In my experience, something that goes unsaid can be just as profound, if not more, than something expressed with words.
It's five years to the day since I received a call from my dad where no words were necessary.
My dad is a loudmouth, the centre of a room, charismatic, never short of an opinion to offer, with a laugh that's distinctive and infectious. I've never known him to hold back when there's something on his mind, which is a trait that apparently got him into a bit of trouble when he was younger. He doesn't always speak at length, but what he says is delivered with confidence.
I remember the moments preceding the call very clearly: I was at work, in a meeting room on a mezzanine that overlooks the studio. I remember who was in the room, and where they were sitting. My phone rang, and I excused myself. I knew what was coming, so positioned myself in front of one of the sofas outside the meeting room, and answered.
He started to speak, but his voice broke. I sat down. My sister took the phone from him, and told me what I already knew: my mum had died moments earlier. Peacefully, at home, with my dad, brother, and sister beside her. My dad took the phone back, and we spoke for a few seconds. There wasn't much else to say; the call was short, informational, efficient.
This was characteristic of all my phone conversations with him. The important details were discussed: "are you well?", "are you happy?", "ok, speak to you next week; here's your mum". I imagine that this pattern repeats in a lot of families. The phone is for passing messages, you have a conversation in person.
My mum could talk on the phone, at length, about pretty much anything. She'd fill me in on what was happening at home, who'd died, and any local scandal that people were currently gossiping about. I wouldn't say much, just listen and make appropriate noises. She liked to talk, and I was happy to listen.
The phone calls changed as her illness progressed - less information, wandering, progressing to paranoia. Towards the end she struggled, and we'd have the line open, but there'd only be a few words exchanged. She was able to speak, but didn't have anything to say.
My mum was gone.
I visited as her condition worsened, and saw as she became frailer, and frailer. Being at home was difficult.
One of the last things she said to me was that she didn't realise it would be so fast.
I escaped the most distressing symptoms of her illness by being away. The frustrated temper, saying things that she couldn't possibly mean, being convinced that everyone around her was conspiring against her. She confided in me because I was on the outside - someone that could listen impartially. I think part of me didn't want to lose that by being too close.
If I was to describe my mum in one word, it would have to be: formidable.
That word doesn't quite do her justice, though. She was kind, caring, and had time for anyone that needed it, but you crossed her at your peril. She was imposing, yet comforting, and fiercely protective. Seeing her helpless and confused was, to put it mildly, upsetting.
There are many things that I wish I'd asked her about her past, her parents, and the extended family. There's one thing that I didn't need to be told, and that's how she felt about our family.
Some things don't need to be said, and in some cases saying it would dilute the message.