My father had been the walking dead for about 23 years. He had dealt with many health issues over time and every recovery was a miraculous blessing. We knew the end was inevitable, so I was as prepared to lose him as I could be.
I lived in Boston and he lived in South Carolina. It was September 5 years ago and I had just been there for what I feared might be my last visit. The reassurance of hearing him speak to me, even for just a few minutes by phone was what shortened the physical distance between us and helped me cope while he withered away in those last weeks.
Then his breathing became so labored that he couldn’t speak anymore. So it wasn’t the end, but the sudden silence between us that preceded it, that had the most devastating impact for me, both then and now. I never considered the possibility of not hearing the sound of his voice again while he was still alive. At first, this loss was so sudden. It was like we got disconnected mid sentence, like someone had hit the mute button, or dropped a wall of soundproof glass between me and the world as I knew it. This, the loss of his voice first, I had not prepared for in any way.
In my forty two years at that time, he had been my one trusted constant, my one reliable living resource. Far from being an intellect or a scholar, he could navigate any life crisis as if he had been through this way before. He had a strategy for everything, a step, a motto, a plethora of supportive ideas and encouragement to carry me through. Whether it was a paper cut or home foreclosure he was the master of advisement. And if he didn’t have the answer, he knew people, and he’d get back to you. As a kid, I remember my dad spent more time on the phone than any man I’ve ever known. People of all ages that he met in the program called him to talk things out, break things down and make a plan to deal with whatever wrench life was throwing in their system.
His was not a yelling or a judgmental voice, and when there was nothing positive left to say, it was a silent one. He never sugar coated anything. You could count on him for two things – he would tell you he loved you and he would tell you the truth, even if it wasn’t what you wanted to hear. Who was going to guide me around life’s potholes and detours now? I felt like someone stole the training wheels off my bike before my riding lessons were completed.
Time and patience have taught me acceptance, and accepting the absence of his voice, is what allows me to hear him on a different level. Some days that concept sucks, but on other days I surrender to the idea that he continues to speak to me, just in different ways.
If I’m still, I can hear his voice in my head as if he were sitting next to me. I can hear his wisdom, his sarcastic tone, and his sense of pride. I can hear the smile creeping across his face, the wise ass smirk he wore when he had a private joke stirring in his head. If I am lucky he will come to me in a dream and we will talk. This is so rare and sporadic yet so real that when I wake up it takes a few minutes for me to accept that the dream is over.
I realize that I have a legacy, an archive, a registry of life information he spent years storing in my mind and my heart. And that’s the piece I can nurture. My job is to keep his voice a part of who I am, pass that on to those I love and let him speak through me. I have begun to hear his words in mine, louder and stronger, as I instill his gifts on the minds and hearts of my own kids so that they can hear him, too.