I recently had the dilemma that I guess a lot of single people do. I’ve had it before, and when the problem was new to me, the first few times, I just sat there and cried when I was faced with it. My dilemma was about the line one see on many forms, in hospital emergency rooms, and most recently when requesting additional pages in my passport. It’s a pretty standard question: Emergency contact. Who to call in an emergency. It’s a pretty simple question, right? Not always. For 32 years of my life, since the age of 17, I was married, and all I had to do was write my husband’s name into the ‘emergency contact’ line. But if you find yourself unmarried, without a significant other, have no adult siblings, no parents (who past a certain age you don’t want to upset anyway by putting them in the front line for bad news), it really becomes a knotty problem, I’ve never felt so alone in my life. I had gotten this old and I had no one to contact in an emergency. I felt like a total loser.
I have children in their early and mid twenties now, old enough to be responsible, and three slightly older ones who are married. But do I really want them getting some hideous 4 am phone call, from a stranger, telling them something terrible? A spouse can at least break the news to them gently if something bad ever happens to me (I hope not, but I do travel a lot, and things can happen in today’s world). I thought of putting my lawyer’s name down on that line for the passport agency, but she said that she is often not reachable. My best woman friend travels a lot too. l The person whose name I always end up putting on that line is my wonderful assistant of 19 years, a terrific, kind, lovely responsible young woman, and I figure she’ll know what to do. But when I see my assistant’s name on that line it always pulls me up short and makes me think about life again. How did I wind up in a situation where the person I write in as ‘next of kin’ for an emergency is an assistant? It’s on of those little, and maybe even not so little reminders that you’ve made some mistakes in your life, big ones. There should be someone other than an assistant on that line, someone who loves you and will be there for you.
I’ve been divorced for 8 years now. The time has rolled along. I’ve become independent, I love my freedom, and I’m having a good time. But now and then, you sprain an ankle, cut your finger, and wind up in an emergency room, and there’s that damn line again, like an accusation, reminding you that you’re alone, without a partner to rely on if something goes wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be worth getting married again just for that, and surely not to the wrong person so you have a name to put on that line. But it’s a reminder, and not a welcome one, when you’re alone. Hopefully, we all have someone who cares about us on that line. But some people just don’t. I could always put my kids on it, but that seems so hard on them. So my assistant is still on that emergency contact line, and has been for eight years. I’m lucky to have her. Some people have no one at all….but it still jolts me every time I see it, and is a painful reminder that I did something wrong, and made mistakes in my life. I don’t think of it often, and I really enjoy my life. After years of being married, sometimes in difficult circumstances, sometimes being alone is better….but when I see that damn ‘emergency contact’ line, I’m always reminded of what I don’t have…maybe one day…you never know, and if it were finally the right person, wouldn’t that be nice! And in the meantime, my assistant’s name and number will do just fine.