Just when your life seems to be on track, everything changes.
It happened to me yesterday.
I dreamt of writing another story that included the Matrix. The black hole that is meditation had taken over my thoughts. Then … the phone call.
“She doesn’t have long.”
Nobody wants that phone call. My routine got thrown in the nearby tumble dryer to thaw. My past self reappeared: Mr. Panic.
You might think this is a story of heartbreak or disappointment. Strangely, tragedy isn’t the point. Tragedy is simply a trigger in this story.
A Series of Serendipitous Events
The call set my mind into action. When your grandma has no more than 48-hours to live you quickly become sentimental.
Some call it death tourism. In other words, you want one last photo before the predictable end of their life. I wanted more than a photo. I didn’t know what, though.
It should have been a simple task. Get in the car, jump on the highway, drive to the middle of nowhere, enter the front door, and see her face. World events had other plans. I called the nurse looking after her.
“You need to make a booking, get a flu shot, and be here quickly. The state is going back into lockdown because of the pandemic. We’re about to shut off all visitors so this is your last chance.”
My heart sank to the bottom of my chest. Getting a needle feels like my own end-of-life moment. The flu jab is my passport to enter her sanctuary, so I drive my lazy ass to the doctor. The waiting room is full of people sneezing who could have covid. I block it from my mind. I ask the receptionist about getting a flu shot.
“The current flu vaccine only lasts for a few more weeks. So, nobody wants the current batch and that’s why there are only a handful of doses left.” The other clinics had all depleted their supplies. But, as chance would have it, not this clinic. Strange.
The nurse calls my name. I put on my superman smile and pretend to be brave. Then, I notice a box on the ground next to her. The label reads “Pfizer.” A handy distraction from the needle is a blessing.
“Yes, we’re about to start giving out the vaccine to end this pandemic once and for all.”
“Can I have a shot while I’m here?” I said. Her face said it all. (My turn is going to be months away. But if you don’t ask you don’t get, right?)
I got the jab. I felt like a hero. Then the blood drained from my head. I felt sick. The game is up. My true character is revealed. I wait five minutes and the blood returns — so, too, does my mission to hurry up.
The death clock is ticking and the pandemic is about to close the doors on my last chance to see my grandma.
I check the news. “Lockdown starts in a few hours. Outbreak is out of control.”
Back in the car, I get moving. The clock says I have 90 minutes to get there. It takes at least 65 minutes. The car turns into an ambulance. I speed as though I have an excuse. No cop dares to pull me over.
I arrive with a few minutes to spare. There are orange construction symbols around the entrance. They have her as their hostage. I have to negotiate my way through the door. The mask goes on. The temperature check is a pass. The iPad check-in is a success.
Then two people enter through the doors. My anxious mind completely forgets there are other family members. Family members who may have been out of my life for, say, over a decade. I walk over and pretend there has never been a gap in communication. They sign in, and play the same game.
We walk together as a forgotten family harmoniously to my grandma’s room. I’m told, the day before my grandma couldn’t speak or do anything. But today, the day her grandson arrives, strangely, the universe gives her signs of life again. I say hello. She knows who I am. She can speak basic sentences. She isn’t in a hospital bed. She is dressed in her best outfit.
She completely doesn’t look like someone with only a few hours to live.
I ask my forgotten relatives about her condition. “Her kidneys and liver have shut down. One by one everything will keep shutting down. You know, they say the hearing is the last thing to go.”
I had no idea life had a shutdown sequence the same as my iMac. Are we all just machines with a microchip for a brain?
Now comes the hard part…
How do you speak to close family members you haven’t seen for over a decade? I hadn’t prepared for this moment.
Where do they live? Do they have kids? Do they have dogs? What model of iPhone do they use to communicate with the world? Or are they crazy and use Android to take photos? There are so many questions. But our unplanned family reunion isn’t the purpose of today.
Grandma has brought us to this moment to say goodbye.
She is 99 years old and decided another 10 months to 100 wasn’t worth her time. Maybe she wanted to stick it up the Brits and the queens’ prewritten letter all 100-year-old Aussies get.
Still, I can’t resist talking to the other side of the family. It feels like Christmas 1996 all over again. Then someone suggests we do photos. So we do. We stand side by side and take photos. We agree to use my phone because it has the best camera. We take photos. We’re not forgotten family anymore.
“Now you have evidence,” says one family member.
The difficult part is sharing the photo. How do you send a photo to family when you don’t have their phone number? You ask for it, I guess. Thankfully, they asked for my number first. We were thinking the exact same thing!
A surprise lunch arrives. It’s sandwiches. I am so high on a higher power that I eat the tuna ones, and I’m vego. Rules don’t mean anything when serendipity is running the show.
I eat the sandwich and drink my tea with milk. The milk is my second vegan sin for the day, but I don’t care. We talk about where everybody lives. We look at photos. I meet the dogs of the extended family. I watch a Spoodle stand up on two legs, look into a make-up mirror, and check himself out. It’s bliss for a fan of teddy bear looking puppies.
The conversation lasts about an hour. It contains over a decade of stories. Time slows down for each story to be heard. Then we have to say goodbye as our work schedules remind us of our true masters. We get a few more photos.
Then the hard part: saying goodbye to grandma.
She doesn’t seem sad. She has the photos of ‘Doc’ (her late war hero soldier, turned medic husband) to comfort her. In a way, I think she witnessed the whole family reunion and is proud. Her final days mean something. They brought the gang back together again.
An Unexpected Ending
Just before we exit her room for the final time, serendipity strikes again. One family member says to me quietly,
“How are you going to send your email tonight?”
My mind puts together the puzzle. Email list? How does he know I have an email list? He is referring to my weekly newsletter.
See, it turns out he had been reading my work for seven years. I just didn’t know it. Our reunion was always a given. None of us thought it was going to be a date with death that would set the time and place.
I get in the car and drive home. A work call comes through. I have an important meeting in a few minutes. The cell phone coverage disappears. I drive down the highway, hoping the coverage returns. My gas tank light turns on. I’m nearly empty. One minute before the meeting, reception returns. With only a few liters to go, I land right out the front of a gas station. The meeting happens without a glitch. I fill up the car with enough gas to get home.
Everything worked out when the odds were stacked against me.
The Power of Serendipity Changes How You Think
Call it god. Call it the universe. Call it a higher power. Call it mother nature.
This story is a series of unlikely events.
In the final hours of my grandma’s life, I need to have a flu shot. I choose the one clinic to get the jab that is open an hour earlier than the rest. I make a booking to see my grandma hours before visitors are forbidden again due to the outbreak. I arrive in time for my visit with minutes to spare.
I see the other side of my family, who have been missing from my life for over a decade, who by chance decide to book the same time slot as me to see her. I get in the car, drive, and arrive in a cell phone reception area with only a minute to spare for an important work meeting. I drive with just enough gas to reach a country gas station. I return back to my apartment and discover I can no longer leave home because of the outbreak and the decision to send the state back into lockdown.
I get my photo. I find my family again. And now I wait here to receive the inevitable phone call about my grandma’s fate. I am sad and joyous at the same time. Who knew tragedy wrapped in serendipity could change so much?
This moment shouldn’t have been real. Yet it is. The best moments in life are the ones you didn’t plan for. There isn’t an end … only new beginnings.
Lesson: Life is working for you, you just can’t see the grand plan. And that’s serendipity’s role in your life.