Voices of Silence

The voice of silence is all around us—it is rooted in the pain from the loss of our son and brother, Nathan. It is the silence of sorrow in our home because one of our sons is gone, and it is the silent voice of the sudden, quiet expression that comes over a person’s face when we merely say his name.

We see and feel his loss every time we participate in a celebration, a cookout, a graduation, an accomplishment by his brother or cousins reaching some milestone of their lives.  We feel the loss because ALL celebrations of our own will always be incomplete—one chair is always empty, one voice of laughter missing, one person always absent  even  for his own milestones…milestones that only his brother can reach… now alone, now by himself.  “The presence of his absence (continues to be) is everywhere.”

We have become both better and worse in the ten plus years since Canobie Lake took Nathan at just 19 years old.  We are better because we are moving forward in our lives, as Danny finishes his Master’s, and we even drive by the lake without crying…..well……….. almost.  Yet, we have gotten worse because, as every day goes by, we feel his loss more deeply, more intensely.  The silent voices of things left unsaid, of eyes that look away suddenly, only magnify the depth of the pain. The silence only serves to emphasize his obvious absence and our longing for him.

When Nathan drowned, the pain of his loss was an immediate, piercing, screaming pain that broke our hearts, trampled our very spirits and left a hole in us, a vacancy like the empty chair. Twelve years later the pain is a silent, quieter ache, yet always there.  The emptiness is still inside us, vividly represented by the ever present “empty chair”…outside of us, beside us, near us, but still there.  The pain doesn’t show on our faces as much as before, but instead it stays as a quiet, never-ending hollow sadness—in our eyes reflecting back on innocence lost, reflecting on Nathan’s love and his beautiful soul.

The voice of silence in our home is a different kind of quiet.  By now, if Nathan had lived, he probably would have been knee deep in a software company, out on his own.  I would have been approaching the “empty nest” phase of parenthood.  But, when a home becomes empty because of the death of a child, it is not the kind of empty nest that you look forward to.  Nathan’s only brother, Danny, is happily married and recently bought his first home and out on his own, the way it should be.  Nathan is gone for a very different reason.

You see, the silence of my empty nest is not the silence of knowing I raised two beautiful sons, and now they are both out leading their own lives.  Instead it is the silence of a home that is empty because one child is gone forever, far too abruptly and far too soon. It is the eerie quiet of knowing that phone calls, emails, texts and mother’s day cards now only come from one son, that only one son will be home for the holidays, not two; and that one son is forever without his only brother.

Most difficult is the silence of our families or friends when we talk about Nathan—not about his drowning, but about the amazing things he did while he was alive—- about the compassionate, funny and gentle soul he truly was.  It is as if talking about Nathan is a “no fly zone” because he…well…died, as if his death meant the memories of the 19 years he did live should be filed away only to be dusted off as old photographs in an attic.  The silence hits like a ton of bricks when a person whispers that my son died when someone asks about him—whispers as if his life and death should be shrouded in secrecy. There are no secrets here….we miss him every minute of every day. And we want to shout “it’s OKAY to say his name” or “please, please SAY his name!”…It HELPS us to hear his name. He was a part of us for 19 years and he doesn’t need to be pushed into the past with our worn out belongings. He is and was part of our family and his spirit IS alive in our hearts in spite of the quiet….

The same somber silence is never more evident as when a person suddenly gets that strange look on their face and they stutter and stammer to find out what to say next when you talk about Nathan. The “dead air” quiet is there when you suspect that people want to avoid you because you remind them of a pain that could happen to any parent, as if your grief is a communicable disease.  It is a silence that reminds you that you are a member of a club “that no one wants to join”, that your emotions and feelings are forever different from parents of living, thriving sons or daughters. Most of all, despite the silence and yet because of it, you realize that you will always have to live with the “presence of his absence” and that is far more painful than the quiet that it brings.


By Nathan’s Mom for his brother Dan

Acknowledgements to Compassionate Friends Newsletter Parent Contributions from the Sounds of Silence and The Presence of His Absence is Everywhere, both submissions from parents who have lost children. Thank you.

Mary Moir

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Comments (1)

  • 2/16/2020
    Mary and Dan,
    Our daughter lost her life to cancer at age 24. I am reading your essay about Nathan at our local cemetery as we “celebrate” what would have been her 30th birthday. You capture what is so difficult to put in to words. It is the “presence of her absence” that will never, ever, ever go away. I would never have truly understood the enormity of the loss of a child until it happened to us. The pain is unreal because it is just so wrong. They should be here with us, and this will always be the case. I struggle with discussions about grief because it is typically from the perspective of the people still living (“it will get easier over time”) whereas with the loss of a child, the truest grief resides with our lost loved one, not us. THAT grief is eternal; it will never get easier or better, because there are no other alternative endings. The only thing we have left is the presence of their absence….and incomplete celebrations, the silence of sorrow, our innocence lost. Thank you for telling us about your Nathan and for sharing your beautiful gift of writing today. Gail

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