Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Losing your voice

Referendum campaigners suddenly woke up to the fact that many, particular young, people are feeling unheard and disempowered. So last night as the deadline for registering to vote approached the registration website crashed and kept crashing. I heard someone relating how this supposedly two-minute process took them three minutes to complete the first page and then it crashed and continued to do the same thing. I wouldn't be surprised if they'd given up. One might argue that they shouldn't have left it to the last moment. But such is human nature - well, for a lot of us. I must admit to being someone who's worked better to deadlines. Which reminds me, I have an article I must send in this week! It is a shame, however, when people lose their voice needlessly, when what they want to say isn't heard. It's even worse when it happens by force.

In Motor Neurone Disease (or Lou Gehrig's) most people soon lose their voice - literally. Jozanne Moss, my South African co-author in I Choose Everything, described how she wanted to forestall this for her young children. When she and her husband Dave were taking a break together, she recorded DVDs for them which they could play in years to come after her death. (See below.)
This month is MND Awareness Month. One of the aspects being highlighted is its effect on speech, in a campaign called Silence Speaks. Hayley Ladbrooke's account of a week without speaking, which you can read in the link, makes the point. Her father, Robert, has the disease. “I spoke to my dad after completing Silence Speaks to find out how he finds things and he said it’s really hard work and people can turn their back on him. He used to be the life and soul of the party and now people sometimes can’t be bothered to wait for him to talk or they just can’t understand what he’s saying."

Last year I received an email from a young man named Olly Clabburn, who is looking at another aspect of the same symptom, similar to the approach that Jozanne took.

"My name is Olly and I am a PhD researcher at Edge Hill University in Lancashire. My thesis is investigating a therapeutic intervention for people with MND, and how this impacts upon children/young people who care for a family member with the disease, and also children who are bereaved due to MND.  This all stems from my Dad (also a Michael!) and Nan, both having MND when I was younger and me wanting to provide better support for children who are affected by someone in their family having the disease.

"Essentially, my research is investigating the use of a ‘digital legacy’ with people who are affected by MND. This means people with MND creating video messages and recordings of their memories specifically to be given to children in their family to watch and use whilst they provide care, and for when the young person becomes bereaved.  

"I have set up a research page ( ) and wondered if it is something you might consider including in one of your blogs? I am now at the stage where I can begin to speak to people living with MND who have recorded or currently recording a legacy. First and foremost though, I hope to raise awareness of creating a digital legacy and being a potential project that people living with MND can do for free at home, and also, hopefully help to support some children in the future."

Olly's idea seems brilliant to me, and I hope that he gets a lot of material. My own vocal deterioration seems to have ground if not to a halt, at least to a snail's pace, and people who know me are quite tolerant of my mouth full of marbles. But then I'm one of the few lucky ones.

From I Choose Everything, Jozanne's Diary
We had the rest of the week to ourselves, but this was not going to be just another romantic holiday together.  We had other plans and we came prepared.  From the beginning of the illness I have wanted to make DVDs for the children.  I wanted to leave special messages for them on special birthdays.  I also wanted to tell them what I was like as a child, what they were like as babies, and how much I loved and enjoyed them.  Kids want and need to know these things; I know I did.  I loved hearing from my parents about their childhood but also what I was like as a small child.  I know I probably won't be around to see Luke and Nicole grow up, but I want to make sure that, as a mother, I will still be a part of their lives.

In the beginning I thought that I would make a DVD every now and again, but it never materialized.  I just never felt ready and always put it off for 'one day'.  Lately I have noticed that my speech is starting to change, ever so slightly, but I can feel it – as if my tongue is lazy and gets stuck when I say certain words.  I have to work a little harder when I speak.  People who don't know me wouldn't know the difference, but I know it's starting.  We have decided to make the DVDs now before it's too late.  I want to sound like the real me when I leave my special messages for them.

So on Monday morning Dave and I woke up, ready to tackle this difficult task.  While Dave set up the recording equipment, I made brief notes of more or less what I wanted to cover in my messages.  When Dave was ready it was time to begin.  He started filming…   I didn't feel comfortable at all.  In fact, I felt so self-conscious, I was giggling like a little girl.  Too much nervous energy.  I was trying too hard to sound natural, and instead came across fake.  This is not what I wanted.  Dave suggested that I just chat as though I was chatting to them.  This was a lot harder than I ever imagined it would be and I felt so frustrated.  Dave's phone rang and that broke the tension, but the phone call was to inform us that an old friend of mine's husband had committed suicide.  They have two boys younger than Luke and Nicole.  I was devastated.  No more filming that day.

Tuesday was very different.  This time it was real.  My friend's loss and pain became mine.  When Dave started filming, I started crying.  The thought of Luke and Nicole growing up without me became so real, and I now I had the opportunity to leave them with something, unlike Linda's boys who will never really understand why their father left.  What a privilege and special opportunity I have!  Thank you, Lord.  We made quite a number of DVDs in the days that followed and, although it was one of the hardest things I've ever done, it was also very fulfilling.  It felt like a journey that I took with each one of the kids.  My prayer is that it will be as special for them to watch the DVDs as it was for me to make them.


  1. I wish I had recorded some of your sermons. One I rembersd by heart (you had lost your voice, temporarily); after another I congratulated you and said "I nearly clapped!" You replied 'I wish you had - it would show that someone was listening!" Lots of new ways to spread the message of love.

    1. I'm quite glad you didn't, on balance! They might not have stood the test of time! I don't know whether my family will in future wish they could hear me as I was "in my prime". All flesh is as dust, even our voices will fly forgotten in the ever-rolling stream of time - perhaps. I'm not sure we need to know what Shakespeare or Jesus sounded like, though we live in the digital age which promises immortality to every hack and quack through the internet. Forever on the cloud!!

  2. Michael - I may well have some recordings of your sermons in the loft if you're interested. No promises but I could certainly have a look - send me a message if you'd like me to.

    I wondered if you'd heard of VocalID. This is an organisation where people can record a few hours of phrases, and donate their voice. It (will) mean people can have individualised synthetic voices, matched to their vocal tone. It also means that donors who later lose their voice can use their own. It's a new scheme so I'm not sure where they're up to in actually getting voices to people, but I think it's a great project. I got partway through donating my voice last summer, and plan to continue this summer.


    1. Thanks, Zoe. I'll give it some thought.

      Yes, they've talked about VocalID at the MND Branch. I'll be interested how you get on with it.

    2. I found it quite fun to do, and very satisfying, but then my microphone stopped working and I started studying again, so it's been on hold. I hope to pick it up again and finish my recording though.

    3. Thanks. Flippin' technology!