The Meanderthals

My mother’s voice

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.


  • Anonymous

    My heart goes out to you, Skip.After Mom died, their answering machine still carried her voice. The brothers discussed it. Stupid stuff, like if there was something weird about her voice remaining. Plus Mom-like reactions like "What will people think?" So one time when Brian went up, he changed it. Wish I could hear it again.For that matter, it’d be great to hear your Mom again. What’s that Ashfield number again?There’s a song that soothed me during Mom’s hospice and after she passed: Águas de Março (The Waters of March). Mom must have sung a hundred Jobim tunes, but I never recall her doing this one. Yet somehow this one found its way to me, in March of that year, coincidentally.Jobim was inspired by Brazil’s rainiest month, and wrote it as a life metaphor. All the elements carried off by the rain waters,a visceral reminder that life goes on. The chord progression keeps descending, like the stream carrying off the sticks, stones and leaves and memories.I think my favorite version is by Susannah McCorkle, who mixes both Portuguese and English lyrics in it: The repeated chorus:"And the riverbank singsOf the waters of marchIt’s the promise of life,It’s the joy in your heart"Much love, and fond memories of both our mothers.Dan

  • Leslie Galacar

    I was so moved by your words, Skip. It takes courage to share such intimate feelings. I think I can say confidently that all of your friends reading this post wish we were there to give you a big group hug.I feel my mom’s presence every day and I know I hear her voice when I am trying to navigate my own world. Her deep Georgia accent always reminds me that "this too shall pass". And it does – even the grief eventually turns into loving memories and wonderful snapshots of times and places we all shared.Thinking of you and Gabi. Take care. Leslie g xxoo

  • Suzie Weldon

    Beautifully expressed, Skip. I think any of us who have lost our mothers were right there with you while reading this. I am in Chicago to retrieve my part of the family contents of the house I grew up in which finally sold in July. Driving by that house yesterday, prominently located on a the corner of a main street, knowing someone else was now living there, was surreal. My father designed and built that house himself. And now we have no claim to it. I found it most disturbing. Feelings that I’ve never had before washed over me. I didn’t know how to deal with them. Perhaps I should knock on the door and meet this new family? Would it be helpful? Would it just make things worse? Maybe it’s too soon to deal with at all. So I’ll just drive my rental truck another route and head east, not looking back and face this new phase of my life. Being a grown up is sometimes no fun.

  • George

    Frank – a beautiful entry, thank you. I’m heading down to visit my parents in a couple weeks. After reading your entry I’ve decided to bring a gift. They’ve organized a few old photo scrapbooks for my sister and I, a photo family tree from the "old country" to the new. I think a more personal and precious record will be a simple tape recorder and a stack of tapes, to tell some of their stories, the ones we’ve retold around the kitchen table countless times. Someday having some of their cherished memories shared in their own voices will be a treasured family heirloom. Thank you for sharing your story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.