The Sounds of Silence

Listen to silence. It has so much to say. Rumi

The house was so quiet after Jimmy died. The high school softball season had just started, and Molly was gone from early morning until late afternoon. Somehow, Dan, Buster and I couldn’t generate enough noise to fill the silence. Although Jimmy spent much of his final months sleeping or resting and wore slippers when moving through the house, even the air felt different, as if there were molecules missing from the universe.

When I was little, my father used to say that all he wanted for Christmas was “peace and quiet”. Back then, I thought it was funny. Who would want quiet instead of hearing the sounds of loud music, PBS children’s programs or my little buddies laughing and carrying on? Then I had children, and I got it. Those hours when one of my babies was sleeping or on a playdate or at school were golden. Cherished time to myself or the peace and quiet I needed to get some work done.

After Jimmy got sick, the silence became significant. Why is Jimmy sleeping so long? Has the upstairs gone quiet because he’s fallen or had a seizure? Why hasn’t he come downstairs yet? Will today be the last day he can get out of bed by himself? Or the last day he’s strong enough to spend time the family room?

Once Jimmy died, the silence became painful. Dark. Oppressive. Too loud. Too heavy. Impossible to bear. A brutal reminder of who was no longer there.

After the death of one of your most important people, silence can be like a scream, and all you can hear is the sound of your beloved’s name. It’s not empty, it’s not quiet, it’s not peaceful and it’s definitely no longer golden. Silence can be haunting, too, creating space for guilt, regrets, what ifs, whys and if onlys. Thoughts of what I didn’t say or what I wished I hadn’t done were hard to avoid. Resentment, anger, envy, pain flooded in, too. Silence is longing, absence, emptiness.

Filling the silence is hard. Reminders were everywhere. Jimmy loved music, and my iTunes account is full of his favorite songs, artists and playlists, including my favorite called “Wow, thanks for deleting my playlist”. The NBA season was only half over, and the Portland Trail Blazers, led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Damien Lillard (Jimmy’s favorite Blazer) were fighting to secure a spot in the playoffs. Pitchers and catchers reported two days before Jimmy died, and the San Francisco Giants with Pablo Sandoval at 3rd were heading into a Cinderella season that would ultimately lead to their third World Series win in five years. Reruns of Friends seemed to appear constantly in the cable guide. Chef, starring Jon Favreau, a movie that Jimmy would have discovered, insisted we see and loved, would be released three weeks after he died. Yet another reminder of all that I wouldn’t know about because he was gone.

Grief is the loudest silence of all, and it can silence us. It keeps us apart, even when we’re in the same room. It cries out over the unfairness of Jimmy’s absence and all that has been taken from us. Silent grief grows like a cancer until it overwhelms us and drives us to our knees. We fight to fill it, to avoid getting sucked into it or buried under it. To stay close, to remain together, to say Jimmy’s name and tell stories that keep his spirit and his memory alive. To remember all that we have lost and be grateful for all that we had, even as we mourn what will never be.

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