Monday started early. I had signed up for a webinar on International Education Careers and although it was scheduled to be in the evening US time, it was at 6am China time. Getting up early was extra difficult since I’d just spent all weekend doing the Model United Nations. Oh well, I have a two hour break between my first two Monday classes, so I could take a quick nap if I needed to.
The webinar was interesting, though I had a little technical trouble logging in. After an hour of presentation, the speaker had moved on to Q&A and I was ready to take my shower and get ready to teach at 8:30. My iPhone rang, which surprised me, since people usually text me from the US before they call me
It was my brother’s number. Uh oh.
‘Dad died this morning.’
Take a breath.
‘He died in his sleep.’
Dad just turned 92 in November, and had some health issues, so this wasn’t unexpected. I’d spoken with my family about this possibility before accepting the job and Mom said I should go have an adventure – staying home wouldn’t stop him from dying.
After talking with my brother, I texted the office and told them I wouldn’t be teaching my first class. I was in shock. Even when you know someone will die, it’s still a surprise when it actually happens.
After a while Carol came over to my apartment to check on me. And ask if I’d be teaching my 11:30 and 2:45 classes that day.
I figured that I probably shouldn’t stay home alone, though it was really hard to concentrate on the lessons.
During lunchtime I spoke with my mom. She told me that my brother W’s wife had died. She’d been battling breast cancer.
Take a breath.
Mom said the two calls had come one after the other, and she’d waited to tell me so I’d have time to digest the news about my dad.
Still a shock. And more so because my sister-in-law was my age.
In the afternoon, I went to the office to ask about bereavement leave. I wasn’t sure about flying home two weeks before Christmas, but my thoughts were swirling and I needed information to make a decision.
I would get ten work days at half-pay, and they asked if I could wait until Saturday to leave. I told them I would look at airfares and speak with my family and let them know my decision.
I went to bed early and didn’t see the text until Tuesday morning.
Let me know when you are up. I need to talk to you. It is important.
I texted back to Papa that I was up. He texted back:
SB is very ill and in the hospital.
He then shared a text about SB’s condition, which included this:
We saw the awful news about Robin’s Dad on Facebook – we don’t want to add to her burden right now, so we haven’t told her yet.
Take a breath.
SB is the husband of L, who is like a sister to me. We had worked together at the St. Louis Public Schools years ago, when I had just completed my Bachelor’s degree. I consider their kids my nieces and nephew.
He and Papa became good friends after I’d brought Papa over for dinner. They really hit it off and L and I joked about their ‘bromance’ and how they make ‘playdates’ to do things like visit train shows.
Papa called and told me SB had had a heart attack and was in a coma.
Take a breath.
After the call, I texted L and went to teach class.
After class I tried looking up flights, but the internet wouldn’t cooperate. I decided to email my travel agent in St. Louis to see what he could find.
In the evening I texted L again and called her to talk. It was great to hear her voice and it helped her too.
Wednesday is my longest day of teaching, from 8:30 until 4:30. I was emailing and texting my travel agent, but the time difference made it difficult. I kept searching the internet and my coworker H looked at the Chinese travel sites for me.
Thursday morning I received a text:
Are you around? I’m at the hospital with everybody. Wanna try to Skype with me and some family?
I had just gotten out of class and had a free period, so of course I said yes. It was so comforting to see everyone and talk with L and her kids.
I didn’t tell them I was coming home, because I hadn’t bought the ticket yet, but I’d gotten an email from my travel agent with a decent itinerary and good price. After the call I texted him and got the ticket.
In the afternoon I made sure I had lesson plans for two weeks’ worth of classes. That evening I did laundry and started to pack.
Friday morning I received a text:
SB died tonight.
Take a breath.
I texted back and found out that they’d be sitting Shiva for three days. I was so upset, and I knew it was late night in STL, that I didn’t text L until after lunch.
Hi L. I’m so incredibly sad. I will see you on Sunday. ❤
It had been such a long difficult week that I’d already decided to do something that I’d planned for the following week – Christmas videos. I wanted to show Frosty the Snowman, but it wouldn’t play when I got to my classroom, so instead I showed How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It was a big hit with my students and it was fun to watch their reactions.
In the evening I finished packing and tried to get to bed early.
Saturday morning my flight left at 11:35am. I flew to Beijing, then LA, and arrived in STL at 11:36pm the same day. Of course it was actually a 26 hour journey, but it was odd to leave and arrive on the same day. On the 12 hour flight from Beijing to LA, they did not have the gluten free meal that my travel agent had requested for me. I ended up up eating a couple of salads and fruit cups. Oh, and a lot of rice crackers that were set out for a snack during the sleep time.
(I found out later that the airline requires 48 hours notice for special meals, but at the time I was highly annoyed. And Hungry.)
On Sunday morning, after not nearly enough sleep, my brother L and I went to the local diner for breakfast. Afterwards, I got into my dad’s Buick LeSabre and drove across the river to L’s house to sit Shiva with the family. I walked through the front door and burst into tears.