My brother Philip was buried on the morning of my fiftieth birthday. Earlier that week, he had decided to stop dialysis treatments, so his death was not really a surprise.
But it was a shock. My sister-in-law called just after dawn and I snatched up the phone, turning on my knees, naked, to lean over the bed as though in prayer. Elaine said hello, then issued a sound I did not at first recognize. The phone in our bedroom is an ancient, staticky cordless with areplacement universal antenna that falls off whenever I pick up the unit, so I assumed that the sound was just her voice breaking up over the thousand miles between us.