The voice

Because I’ll be visiting Ireland with our daughter, I searched out Irish writers whom Eleanor Wachtel of “Writers and Company” may have interviewed. I listened to a delightful conversation with Nuala O’Faolain, which led me on to O’Faolain’s memoir, Are You Somebody: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman. The book is engrossing, and the memory of her physical voice enhanced my experience of her voice in print.

Halfway through the book I googled Nuala O’Faolain about something and was shocked to discover she died in 2008. I tried to believe it through the rest of the book. How was it possible, hadn’t I just heard her speak? I have no trouble reading the words of dead writers, that wasn’t it, but there’s nothing so alive and living, so uniquely another person, it seems to me, as their literal voice. And so I’d believed her alive as I read, though she wasn’t any more, and I felt sad about that and had to adjust to it.

Something similar happened a few days ago when our granddaughter showed me a special storybook her other grandmother, who recently died, had recorded some years ago. Hearing that wonderful, vital-sounding voice again was, as our son puts it, “surreal,” for in it she’s alive. But actually she’s gone, and immediately grief plunks into the space between those two realities.

Most of us dislike our voices when we hear them recorded. We’re not used to hearing them as others do. Then along comes thinning, drying, and loss of flexibility in the aging voice box. But never mind all that, today I feel gratitude for voice, for the livingness in the voices of others and the aliveness of me in mine.

10 thoughts on “The voice

  1. I discovered the poetry and other writings of Jane Kenyon after she died. I was so miffed that I hadn’t encountered her work before she died, as I would have loved to have gone to a reading of hers. Her poem “Otherwise” is one of my favorites, a haunting reminder that we can never take the quotidian for granted.


  2. Yes, aging involves both pain and gratitude, just like the rest of our life did. But it is a different kind of pain— sorrow at the loss of dear friends, joy and gratitude that we had the privilege of knowing them and loving them. Pain as we realize our own bodily losses, but such gratitude at the life we have lived so far and are still privileged to enjoy!

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  3. Yes, “the voice” is so important, especially after a loved one’s passing. Recently, we’ve been remembering the voice of Peter’s profoundly deaf sister who died in 2014. And, though she could make sounds & even “speak” words, they were difficult to understand; whereas her “real voice” was ASL. She spoke that eloquently & very gracefully, while occasionally making a few word sounds. But when palsy & arthritis crippled her hands, that voice was lost & she & we all mourned that very much. Indeed, she felt locked inside herself and soon lost her will to live.


    • This would be a story worth your writing, Leona. That particular “voice” that was her hands, and then losing that too. Truly a loss. It makes me sad just to read of this.


      • Yes, it was horrendous. Peter especially could hardly bear it. He has written some poems about that–his only way of expressing how that felt to him. There was such a sense of how could so much trouble come her way. Deaf from birth but always eager for life & learning. Then getting this terrible supra nuclear progressive palsy which isolated her even from her deaf friends because she could no longer sign due to crippled fingers. Also, the disease makes your face expressionless & facial expressions are so important for communication among the deaf. It basically broke her heart & ours too.

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    • I may have fixed the link, if you’re interested in trying again. But the link you posted is wonderful too, I so enjoyed it. Not just the voice there, but seeing her speaking as well. — So you’re going to Ireland! Our little trip is coming up so quickly I’ve not been able to do a lot of preparation, but I’m doing what I generally do, I try to read a summary of the history, usually not much more than wikipedia, so I have the broad sense of it at least, and then as much reading of that country’s writers as possible before I go, though there’s so many when it comes to Ireland! And some looking up of the places we’ll visit. They’ll be Dublin, Galway and area, the Aran Islands, Limerick, back to Dublin, a day trip to Belfast. I found Nuala O’Faolain’s book, though personal in her relentless quest for love, quite insightful on broader Irish society.– Somehow I feel you may be much more thorough in your approach! But we go with what we’ve managed, and let the discoveries on the ground teach us more, and delight us, and sometimes reading afterwards, in light of what one’s seen, is just as rewarding.


  4. Your last paragraph is insightful and real. It made me think about our aging voices in a fresh way! Thanks for writing these thoughtful pieces. They enrich my life, being at the same stage myself, and help me see aging in a more positive way.

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