The Disappearance of My Mother’s Voice
When I left my parent’s home at age nineteen, I started touching base with my mother every morning. The conversations were never very long. It was just a way to remain connected to a person I loved while attempting to navigate the world away from the parents who brought me up. From college to retirement and through everything in between, that first talk in the morning with my mother had a kind of steadying effect on my life. It set the tone for each new day, and the sense of comfort I got from hearing her voice, however briefly, reinforced a bond that endured for decades.
It didn’t matter where I was in the world or what I was doing; I never lost touch with my mother. Even when I lived in Italy, the ocean between us did not impede our contact with each other. Skyping took the place of telephoning and was much cheaper. We shared irreplaceable moments during our brief conversations. We each kept up with the other’s daily rhythms in our vastly different lives.
As our lives changed over the years, our phone conversations changed too. Talks about christenings, birthdays, and weddings dominated the earlier years while discussions about health issues, hospital stays, and funerals were common topics in the later years. The phone calls never ceased though, even when the subject matter went from joyful to dreadful. She lent me her ear and I lent her mine. We both came to rely on those simple little phone calls through good times and bad.
It was during one of our regular morning calls that I detected something was amiss with my mother. Since we spoke every day, I would sometimes refer to a subject we discussed the day before. On this particular day, my Mom could not remember an entire conversation we had less than 24 hours earlier. At first, I chalked it up to age-related forgetfulness, but when it kept happening, alarm bells went off, and I started paying close attention to anything that seemed out of the ordinary. Other ominous signs would soon follow.
When my Mom called me one morning and said she could not find the house of my father’s aunt who she had been visiting for 40 years, located less than 10 minutes from her own home, I felt a rush of panic. I immediately got a referral to a good neurologist. The diagnosis of early Alzheimer’s was a devastating one, but my Mom was still pretty healthy, active, and engaged. We were determined not to let the diagnosis overtake all the good times that were still possible. We got ready to live with Alzheimer’s instead of throwing in the towel prematurely. We managed her symptoms and continued to interact as we always had, starting with that precious phone call each morning.
My Mom was one of the most sensitive people I ever met. Whenever I returned home after my annual mammogram, I could hear the phone ringing as I turned the key in the lock to let myself in. It was always my mother asking, “how did you make out?” Her caring words warmed my heart and reminded me that the person on the other end of the phone loves me very much. I felt so lucky to have her in my life.
The first year the phone didn’t ring after returning home from my mammogram, I felt an enormous sense of loss. I walked around the house hoping the phone would ring, but it never did. This would be the new normal.
I started spending much more time at my parents’ house as her condition slowly progressed, and our early morning chat served as an indicator of the pace of her illness. For years, if I did not call my Mom by 10:00 am, my phone would surely ring by 10:05. Then over time, I started noticing that my Mom stopped initiating calls if she had not heard from me. She would forget to call me, and the special connection we shared for so many years began to change. Even though I saw her more in person now, the absence of her phoning me caused me to mourn the unwelcome changes to our routine.
I still continued to call every morning, and as her condition progressed, conversations with my Mom morphed into conversations with the caregivers about my Mom.
My Mom passed away a few months ago and I cannot even put into words how much I miss those morning phone calls now that calls of any kind are no longer possible.
I search for her comforting voice to stem the despair over her loss. Her words had the power to quell my deepest sorrow and calm my biggest fears. And now, longing for that connection to my Mom each day fills me with memories of the sights and sounds of our fifty-eight years together as mother and daughter. I see her laughing at my jokes, soothing our hurt feelings after family squabbles, and offering words of encouragement when I was feeling down. My memories of her sustain me. I hear her voice in my mind, and it’s like we are still having conversations each morning.
As I sat with her during her final moments, I talked to her and through my tears said, “you were a good mother mom . . . you were such a good mother.”