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The Sounds of Grief and Mourning

Since mid-January, I have focused on listening. One morning the phone’s ring pierced my slumber. I listened intently to my mother’s words and tone as she explained that my father was hospitalized. New urgency and concern cut through her usual anxiety, altering the quality of her voice.

During nightly calls with Dad, I noted the content and quality of his speech to understand his emotional and physical health. One night he sounded like his usual self; I celebrated quietly. The patient and kind voices of the hospital staff, despite their exhaustion, meant so much to me.

I froze as my cell phone rang one afternoon, sensing it was about Dad. I listened carefully, learning that “he was being worked on.” I heard my disembodied-self inquire, “I’m a physician, please tell me what that means.” Waiting for the follow-up phone call, I fought deafening silence: CPR was stopped, Dad died.

The sounds of disbelief, then gradual understanding, overwhelmed me as I delivered the news. Telling Mom, shock and loss lay underneath her desperate questions and chatter.

I bade good bye to Dad’s body. After my outcry of grief, the peaceful silence soothed me.

My brother and I did some snow shoveling days before the funeral. I recall quietly falling flakes, the scrape of the shovels on the sidewalk, and the soft landing of shoveled snow on the lawn. Shoveling: our dress rehearsal for Dad’s burial.

At the funeral the sound of Taps rang out, until it pathetically faded: the recording crapped out. The military guard presented the flag to my mother in a strong, steady voice, then whispered compassionately, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

I shoveled dirt to bury Dad, deliberately noting every sound of dirt hitting the pine casket. Each thunk of earth on wood smacked my former reality. Dad died.

Daily, I pause from the grind of life to recite Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning. My voice rings out to remind me: I am a mourner. I am comforted by the voices of my fellow mourners crying out in unison, and by the congregants as we recite parts of the prayer together.

When grief paralyzes me, I hear the sage words of those who have comforted me. I hug my husband when he asks how I am. I smile as my teenager’s laugh pulls me into the present moment.

Pam Adelstein
Newton Center, Massachusetts


10 thoughts on “The Sounds of Grief and Mourning”

  1. Maria L. Sullivan

    You capture this so beautifully, Pam. The moments surrounding your dad’s passing will stay with you forever. My prayer is that he was surrounded with care and compassion from the medical staff, as I know you provide daily to others. Sending loving thoughts of light, peace, and sympathy.

  2. Thank you. Some times as physicians we are prisoners of the medical details obstructing our need to hear the naked reality of depth. So sorry for your loss.

  3. Your piece is beautiful. I loved how you described the variety of sounds: of actions, voices, qualities of speech, chanting, and silence. It captured the depth of your loss. Thank you for sharing your rich and poignant experience.

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