Leave a message after the tone

Purple flowers
My mother’s voice is still alive on my answering machine.

Mae, this is just Mom. I woke up from a sleep and I just thought I’d call you. That’s OK. We’ll talk tomorrow. I had a pretty rough day. OK. Bye.

It was from a time when she  still had strength to dial out and talk.  Towards the end, she didn’t pick up the phone and could barely breathe into the receiver.  I’m not sure why I hadn’t deleted it initially.  I can only guess my own life was in such disarray that it escaped notice.  Afterwards, I couldn’t bear to erase it.

Roses in jug

Now and then I still listen to it when I rewind back to the beginning of my recorded messages.  I know it’s there and like the sound of her voice.  I have the message memorized.  The cadence, the accent and the simplicity of the moment warms my heart.   It is a voice I’ve known all of my life and will never hear in conversation again.   I still mourn my mother but after three years I no longer have a strong desire to call her when something wonderful happens.  I haven’t stopped thinking she would have enjoyed this or that.  Time has softened and filled the void left from her absence.  Admittedly, having her voice recorded has given me strange comfort.

My phone, which is part of the answering machine is breaking.  I’ve had it at least 15 years and it’s just wearing out.  When it rings, I pick up the receiver but it won’t connect to the base and let me answer.  All my incoming calls just go to the message machine.  I have let this go on for two weeks as I know when I get a new phone, she will be silenced.  As it turns out, I’m not ready for that.

This entry was posted in Essay, Grief, Mother, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Leave a message after the tone

  1. hebe in dc says:

    So beautiful, and so touching.

  2. Dean B says:

    This left a knot in my throat. My mom is still alive though an ocean separates us right now and I miss her a lot. We’ve been having problems lately, but we are working on it and will get by. Thanks for this.

  3. elroyjones says:

    Oh Mae, typically I’m a tosser but in this case I think you should keep the old phone just so you can hear her voice when you want to. Maybe put the old phone under your bed. My mother has been dead over 6 years and I’d love to be able to rewind and hear her voice.

    • maesprose says:

      I am going to store the old phone. I am going to “tape” and keep her voice on my computer but I think it’s good to keep it in a few places. It’s like I’m storing butterfly wings.

  4. Greg says:

    One of those moments that seems like nothing at the time, but is almost enhanced by it’s banality.
    Beautifully written as per usual. Lovely piece, Mae.

  5. naomimgruer says:

    Hi. This is the first time I’ve visited your blog and I was drawn in by the post about your mom’s voice. Can you re-record the message on another device and save it that way? I did that with a message that I wanted to be able to listen to again when that answering machine was wearing out.

  6. Coleen says:

    Funny – we never liked her accent – it revealed our LI roots…now it brings comfort…life gets so twisted – I’ve got a bunch of her letters – you have the voice – bits and pieces to summon her up in a tangible way on days when we need it.

  7. I wonder if there is a way you could get the recording put onto something else a little more stable than an answering machine? Find some tech savvy people who could maybe transfer it for you. It couldn’t hurt to ask around and maybe you’d get lucky. It seems like such a tragedy to lose it. It might even work to try and record her voice onto one of those hand held recording devices. That would also be worth a try. I so hope you can. My mom’s been gone since 2006 at the age of 86. I still miss her, but I still have her cat, Snowball, who is almost 18 years old and I know when I lose her, it will be a little like losing my mom all over again.

    • maesprose says:

      I had read all of the comments and thought it best to record it in a number of places. I say that as my phone was stolen yesterday and if I had done as I planned this week, it would have been on that. Now I realize I need to keep it in a few places….

  8. LB says:

    Mae, I too wonder if you can somehow record the message? it is a treasure for sure

  9. oh, mae, what a lovely post, so touching, so poignant. I believe you will find a way to hold onto your mom’s voice recording.

    shortly before hugh died, he set up a new voice mail device and left the usual message of a greeting, we’ll call you back – but a few weeks after he died, I accidentally erased it. oh, how I always adored his voice, and I was completely devastated when I realized it was gone. so much so, that I have avoided consulting the manual to see if it can be retrieved – if it’s not possible, I can’t face it, so I keep putting it off. to find out it is gone forever would be just too hard to bear. sad the machinations we go through to hold onto every precious piece of what brings us comfort and consolation.

    much love and light,


    • maesprose says:

      I can imagine how heartsick you were when you did that. I completely understand your inability to investigate further. You are right – I am finding a way and will keep my father’s voice too… even though he is still “alive and kicking”.

  10. I have seldom come across a post so touching and poignant.You have so beautifully captured the tug-of-war between emotional attachment that we hold for something intensely personal and the need to move on. Is there a right way here? I remain uncertain. I suppose each one of us needs to choose our unique paths as we confront such life changing situations.

    Absolutely superb post that somehow made my own personal memories within well up!


  11. Daile says:

    I feel that emotion. I wish I had an answering machine message, or even a text. My mother didn’t have a mobile phone. I get sad when I think of the fact there will be no more photos of her and I. But we have our memories which last longer than a text, photo or answering machine. It doesn’t make losing those things any easier.

  12. tw says:

    This touched my heart Mae. I can only visualise my Mum and the images are often of her in the final parts of her life, when all was far from well. Sometimes when I speak I think I sound a little like her, but they’re fleeting moments. If I had an answer phone message of my Mum I’d keep it, just as you’re doing, to bring comfort during the difficult days

  13. jwpenley says:

    This is such a beautiful piece.

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