I heard my mother’s voice yesterday morning.Though she’s been gone from this world for nearly a year, the voice on the other end of the phone was unmistakable, and I was entranced by its mere sound before I comprehended her words.
“Wait…how…what….” I thought all in a nanosecond as my brain struggled to make sense of what I was hearing. Before I could put into context how her unmistakable tone and familiar lilt had suddenly been brought back to life, I felt a flash of uncertainty whose unsettling breadth in an instant put everything in my world into question.My heart soared, surging with adrenaline fueled by happiness and surprise and filling a void I had not known existed, really, as I sat on my sofa, transfixed, craving more.
My elation dissipated as reality set in.It was a recorded message on the voice mailbox at our family’s cabin in western Massachusetts, one of the remaining facets of my mother’s life that we’ve not cancelled, given away, or otherwise disposed of. Her favorite white moccasins remain under the chair in Ashfield, and my sister tells me it comforts her to see them there. Like her voice on the answering machine, the moccasins are a link to something dear we have all lost, a connection that keeps us whole, individually and as a family, as we each struggle to find our way without the glue that bound us together. I burst into tears, at once feeling cheated by mechanical recording and also grateful to have felt the silken effect it had on my soul. Comforting, reassuring, the words “Hi, this is Marion, please leave me a message…” irrelevant and out of context, but the sound of her voice so incredibly vital to me, that it literally took my breath away. It was the shock that left me limp and wet with tears, but I feel there was more at work yesterday than simply stumbling across my mother’s voice on the answering machine.
I felt her presence.
I had called to reach my sister, who had dutifully made the effort to represent our family at the dedication of two benches we had had installed at the Ashfield Golf Club in mom and dad’s honor. I had hoped to reach Jane at the cabin to tell her how much I appreciated her making the effort to attend the ceremony. I wanted to tell her how much I love her.Instead I heard my mother’s voice. A deep, penetrating loneliness set in as I spent the day in a land far from my children, my sisters, my home. Work, conversations, food and all the other worldly things seemed faint and abstract, meaningless trappings that stood in stark contrast to what is far more important. My friend Stan and I have discussed the impact of losing our mothers. He gets it, and we feel the same about the horrid, inevitable event. Neither of us are fawning sons of domineering mothers, but both of us acknowledge that our mother’s love was unlike any other in our lives. He, too, yearns to hear his own mother’s voice, and, like me, continues to talk to her from time to time.
We have both also lost our fathers, which had a very different effect on us. To lose our moms was different. Somehow deeper, more final. More to the core.And so he was the first person I reached out to after the shock wore off yesterday morning. I had to settle to speak to him by email, and that meant I had to also wait for his response. But I knew that, too, would comfort me, help me swing the bizarre pendulum of life back to center, and when his message arrived it didn’t disappoint.
Along with words of personal support, he sent me the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s “You’re Not Alone,” and told me how much comfort he found in them when he felt lost, sad, alone. I read them, thought about them, and I will keep them on hand for those moments when the pervasive sense of loss once again visits me.Feeling buffeted by the seas of loss, I struggled yesterday to remain afloat. Exhausted, disconcerted, and empty, I made my way through a marathon business meeting and then left the office at noon for the rest of the day.
Back at our apartment, I slept, uneasily, paced, and waited. Though I’m not sure what I was waiting for, I think it was for time to pass, or for the feelings to subside. Or maybe it was in the offchance that I might – just one more time – hear the voice that I know has been physically silenced, but I also know will remain within me forever.I heard my mother’s voice yesterday, and until that instant on the phone yesterday morning, 10,000 miles from a machine that gave me hope while battering me emotionally, I had no appreciation of the sense of loss that I still – and perhaps always will – carry within me.