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The Last Phone Call

I had received several missed calls and voicemails from Joel, unusual but not unheard of. He was good about calling to check up on our life here in Florida. I wish I had been just as good about checking up on him. I remember preparing myself to call him back. He mumbled something about apologizing to me. I didn’t know what he meant but assumed he was having some sort of guilt for our relationship as kids. We fought quite a bit and I often felt guilty about that as well. But he sounded frantic. I wasn’t sure what that was about. I prepared myself to assure him that I was equally guilty for any childhood bickering and assumed it would end well, maybe some small talk about all the running and biking he had done lately – I was very impressed by how dedicated he was to managing his emotions and stress through physical activity and hobbies. But that’s not how the conversation went. It was the first time I thought to myself “this might be serious”. …That moment shouldn’t have come so late.

I stepped outside, knowing our conversations were never quite “casual” anyway, and worrying I might give in to some pent-up emotions from our lifelong struggle as brother and sister. Breathing deeply as I dialed his number, I listened for his voice on the other end, hoping to hear a casual “hey Darb”. Then he picked up.

“…Joel?’

(delayed) “yeah, hey”

“How are y-“

“-Stop. I.. “ (Breathing) “I need to say this”

“Ok.” (I could tell he was trying not to let me know, but it was obvious he was crying)

(silence)……………”I’m sorry”

“I’m sorry too -“ (I tried to prattle on about how it’s normal to fight with siblings and how I’m a brat but he cut me off)

“No. I needed…. I need to…” (struggling to get any words out. The silence was huge and painful but we both needed that pause)

“I’m just……….I’m sorry”

……………………..

“You should come see us soon”

…………………….

“k” (his breathing was getting worse, I could tell he wasn’t up for small talk)

“I love you, Joel”

……………..

……”love you”…..

click.

I stood outside for a few minutes longer, collecting myself. I don’t know at what point I started crying but I didn’t notice the tears until I hung up. Such a short conversation but so emotionally exhausting and confusing. But I also felt relief. I needed to know he loved me. Not that I didn’t know, but with Joel it was always hard.

I thought this was a step toward healing. Some sort of check on a list he formed to work through a problem. And maybe it was. Or maybe it was a peace-making because he knew he would be leaving soon. I won’t ever know. So I’ll always fight through this conversation in my head, wondering if I could have known or if I should have pushed harder to find out why he was so upset.

That was in May. I received a text from him on June 22 saying he got the shirt we sent him. 6 days later he died by suicide.

I’m so thankful he called me. I needed to share that moment with him. In 23 years of being his sister I never felt so close to his heart. Yes, it’s a burden I’ll carry probably the rest of my life. But some burdens are worth carrying.

Sharing our story helps me have perspective, helps me learn. And I’m confident I still have much to learn from Joel.

8 thoughts on “The Last Phone Call

  1. Thank you, Darby…thank you for continuing to share about Joel. I love you. GJ

    1. Love you, Granny

  2. I’m humbled each time you share. Each one of us are given moments to treasure & draw strength from time to time. But not everyone recognizes the gifts those moments bring when we least expect it! Thank you for giving me pause to reflect! You & your family aren’t far from my thoughts & prayers! I love you! xoxo

    1. Thank you Aunt My! Love you

  3. So much is in my heart that in not even sure what or how to share. Just want you to know how much I love all of you. Thinking of you always.

    1. Thank you, April. Your thoughts and prayers are so appreciated

  4. Oh Darby, that was hard to read, but I’m so glad you both heard the words “I love you”. A lot of people don’t hear that before they lose someone. His death would have been so much harder if you both hadn’t declared your love for each other. We love you so much, Nana and Bu

    1. It’s a comfort to me, I’m afraid I truly would have doubted where we stood in our relationship if I hadn’t heard those words when I did. Love you

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