Forty years ago today, March 31, 1975, my mom voiced her last plea to her children – recorded on a scratchy old tape recorder. Four years ago, that tape was rediscovered – buried in the dusty boxes of memories from long ago.
“I found this tape. I don’t know if it is the one you’re looking for,” Dad said as he handed me an old Certron 45 cassette tape. Dad’s faded handwriting on the goldenrod label read, “Testimonies—Family Night.”
I sat on my bedroom floor, inserted the old tape into my stereo, and was immediately propelled back 36 years to the bottom stair that led to our red shag carpeted basement family room. I was twelve years old. Mom was 31. I remembered her faint voice, her sad face, her distance, as she held a microphone and a crying baby – my baby sister. She could hardly lift her head from the pillow.
I didn’t know that just sixteen days later she would be gone, or I might have listened more intently. I might have been more reverent or quiet or respectful. But then again, I was 12.
I listened as my little sister, my youngest brother, and my dad shared their thoughts. Then it was my turn.
“Okay, um,” I started loudly as I mustered courage. “I’m thankful for our…for Mom and Dad and everything they help me with and, um, I know that sometimes I expect too much from them.” I spoke in hurried phrases separated by short, apprehensive, awkward pauses, complete with a rural western twang that I outgrew after my dad remarried.
“And I’m thankful for brothers and sisters, and especially when we can get along. It’s lots funner to…to do things when you can get along and just enjoy each other’s company.”
My baby sister cried in the background. As I listened to the tape from my bedroom floor, I tried to block out the loud crackles of the microphone while it was passed to Mom.
“I’d like to…,” Mom began, a soft distance in her voice—a voice I didn’t recognize. The baby cried again, children giggled, and my youngest brother whispered while Dad tried to quiet him. Mom sat silently on the couch.
A full thirty-six seconds later, Mom began again under the baby’s cries and scratch of the microphone. “I’d like to…,” Mom paused again, “thank my Heavenly Father for the blessings that he has given me.” I listened with my eyes closed, trying to block out the loud fingernail-on-chalkboard scratching of the microphone and the screams of a one-year-old who wanted a turn. I can’t hear Mom. Is she speaking? What is she saying? I turned down the volume and listened even more intently. I just hear noise.
“Don’t hit her!” my youngest brother said in the background, followed by a whispered “Ow!”
“Why don’t you…you lie right here, and I’ll work on you,” Dad said finally to my brother, who had been trying to get his attention. I imagined my dad rubbing Drew’s back. “Work on you” meant work on your back – give you a massage. The phrase came from mom’s interest in natural healers, and Dad had picked up the vernacular. But where is Mom?
After another long pause, Mom returned, weary, depressed, and resigned. “I’d like to thank Him for each one of you.” Mom sniffled. She’s crying, I thought. My 4 year old brother and Dad still whispered in the background.
“And…” Mom cleared her choked-up throat. I looked across from my place on the bottom stair of the family room, and I saw Mom lying still, hardly moving—too weak to console a fussy baby. I saw Mom cry.
“There are many things that we can…that we need to do in order to be good members of the church.”
Mom paused again while the baby took the opportunity to interject her own words. “Ah-ah-ah-Dad!” she babbled loudly – a stark contrast to the heavy mist that smothered Mom’s quiet words.
“And it begins with…being loving to one another…and not just to me and to Dad, but to each other.” Each word she said was deliberate and panged. She pleaded with her children to be better. She pleaded with her children to LOVE.
“And I pray that we can, each one of us, strive more diligently to be like our Savior wants us to be.” She spoke slowly, from a distance many miles away even though she was just across the room.
After another long pause, Mom concluded almost in a whisper, “And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
The baby let out another long scream as Mom handed the microphone back to Dad.
I grabbed a pen and some paper and rewound the tape to the beginning of Mom’s testimony. I began the painstaking task of transcribing the words I could barely make out underneath the microphone pops, baby cries, children’s giggles, and Dad’s whispers.
“And it begins with…being loving to one another…and not just to me and to Dad, but to each other.” I stopped the tape, rewinding it over and over again to capture and transcribe each word. “And I pray that we can, each one of us, strive more diligently to be like our Savior wants us to be.” More than an hour later, I had scribbled Mom’s final “Amen.”
What was it Mom just said underneath the baby’s screams? I rewound the tape and listened again as Mom handed the loud microphone back to Dad.
“They weren’t…” I couldn’t make out the last word. They weren’t what? What did Mom say? Dad answered with a long “No,” and his voice trailed off.
I rewound the tape again and concentrated even harder at blocking out the baby’s screams. I was back on the bottom stair looking across the red shag family room carpet at Mom lying on the black couch. “They weren’t listening,” she said as she handed the microphone back to Dad. “No,” Dad replied.
“They weren’t listening.” I heard her, and I remembered. I remembered her disappointment. I remembered her pain. I remembered the sharp guilt I felt fueling my desire to be better—to be better for Mom. To listen.
Mom, I’m listening! I cried. And my heart overflowed with LOVE. Love not only for Mom but also for each of my brothers and sisters, who two weeks and two days later woke to a silent, motherless, ghost-filled home – brothers and sisters who obediently poured their tender souls into a crackling microphone and sealed their desire to be better, their devotion, and their love in Jesus’ name.
I hear you now, Mom. And I’m listening! “I’m listening, Mom!” I said out loud.
I prepared five handwritten letters to accompany a digitized recording of the old tape, as well as a typed transcript of Mom’s testimony for each of my siblings and my dad. I’m listening, I thought as I resolutely penned my own testimony. Feelings leapt from my newly uncovered heart – my feelings about a Savior who comforts and teaches and heals and loves. A Savior of light. A Redeemer. A Savior who lifts from the darkest abyss, even from the depths of hell. A Savior who died so all might live – so Mom might live.
“I’m listening, Mom,” I said to myself as I prepared this Easter gift thirty-six years after the tape had been recorded. My written words inadequately expressed the love that spilled from my heart. Love that comes from God himself, from His gift to us—His Son!
(taken from Hope after Suicide, chapter 32, Buried Treasure)