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My Mother's Cough

My Mother's Cough

Every time I hear it, my heart lifts. My mother is near and I am safe.


I love my mother's cough. It's very distinctive. First there is a small intake of breath and then the cough itself, deep and slightly hoarse. It is usually followed immediately by another cough, and then a slight clearing of the throat.

For a little girl, that cough meant security. It meant that the sunshine in my life was in very close proximity. Late at night, tossing in bed, I'd hear that cough along with the tread of the plastic soles on the cloth slippers she loved to wear. Those two noises would tell me that my mother was still up, guarding us from all evils, and I'd drift off to sleep, cocooned by that knowledge.

When she would go out on errands, it was often her cough, magnified in the drafty lobby of our apartment building, which would herald her homecoming. She was back, and all was right in the world once more. When she would lay down for one of her rare naps, the house would seem suspended, biding time until she would awaken. Her cough, heard from the end of the hallway, meant that she was once more among us and real life would resume.

I would have thought that as a married woman, and a mother of several children, that cough would no longer carry such significance for me. Yet every time I hear it, my heart lifts. My mother is near and the safe, cozy feeling returns.

I was startled one night to hear my mother's cough on an empty street in my neighborhood, far from my mother's home. It took a moment to realize that the cough was mine. I tried coughing again just to be sure. Yes, my cough sounds just like hers. This was a rather unsettling realization. My mother is a rock of stability, and her cough could symbolize safety. It seemed deceptive to have a cough that sounds like hers, like a little girl thinking she is fully grown simply by putting on her mother's high-heeled shoes.

Disconcerting as this discovery was, there was also an element of comfort. I felt like I was carrying around a little bit of my mother. Wherever she may actually be on this planet, all I have to do is cough and a piece of her is there. I mulled this over as I walked home in the cold, damp night.

I got home and shrugged off my coat. I stood still for a moment, appreciating the warmth, light and quiet of my home. Then I changed in to my comfortable clogs and got to work. Finishing the supper dishes and folding two loads of laundry, I headed for my kids' bedrooms to lay out their clothes for the next day. They looked so peaceful, slumbering heaps of innocence. In the girls' room, my five year old tossed and turned in her sleep. I straightened her covers and kissed her forehead. As I selected jumpers and tops, my throat tickled me. I coughed once, and then again. My daughter settled more deeply under her covers.

I was mesmerized. Could it be? Did the thud of my clogs and the sound of my cough let her know that I was near? Dare I contemplate the thought that maybe, just maybe, those sounds calm her with the realization that I will guard her from all evil and allow her to drift off into a deep sleep cocooned by that knowledge?

I will probably never know, but that very thought made me feel so small and so big all at once. I was filled with pride at being part of a chain of those wonderful beings called mothers, and awed by the knowledge of how much I could mean to the little people in my life. Humbled and grateful, I kissed my daughter once more and went off to bed.

This article originally appeared in "On the Front Page."

June 4, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Anonymous, May 20, 2006 12:00 AM

My Mother make me feel the same way

Hi I am 16 year old boy, i was researching materials for my essay on mother's love and I couldn't help but read this story as well as one I needed.
my mom is a very hard working person, I immigrated when i was eleven with my sister and my father but my mom stayed behind in our home country to clean up some things.
over the three and a half years without my mom, i realized how i never cared to actually put in word my appreciation. that she meant everything to me and I loved her, and whenever I hear her slippers being half dragged on the floor I know she is there, I can always talk to her, be comforted...

(5) Miryam, June 19, 2005 12:00 AM

Beautiful article

This is a very beautiful article!

(4) Shilah Anderson, June 14, 2005 12:00 AM

I did it too

My dear mentor, who took my under his wing professionally, has given me many things: his trade, his experience, encouragement, tools, advice, prayer support. He has been like a father to me; the father I never had. My greatest aim is to be like him. A few years ago I began to develop a cough that ws identical to his ! There was no physical reason for it -- but there it was. When he got treatment for his cough, mine also disappeared. Oddly, I miss it.

(3) Dian H. Brown, June 7, 2005 12:00 AM

security of my cough

I enjoyed Mrs. Gruen's story of the security her mother's cough brought to her. I have a distinctive, chronic, cough,which sometimes relates to stress and. Years ago, my children told me they thought of it as a security too, saying that's how they found their way back to me if we became separated while shopping. Once I had gone to a play with some friends and they attended with their Father. At intermission, they suddenly appeared beside me and said they had found me from the sound of my cough across the large theatre. But little did I know it would be a source of security for my Father too. A few years ago, he was 89 years-old He was found unconscious and taken to the hospital by ambulance. Due to a legal dispute ongoing at the time, my brother took charge at the hospital of my father's care and wouldn't let me talk with the doctors or even approach my Father's bedside. He positioned his wife on one side of the bed and himself on the other to keep me from even holding Daddy's hand. Knowing that conflict would only increase the stress on my Father, I sat silent in the room until the crisis passed and Daddy began his recovery. When the danger passed and it became obvious that Daddy would recover and require long days of therapy and care, my brother and his wife left and promptly went on a two-week vacation out of state and was glad to leave me with the day to day responsibility. After Daddy was able to talk again, I was working with him in therapy one day and we talked about his time in the critical care unit. I told him I had hoped he didn't think I wasn't there since I didn't talk to him during that first day. He said quietly, "I knew you were there, Honey, because I heard your cough."

(2) Anonymous, June 7, 2005 12:00 AM

very pleasing

Thank you for a lovely article filled with much great emotion. I am reminded of my brother -of blessed memory , when my husband coughs. It to this day makes me pick my head up and look in his direction. WHen we were first married and he would cough, i would look up from whatever i was doign and "see" for a split second(subconsciously) if it was my brother(out of habit).
I am comforted with this sound of his cough.Isn't it amazing what comfort Hashem supplies us with -especially with things that would otherwise seem so simple.
Thank you, again.

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