other people can sleep downstairs on the couch.

When we went out to San Francisco for my brother’s wedding, James was living in town. He came over to the hotel and drove us to breakfast. I marvel at how he instinctively knows when to pay attention to these little people and when to let them be. He drove us to the beach and the kids played in the sand and the water. Jason and Kathlyn joined us and life was just perfect. The girls, particularly Elena, talked about that day for years.

This summer my family met up with me in Portland at the tail end of OSCON. We spent a couple of days enjoying the city and then headed out a bit with Kevin, Lisa, Ben and Eric. After four great days enjoying the shore, Mount Hood, Mount Saint Helens, and the Columbia River we headed back to Portland. The girls couldn’t wait. They were going to see James.

He told us to pack bathing suits for them and we met at a park and watched the girls play in a fountain. I have pictures of the girls competing for James attention and enjoying being goofy. They loved visiting his apartment and talked about going back this year to play some more.

When Elena was five, James visited. As usual, the girls rode with me when we went to pick him up at the airport. Elena pressed him to see if he was seeing anyone. “I know,” she told him, “you can marry my Aunt Jill. She’s not seeing anyone either.”

We got home and cooked dinner. Kim and I hung out with James at the dining room table and talked. The girls wandered off, but would come back now and then. It seems that Elena had wandered back once or twice and we hadn’t paid sufficient attention to her.

The phone rang.

We don’t answer our phone during meal times. It sometimes drives visitors nuts, but I want to be able to talk to and listen to my family during a meal without jumping up because someone else found that the most convenient time to call us. My concession to Kim, which given the recent events seems particularly sensible of her, is that we can hear the answering machine in case it is an emergency.

The phone rang and the answering machine picked up. After the greeting ended we heard the voice on the other end say, “Hi, this is Elena. I’m in daddy’s office calling from his phone. I need to tell you something. I’ll be right down. Bye-bye.”

She couldn’t get our attention in person so she’d gone up to my office to reach us another way. I know that seems small – but these are the things that impress me so much about my children.

As with anything else, what was cute once, soon ceased to be so cute. Elena loved to call me on the phone from that day onward. She would call my office phone when she was downstairs and our home phone when she was upstairs. It wasn’t that she was too lazy to come find me. She would often be in the same room as me and just want to talk on the phone so she would have to leave the room to do so.

She loved to pretend she was someone else. The phone would ring as Kim and I were cleaning up from dinner. Kim would say, “it’s for you.”

“Who is it?” I’d ask.

As I came over to the phone she’d mouth “Elena”, and be giggling.

“Hello,” I’d say to the phone.

“Mr. Steinberg,” Elena would say in her version of what she thought a telemarketer would sound like. Deepening her voice the best a five or six year old could she’d say “you have won a trip to DisneyWorld under the condition that you take your daughters.”

I’d laugh and tell her to come on downstairs and get started on her homework. She always wanted to know how I knew it was her. I loved these calls from above.
The day she died, Elena was home with what we thought was a simple stomach flu. After getting her settled on the couch and making sure she had what she needed, I went upstairs to do a little work. I left the phone with her and sure enough, about an hour later Elena called.

“Daddy,” she said, “can you get me more fizzy water.”

“Sure,” I said. I’ll be right down.

I was IMing with Chuck and told him that Elena was home sick and I needed to head down and see what was up with her. I headed down to make sure she was ok. I am so thankful I did. I would selfishly not want my last memories to be that she called for me and I was too involved in my work to respond immediately.

I headed downstairs and she asked me for some more lemon flavored fizzy water and promised just to sip it. When I came back and poured her some she sat up and looked for the wastebasket we’d set up and started to throw up. Of course she missed the basket and threw up some of the water she’d been drinking on herself and the couch.

I took her upstairs and cleaned her off and put her in fresh pajamas. Her eyes cleared up. You know when you vomit and suddenly you feel better – that’s how she looked. Her energy picked up. She was clean and comfy and gave me a big hug of thanks. We went downstairs and I put her in a chair while I took off the slip cover from the couch and covered it with a sheet and tucked her back in. She sipped her water and returned to the television.

Kim came back from work a few minutes later and Elena told her that I had said that she’d vomited out the last of the poison and would be all better now. I had said that and had been very wrong. But at 12:30 she looked well on the road to recovery.

The phone has rung a lot these past few days. What I wouldn’t give to hear her voice on the other end.

Published in: on March 1, 2006 at 6:48 am  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As a parent, I feel your pain. When I read your entries it reminds me how precious life is, and how we need to make sure that we show our love to our children each and every day, even when they aren’t always doing things that we are happy about.

    I would like to share your story with others, from the beginning. However, your blog is only keeping the last 10 items. As I picked this up in mid stream, is it possible to ask that you repost the original entries on this so I can share this with others.

  2. I don’t know you, but heard your news from java.net. I have a six year old son, who is just recovering from flu, and has a wobbly tooth. Your story knocked the wind from my lungs. I’m an Irish boy living in Canada – we’re a long way from our children’s grandparents. We’re flying home to see them this weekend for the first time in 4 years. Your story is so sad, but your blog is such a message and lesson in love and values. It is remarkable how much colour you find in the simple things of life.

    Today is the first day of Lent. I’m going to pray for your family and for Elena.

  3. In Twinless Twins, we have a saying. The first is that “We heal through helping others.” In that, James may be healing through helping you, Kim and Maggie through your loss.

    More about Twinless Twins can be found at http://www.twinlesstwins.org.

  4. Daniel,

    Probably what’s helping James is just being there with you three…and helping you where he can. I’m so glad to hear that he’s there now.

    Much love,

  5. Very touched by what I’ve read here. I have a 5 year old daughter and a 4 year old son and each word of each story brought me so much sorrow trying to place myself in your shoes to understand how you feel. I can’t even begin to come close. I do appreciate the what you’re doing here very much. Thank you for this.

    (FYI to the person making the first comment above — I clicked on the calendar and went back to Feb and clicked on the 23rd and I was able to find the oldest posts that appear to no longer be available)

  6. Daniel,

    My brother died when I was 19 and he was 23. He died in a car accident. I’m 33 now and have a 10 month old daughter. As a new mother, I cannot imagine the death of a child. As a sister, I know the pain and sorrow of the loss of a sibling. Even 14 years later, the pain still smarts. My parents have learned to live with the loss. Time has helped them they claim. I think they love their grandaughter that much more, because they have been given a second chance with her. I remember the days after he died. It took so long for the realty to sink in. I was in denial for many months long and then it hit me. People told me I had to live for both of us. I couldn’t do it, because I couldn’t replace him with my spirit. It’s strange the things people say.

    Thank you for sharing your feelings. I have related to many of your words. You and your family are in my thoughts.

  7. I don’t know how you have the capacity to write this journal, but so many of us are grateful for it. Like Elena herself, it brings people together and creates community. I had been thinking back over the funeral mass and remembering in particular the group of altar servers. They served with such poise and grace, you could almost be fooled into thinking they were angels. But I remember that I had caught sight, during the service, of one of the girls’ high-top sneakers peeking out beneath the robe she wore. That sight reminded me that they were real girls, who may have known Elena and may have been grieving her loss, too, but nevertheless were doing their job creating a sacred space for all of our grief. What a gift. And now, reading your words and all the comments, I can say Thank You to her mother, who resisted the urge to make her wear different shoes.

  8. […] A call from above […]

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