For 64 years of my life, my house has been filled with the sounds of people. Now, it is filled with silence.
With four siblings and a stay at home mom, it was very rare to be alone in the house for the first 18 years of my life. Being alone was a treat, never lasting more than a few hours. After my family moved to Connecticut and I stayed in California, I did a little couch surfing, living a few months here and there.
Soon, I was married and living in Texas, where Butch was stationed in the army. He was home every night. His alarm woke us up and multiple punches of the snooze button guaranteed that there would be no going back to sleep. We adopted a parakeet that year. He and Butch were bosom buddies. As Butch sat and watched the news each night after work, the bird would share his chips and French Onion dip. When Butch showered, the bird would sit on the curtain rod and take his own shower in the splash. Hartz Mountain had a tape that trained your bird to talk. I recorded the first phrase, “Hello Baby.” so it played over and over for about 30 minutes. Whoever got up first, uncovered the cage and hit play. On weekends, when we tried to sleep in, the bird would begin screaming, “Hello Baby. Hello Baby. Hello Baby.” until someone got up and turned on his tape. I recorded the second phrase, “Wanna Kiss? next and he was well on his way to learning that one. About the time he could say, “Hello Baby, wanna…” he died. Probably too much onion dip.
Then came the boys with their own kinds of noise over the years. There was also a steady flow of siblings, cousins, and other human projects along the way. Alone time was even more of a treat during those years, and silence was a precious commodity. It was always temporary. By the time the boys finished moving in and out and were settled on their own, nearly 30 years had gone by.
Even our empty nest had its own special sounds. There were snoring dogs, passive aggressive cats, noisy neighbors, traffic on the busy street outside, and Percy, the neighborhood peacock, who could be heard for miles. I woke up each morning to the sound of Butch quietly snoring. The roof raising snoring took place in the middle of the night. The “almost awake” snore was more like a purring sound. It was the meter that told me if I was making too much noise as I got ready for work. If it stopped, I had to take it down a notch so he would drift back into a deeper sleep and begin to purr again. I went to sleep half waiting to hear the “beep beep” of his truck locking followed by the door opening and his keys hitting the table where he tossed them each night. I could then drop into my own deep sleep knowing that he was home safe and the worrying for that day was over. The silence that came when he was off with his friends on a 600-mile bicycle adventure or hunting trip never lasted long and was sure to end with a great reunion.
For the first year after his death, I was numb, exhausted from all the emotionally draining parts of disassembling a life, and the work of trying to do everything myself. Nine months after he died, I moved to my new home, closer to my son and his family. That was followed by the three agonizing months that included every holiday, birthday, and anniversary of our lives together. With boxes to unpack, overgrown foliage to remove and replace, two jobs getting intern hours and taking care of my granddaughter a few mornings a week I fell into bed every night too tired to notice anything, and woke up at a dead run. I wonder if that wasn’t a plan somehow.
With the projects behind me, I am surrounded by silence. The snoring dog and noisy cats are gone. My home is on a court where a car rarely drives by. The neighbors are quiet and peaceful and offer no distraction. I wake up each morning and hear the silence screaming all around me. I think about those “annoying” noises and would give anything to hear them again. There are only the sounds of me, getting up and heading off into one more day without Butch. One more silent day, without the comforting rituals of our lives together, marked by the sounds I grew accustomed to hearing. The pleasure of family visits ends in the echoing silence that descends after they are gone. Returning home from even a great adventure means walking in to the house and being enfolded in the silence again. I would give anything to hear his voice, even his snoring, just one more time.
The second year is harder because the shock is over, most of the distractions are behind us, and we are awakening to one more aspect of the reality of our new existence. Becoming us without them means learning to live in a world without their sounds. Even for those who are not living alone, their particular sounds are still gone. Years of predictability, no matter how annoying some of it may have been, are over. It means gradually learning to find peace and joy within the silence. It means filling that silence with new sounds. It forces us to learn that in the silence, we will best hear the small, quiet voice of God reminding us of his promise that He will never leave us, even until the end of the ages.
Never in a thousand years did I imagine that I would find myself saying, “Could somebody please, just make some noise?”