Shawn Calling Family After Tommy Was Born at Home
Family & Friends

Why I Can’t Call You Back

I have at least a dozen unanswered voicemails on my phone.  That might not seem like a lot, but I just deleted all of my voicemails a few days ago.  Sure, there’s one from the dentist and another from the cemetery (there’s a phrase I never thought I’d write) but most of the voicemails are from friends and family.

I recently got a new phone that actually transcribes my voicemails.  It’s great.  I can tap on the voicemail and see basically what someone said on the phone.  I use this feature all the time, and then if I’m feeling especially grateful for the love, or guilty about not being in contact, I can text back that person who left the voicemail.

I know I should just call people back.  I’m busy but I’m not that busy.  Even when my kids were tiny babies and I was back at work and felt like I didn’t have time to breathe, I still called people back.  I have a pact with a very old friend that if we find 10 minutes, we’ll just call each other, even if the other one doesn’t pick up.  Because everyone has 10 minutes.

The people who’ve left me messages are dear friends from high school and college and early adulthood and new parenthood.  They are neighbors and friends in DC who I know well and others from across the country.  They are people who love me, and these voicemails make me feel good.  Sometimes I listen to them over and over.  But I don’t usually call anyone back.  If someone asked why, here is what I would say:

want to call you back.   I want to hear your voice and laugh about the antics of our kids and plan a great trip together this summer.  I want to hear your stories about Shawn and remember all of the fun we always had together.  I want to connect with you because I love you and because your call is another reminder of how many people love our family.

But I can’t.  I can’t call you back because it’s just too much to hear your voice.  I want to laugh about the antics of our kids but then I’ll probably cry.  I need to hear the stories about Shawn but they always put a lump in my throat so big that it doesn’t go away for hours.  I know you would be okay with me crying on the phone, because you are my friend or a member of my family.  I know you probably even want me to do that, because then you’ll know I’m at least dealing with my emotions.

But that’s what I do all damn day.  Deal with my emotions.  It is exhausting.

If it’s been awhile since we talked, it’s even harder for me to call you back.  I really want to, but recounting the past few months is just way too difficult.  Yes – the kids are okay.  Yes – I’m okay.  Yes – we’re all seeing therapists.  Yes – the logistics are impossible.  Yes – I know that you’ll happily come and help.

I know you just want to know that I’m doing okay, but sometimes calls – even ones to people I love so much – can make me feel like I’m just reassuring the other person.  I know that’s because you love me and you want me to be okay.  I would feel the same way if something happened to my friend or my cousin or my neighbor.  It’s just that the effort that it takes to recount my days, or even to just keep from crying through the whole thing is sometimes astronomical.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know that you would be okay with me crying on the phone the entire time.  I know you would because you love me.  But it’s exhausting for me, and then I have to go back to my regular life and make pasta and grade papers and read a bedtime story and it’s just too much.

Your calls make me feel loved, I promise.  I feel like everyone I’ve ever known is wrapping their arms around my little family, and that’s such an amazing feeling.

Please, keep calling.  Keep leaving voicemails.  Just know that when I don’t call you back, it’s not because I didn’t listen to your voice.  I did.  And someday, maybe many months in the future, I’ll start calling you back.



Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.


  • Rachael Brown

    M, I am so sorry this happened to you and your family. I am in awe of your strength and honesty and courage.

  • Meredith

    I have to hide in my bathroom when I read your posts. Mostly so my kids don’t see me cry but also because of the proximity to tissue paper. Thank you for writing. I don’t want to ask how you are when I see you because the answer is evident, and I don’t want you to have to say fine or feel pressured to talk when you don’t want to especially because it’s always in public. This lets you tell us on your own terms. I’ll keep praying and will joyful take any children you send my way.

    • Marjorie

      Thanks so much. Really. Love how much you love my kids and especially my Tommy. Will take you up on that offer with him soon!

  • Suzanne

    This. Exactly. It was my Dad, not my husband. But the cards, the calls, the text, the messages – as wonderful and welcome and needed as they are… all add up to an overwhelming thought of responding. On top of all the other guilts around this… that’s a big one. And I too hope that one day I can express my gratitude for those who continue to reach out without expectation.

    • Marjorie

      I think – I hope! – that people understand. It’s wonderful to get all the love but sometimes it’s just impossible to be in touch with everyone. Still, when I know someone who is hurting I will call and text and know that it’s okay if I never hear back.