A few weeks ago, I found myself comforting my daughter.
As often happens, we ended up crying together. Then, we ended up comforting each other.
The reason for our sadness was the approaching anniversary of my son Danny’s death.
Jessi always had a special relationship with her big brother. Every anniversary is difficult, but this year Jessi came to the realization that, after 13 years, she could no longer remember the sound of Danny’s voice. Neither could I.
We have pictures of Danny when he was a chubby little infant and many more pictures showing him as he grew into a very handsome young man. I have pictures of both of my sons, Josh and Danny, that were taken while we were scuba diving in the Bahamas. There are lots of vacation pictures and pictures from his time in the U.S. Coast Guard, but, despite the many pictures, I couldn’t remember the sound of his voice.
Then I remembered that, for several years, I emceed the local Relay for Life event.
However, in 2001 I was going to be in Israel during the event. I told the local leaders of the American Cancer Society that I would not be able to be the emcee that June. A member of the committee then asked if I thought Danny would be interested in taking over the microphone.
I knew that Danny had inherited my gift of gab and wasn’t afraid of public speaking, so I told them that I would ask. Danny jumped at the chance.
It dawned on me that my friend, Tom Ibaugh, provided the sound system for every Relay for Life event. Tom is a big-hearted guy who routinely works with local nonprofit organizations. His company, Elite Sound Productions, had provided audio for Relay for Life for many years.
I called Tom and asked if he might possibly have a recording of Danny from 2001.
Within less than an hour, I received a text message from Tom. Attached to the message was a short video and audio recording of my son. Danny was on stage, microphone in hand, talking to a large, smiling crowd of people about fighting cancer and the joys we share in life. He was honoring people who were fighting cancer.
The video was 18 years old, but the voice was fresh and alive.
This past Sunday was Mother’s Day. For the first time in my life, Mother’s Day faded into Monday without me hearing the voice of my Mom.
As an infant, I’m sure her voice always calmed and comforted me. As an adult, she often made me laugh. In turn, I could always make Mom giggle at the drop of a hat.
Mom had a wonderful spirit. For the last several years of Mom’s life, she was in a wheelchair. Despite that, she roamed the halls of her assisted living facility in Middletown. She would go from the dining room to various activities, sharing smiles and laughter wherever she went.
The last time I visited Mom in her apartment, I told her about how Debbie and I had recently started a new tradition with our grandchildren. After every visit – after kisses and hugs, as they are getting in their van to leave — Debbie and I stand on our front porch to tell them that we love them.
As they back out of our driveway, we tell them, “Bye. We love you! We love you. Bye!” As they continue down our street, we yell after them, “Bye. We love you! We love you. Bye!” Their windows are always rolled down and from their van we hear their voices shouting and laughing, “Bye. We love you, Pappy and Memaw! We love you. Bye!”
Mom thought that was hilarious. After our goodbye hug and kiss, I told Mom, “Bye, Mom. I love you! I love you. Bye!” I continued saying that as I walked out of her apartment door.
I walked around the corner of the hallway and stood quietly in front of the elevator. It was faint, but in the distance. I could hear her voice. From her apartment I could hear Mom repeating, “Bye. I love you! I love you. Bye!”
I would give almost anything in the world to be able to hear that sweet voice just one more time.
My recommendation to everyone would be to make recordings for your children and grandchildren. Record their favorite children’s story or poem. Record a favorite memory of them or tell them the story about the day they were born.
Also, ask them to make a recording of their voices for you. That recording will become more special to you as time goes by.
You might want to end your recording by saying, “Bye. I love you! I love you. Bye!”
Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.