59: The Voice from Beyond

59: The Voice from Beyond

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

The Voice from Beyond

A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen.

~Edward de Bono

We have a dead man on our answering machine. I don’t mean to say that I hear dead people. At least, not all dead people. Just one, and his message is pretty bland.

This past winter, an ailing friend of the family, Skip, abruptly went into a long-term care facility. He called to let us know what was going on, but got our answering machine. We heard Skip’s message and visited him the next day. He died that night.

No one had erased Skip’s message by the time he died and afterwards, my father-in-law didn’t have the heart to. The message on our answering machine might have been the last recorded moment of Skip’s life, my father-in-law reasoned. Erasing it would, in some way, be like erasing Skip from this planet.

So Skip has stayed on our machine for months. It’s a bit weird checking the answering machine because I always have to press the skip button on the first message. In other words, I have to skip Skip.

Thanks to modern technology, we now can have recorded mementos of our loved ones long after they die. But it can be hard to draw a distinction between the sacred and the inane when dealing with the dead. It’s sort of like a 21st century version of cleaning out a parent’s house after a funeral. Unless you want to inherit a houseful of stuff you don’t need, you have to make some choices.

The same should hold true with a recorded image or audio record. A touching birthday party or a poignant last few words can be irreplaceable.

But this message from Skip just isn’t that special. All he says is that he’s not doing well and to call him. If anything, it’s a bit depressing. I wish instead that we had an earlier message from him, maybe saying he just won the lottery or that he felt great after taking a hike.

In the back of my mind, I also worry that we might be holding Skip back by holding onto him. I remember hearing a theory that the spirits of the deceased can’t rest if we don’t let them go. My town threw a wonderful memorial for Skip at the theater where he worked, one sure to have given him a sense of closure. Wouldn’t it be awful if he were ready to ascend to the next plane of existence, only to be held up every time we checked our answering machine?

I figured fate would’ve taken care of the message by now—the first power outage would be God’s way of releasing Skip from our machine. But though we did have a couple of power line-destroying storms this winter, each time the power came back Skip’s message was still there.

So now we have to wait for the inevitable accident. Some day someone is going to slip up and press the erase button on the wrong message. Whoever does it will feel terrible, but it’ll probably be for the best.

Of course I’ve thought about accidentally on-purpose erasing the message myself, but if I follow my father-in-law’s reasoning that would essentially make me a murderer.

So my only hope lies in my eight-month-old daughter. She loves the telephone and already has shown a healthy inclination towards destroying the house. It only seems a matter of time before she gets her hands on the answering machine.

Until then, I’ll just keep on skipping Skip and pray that he’s resting in peace.

~Craig Idlebrook

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