My stepmom passed away after a 14-month, brutal battle with pancreatic cancer almost a year ago. 

The night before we lost her, I was driving my dad back to his house. It was nearing midnight, he was exhausted, it was foggy and cold, and I found myself weaving through the backwoods of northern Wisconsin, driving his truck.

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I was white-knuckling it, focusing the best I could through groggy eyes, and trying to listen and say the right things. We both knew the end was near for his wife. He was exhausted, nearing 80 himself. He never planned on his wife going first.

I was scared. Experiencing death in this way was not what I expected. It was almost too much to watch.

At one point, he said something to me, a sentence I have thought about nearly every day since in some capacity.

He said, “She’s still here. Even though she can’t talk, or communicate, she is still here. I can touch her and hold her hand. I can sit near her and I can talk to her. She is still here. I’m not ready for her not to be here. I just need her to be here. I can do the talking.”

At that moment in my life—that monumental moment—my son was still nearly entirely nonverbal. At age eight, he had no words. He wasn’t really trying to communicate either. Maybe a request on a speech device for a cookie or a sign for more but that was about it.

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Of course, I talked enough for the both of us. And his dad and brothers never seemed to stop making noise either. Our house was filled with love and chatter.

But when it was just the two of us, either riding in the car or at home, the silence seemed to almost overwhelm me at times.

Suffocate me in a way. For many years, the silence ate me alive. It would be deafening. To help my heart and mind, I would blare the television all day or have the radio going in the background or talk to myself, even answering my own questions at times.

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I was sad my son and I had never had a conversation. And may never. But during that car ride with my dad, without even knowing it, he taught me an important lesson.

That conversation with my sweet father forever changed me.

I will do the talking until my son decides he wants to communicate. And if he never does, I will just keep on talking. Because I am so lucky and blessed to have this exceptional boy in my life and to sit near and touch.

My son is the best thing ever, and I cannot imagine a day without him.

I can do the talking. He can do the listening. That is just fine with me.

Previously published on the author’s Facebook page

Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson, founder of Finding Cooper's Voice, is a writer and an eternal optimist. She resides in Minnesota with her husband and three sons, Cooper, Sawyer and Harbor. She has created a community online where families of children with special needs can come and celebrate the unique highs and lows that accompany this journey.