A Life-Changing Game of Telephone

Writers Prompt Winner Man Repeller

In my family, regardless of geographic proximity, news of note travels fast. So when our Grandma Evie entered the hospital for what might be the last time on the eve of her 90th birthday, we immediately engaged in a global game of telephone.

I was in Manhattan when I heard the news from my mother, who’d raced to Rhode Island with her other siblings to be near Grandma, and again from my father, who was still at work in Connecticut. I then traded information simultaneously with my brothers in Boston and Indiana, and my cousin at St. Andrews College in Scotland. Within 15 minutes, everyone was up to speed and prepared for the worst.

Early the next morning, when my dad called saying he had bad news, I heard the same from my cousins, brothers, aunts, and uncles before I’d even had the chance to process it. Grandma had passed away the morning of her 90th birthday. Mom called the funeral home and the morgue and was on her way to the hospital to say a final goodbye.

Or so we thought.

My mom walked solemnly into the room to join her other siblings alongside the recently breathless body of her beloved mother. But when she entered the hospital room, she watched this supposedly lifeless figure lift herself up, turn her head, blink her shock-blue eyes, and smile. Grandma Ev was very much alive.

The news of Grandma’s “death” had already spread from Rhode Island to relatives all over New England, the midwest, Alabama, and Scotland. My cousins and I texted in real time, asking if the others had heard the news, and checking in to see how everyone was taking it. We loved Grandma Evie, and this was the first death in a while to rock our wild, party-centric family. My fingers only stopped typing briefly to answer a second call from my father that morning.

“There’s been a mistake,” he said. “Grandma isn’t dead.”

“What do you mean she’s not dead?” We both started to laugh.

In the middle of the night, it turns out, an uncle mistook a hysterical phone call from another aunt to mean Grandma was gone. So, like wildfire, my entire extended family partook in a game of broken telephone that left us mourning a grandmother who simply wasn’t dead yet. In an epic plot twist, my mom and her siblings, the rest of whom had raced to the hospital upon news of her “death,” broke out the previously purchased cake to spend one final birthday with their mother.

Two days later, Grandma Evie did pass, and for real this time. But despite the sad circumstances, our family couldn’t help but laugh through the services at the tenacity of our Evie to “come back to life,” and the ridiculousness that stems from our crazy, beautiful, loud-mouth, Irish family. Her fake death was a traumatic fire-drill, but it was also a secret blessing that brought the family together for one final celebration.

Photo by DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI via Getty Images. 

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