“Hello darkness, my old friend…” are the haunting lyrics of the beginning of the Simon and Garfunkel song, “The Sounds of Silence,” that have ebbed and flowed their way through the American musical fabric over the years. I know I have stated these words in one way or another over the past five years as I navigated the fluid, confounding, and complex stages and forms of grief. And, I concluded long ago that the sounds of silence are probably the loudest sounds in existence…if you are listening.
Going from a feisty, vibrant, and busy family of four with its own living, breathing rhythm and ambitions…to just me…a family of one without a clue or any real direction…was certifiable emotional whiplash. It caused a rather intimately talkative person to go painfully quiet. For me, the sounds of silence were not only the loss of my husband’s particular footstep cadence on the hardwood floors, his random “Jesus Christ!”s coming from the other room (indicating his frustration with God-knows-what); or the sound of the way the door squeaked with how he opened it after a round of golf. These sounds were also about the way in which they all mixed with the other sounds of my home…of our daughters opening the refrigerator, dropping a backpack on the floor, or screaming about how one sister used up all the toilet paper in the downstairs bathroom and didn’t replace it. These, too, went silent.
I lost my husband while our two girls were in college; our long-awaited empty nest years consisted of nine months…of terminal cancer’s false hope-filled dance of buying more time just to suffer longer. I was double whammy-ed with the early death of my husband from a completely preventable cancer that stealthily invaded him out of left field…and our two daughters flying the nest…at almost the same time. At age 45, I found myself completely alone for the first time in my adult life. And, when the culturally acceptable pomp and circumstance of saying goodbye to our loved one was over, and everyone went home or back to school or moved away…all that was left were the sounds of silence.
However, eventually new sounds took their place and filled those silences. Fast forward to almost five years from my husband’s passing, and the sounds of silence have evolved into a new experience for me.
My husband did not play golf; he was a golfer. That game, like for many people, was his passion. Long before I was an actual widow, I was a golf widow, so golf and I have had a complex relationship through the years. It was the mistress with whom I had to put up with, just like he had to put up with my own passions. And as any married couple knows, that is a part of marriage.
The last golf course I ever stepped onto was beautiful – an end-of-life type of gift that his father gave to him. The girls and I drove him around from hole to hole as he attempted to play his round. For his entire adult life, he had been a walking golfer, so his weakness from cancer didn’t even allow him to play the way he always played. It was a miserable experience for him overall, despite the well-meaning behind the gift; and after he died, I had no desire to even go to a golf course ever again.
But as it does, time marches on. Last week, I took a young boy to a driving range at a local golf course because he wanted to learn how to hit a golf ball. I put on my long-unworn golf shirt and my long-unworn Pinehurst Putterboy ball cap, and off we went on a beautiful late Saturday morning. When we got to the course, and he set up his spot on the driving range, all I could hear around me were the perfect sounds of a well hit golf ball coming from the people around us hitting balls at the range. This particular sound had been silenced for me for almost five years, and out of nowhere, with its reentry into my orbit, I felt the tears well up in my eyes. This time, the sound brought me that sadness-tinged joy that grief presents to us during healing. After all, what would my life with my husband and family had been without this exact sound?
I don’t know the right answer to that, but it certainly wouldn’t have been my life, my family.
I have found again a few other sounds silenced by the loss of my husband as they slowly make their way back into my life. And they are welcomed back again – every single one of them. But I also know that some will never return. Instead, they remain etched onto my heart and sealed in my memories as a permanent part of me, my own sounds of silence.
What are some of your sounds of silence?