In a recent phone call, my mum told me that when she first wakes in the morning, and is wondering if she has the desire to start her day, or the strength to get out of bed, she hears my brother’s voice in her head. And he says to her, “Come on old lady. Time to get the hell up, and out of that bed.” And so she does.

I think we all hear voices in our head, don’t you? The voices of special people in our lives, whose real voice we no longer hear.

Almost dawn on the river.

My brother passed away last fall after many years of struggle with his health. Despite his long and ultimately losing battle, he never seemed defeated to us, even when his body did not have the strength to fight any more. And he never seemed to lose his wry wit. When Mum and I visited him at the hospital, she’d brush his hair off  his forehead, and chastise him for not having eaten all of his lunch. And he’d roll his eyes at me, and say something sarcastic about “the old lady.” He called Mum “the old lady” for as long as I can remember. Odd as it sounds, it was a term of endearment.

They had a very special relationship, my brother and my mum. Different from the one she has with me and my sisters. Partly because he was the oldest, her first born, and partly because he was “the boy.” Mothers and sons are very different from mothers and daughters, don’t you think? When she was alone with us four kids, struggling to make ends meet, despite his being very young, he was her rock. And in a weird kind of way, he still is. Even if his support is now a voice in her head.

I hear voices in my head too. My stepfather in particular. That deep, gravelly, kind voice, wondering what kind of trouble I’m in now. As a teenager, or a young twenty-something, I’d call home, sometimes in the middle of the night. “Where was I?” he’d ask. “What was it this time?” He was never impatient, never exasperated. I might be stranded with a flat tire on the way into town to attend university classes, or stuck with a broken gas gauge and an unexpectedly empty gas tank on the side of a dark highway. I drove very old cars back then, and I had very bad luck with them. But he’d always come and get me, wherever I was, no matter how late. Years afterward when I’d moved away, I’d call home from Ottawa, and he’d answer the phone with a half chuckle in his voice, “Snooze, what are you up to now?” I still hear him say that in my head.

Hubby says he still hears his mother’s voice. Calling him in for supper when he was a small boy, in the summertime, in particular, when he and his family were staying at his grandparents’ cottage on Lake Dore. “Stuuuu-art, where are you?” And because he was usually out in the row boat fishing, and not ready to come in, he’d hunker down and pretend not to hear. I remember his cousin laughing about that one day a few years ago. She says she too can still hear in her head the voice of Aunt Milly, Hubby’s mum, calling for him when he was out fishing.

I hear his mum too, in my head. She was widowed for many years, and I hear her telling me the story of one man who, persistent in his amorous attentions, told her he was “holding a candle” for her, after months and months of being rebuffed. Frustrated that he could not take a hint, she said “Well, for god’s sake put it out.” I love that story. Milly, at five feet nothing, with a piping voice, was a force to be reckoned with. She’s been gone for a long time now, but Hubby and I still miss her.

A few minutes later. The light changes so quickly.

I guess I’m waxing a bit nostalgic this morning, folks. Thinking of family members who have had such a profound effect on my life, and hearing all their voices in my head.

That’s probably because I’m off to New Brunswick tomorrow, to spend time with  my mum whose voice I am lucky enough to still be able to hear in real life.

I’m sure we’ll be doing lots of yakking when I’m there, cup of tea in hand. Ha. If it’s one thing we know how to do in my family it’s drink tea. And talk.

How about you my friends? Whose voice do you still hear in your head?


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26 thoughts on “Voices in Our Head”

  1. No surprises here. It's my husband's voice. Saying, "Great ass, babe!"

    For decades, that's what I told him he was contractually obligated to say on his death bed. It didn't work out that way. But he said it often enough over the years we were together that I can summon his voice and see his grin when he said those words. In fact, I can't think of a sweeter thing to hear him saying — in my head, in the trees, and in the sunset.

    Of course, those words meant so much more: You're the love of my life. Thank you for taking care of me. I can't imagine living without you. We were meant to be together. You are the best thing that ever happened to me. I'll always love you.

    Ann in Missouri

  2. Sweet stories Sue and Ann.
    When I sit quietly I can still hear those voices from my past. I truly hope they don't disappear!!
    Have a wonderful visit with your Mom.

  3. Only the voices of the living. I can't imagine the loss your mother, and you, have suffered. Big hugs to you Susan. xoxox.

  4. You are good at writing from the heart without being maudlin, you & Ann have brought tears to my eyes . Awfully sad to lose those we love but aren’t we are lucky to have had such special people in our lives . I miss my mum & dad too , but their individual expressions in ‘ that ‘ tone of voice are always with us when hubby , sisters , brothers in law & an older nephew are together . Then we end up laughing . It’s not just voices either – I can remember their scent , not in a perfume way , just their scent . Even the dogs we have had , if I close my eyes I can feel each of their furry coats & smell their nice doggy smell – yes I said nice 🙂 It’s lovely that you still have your mum & you such a ‘grown up ‘. They must breed them tough in New Brunswick .
    Wendy from York

    1. You're right, it's the tone and the expression, that I see and hear. Hard to replicate that in words. Glad to hear that I'm such a grown-up. Ha.

  5. Those are beautiful thoughts. You do write well, as someone said above, from the heart. Both my parents are long dead. I don't hear them much. Most of the voices in my head are my own. But I see my mother (in the mirror) I feel my mother (in my anxieties inherited from her). I remember her with love and a bit of an ache still, after 21 years gone now. Enjoy your tea with your mum, how lovely to have her. Great post x

  6. Beautifully written Sue, as are people’s comments …
    My eldest brother died suddenly, totally unexpectedly in his 50’s. At the end of his funeral Elvis, singing, “Take my Hand Precious Lord” was played … at that moment I could hardly breathe and the tears flowed, as it was my brothers voice I heard … so clearly, it was as if he was there singing … I was mesmerized …
    That’s the only time I’ve felt I’ve actually “heard” a voice, although I have had moments like you and your mum had hearing a door open or close … or feeling that someone’s with me … I have had such vivid dreams about my mum … normal days together, as if watching a film, that I wake up imagining she’s there …
    Enjoy your time with your mum … I know you will.

  7. This is so poignant, Sue. As we grow older, there are more of those voices, of course. People we loved — still love — who are no longer here with us. But they stay alive in our memories and our stories that we pass along. We are fortunate when we have "good," positive voices in our heads, more so than those that bring regret or hurt. Some are mixed in their messaging and their impacts. Then we have to incline toward the best in them, if we possibly can, and hold those words dear.

    I'm so glad your mum has that good, positive voice of your brother. And so glad you all had him for as long as you did.


    1. I think Mum has done really well in dealing with my brother's death. She is able to focus on the positive memories, instead of the last few years.

  8. What a sweet post! I will admit to shedding several tears reading it. My parents both died in the last couple of years, and I can still hear their voices. I hope I will always hear them.

  9. my grandmother was a great one for proverbs.. a stitch in time… stop frowning or the wind will change and youll stay like that etc etc.. her sayings were a bit of a family joke. all through my life though i have heard her say 'if you cant say anything nice dont say anything at all' and i now hear myself saying it to my daughter. great advice for all of us!

  10. Beautiful writing, as usual, Susie.
    I hear Grams voice all the time… mostly asking “what’s your father up to now?”
    Or her whistling when she was mad.
    I was told by a friend before, that she was really upset she couldn’t hear her husbands voice in her head after he had passed. This really upset her. So glad Aunt Doreena is still hearing Terry’s voice. Hope this gives her comfort❤️ Or at least gets her outta the bed. ❤️

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