In “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” Jean-Dominique Bauby explains the alphabet he used to communicate with visitors after waking from a coma caused by a stroke, leaving him paralyzed with only the ability to blink his left eye. Visitors would recite the alphabet, in order from most popular letter to least, and Bauby would blink when they reached the letter he wished to use. According to the kind of personality each visitor possessed, he or she would interpret the language differently – some given to fits of frustrated emotion when they couldn’t decode his words, others committed to painstaking, meticulous transcription.
The recollection reminded me of 2010, when my Mother, after waking from a coma, was unable to communicate for a time. She couldn’t speak, but she could hear. I wasn’t with her, but I would call every morning so she could hear my voice. My Dad would hold the phone to her ear and I would talk for a few minutes – fill the empty space with frivolous words: first of love, then mundane details of my days, then more love. Sometimes Papa would pull the phone away and describe Momma’s reaction if she smiled or nodded and my voice, not knowing its direction, would fill empty space, never landing. Words like “love”, “hope”, “miss”, today” never reached a destination; are still floating in the atmosphere in a North Carolina hospital room.