They say you never know how much you love something until it’s gone.
This is definitely true of the voice. As a vocal coach, I have had the honor of working with many talented singers and speakers, giving new life and options to their vocal catalogs. I have illustrated singing techniques, helped individuals expand their range, and taught basic explanations on how the voice works. But the voice has a deeper significance than just air running over vocal cords, and if you lose it–whether literally or figuratively–you’ll find yourself stripped of a noteworthy power needed for navigating the world.
I want to share a story with you about someone I knew who lost their voice.
In 2013 my father was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The disease detaches its victim’s muscles from their nerves, and those living with ALS slowly lose muscles from different parts of their body until they no longer have the strength to sustain life. There is currently no cure for ALS, and there is still little information on what causes it in the first place.
Soon after my father’s diagnosis, he lost his ability to walk without the help of a cane.
In less than a year, he was in an electric wheelchair.
By 2018, my family made the difficult decision of transferring my dad to a nursing home that could handle his medical needs. He was fully dependent on the help of medical professionals to do even the most basic functions.
The years of my father’s battle with ALS changed my life forever. The man who had stayed busy throughout the majority of his career with traveling the world was suddenly homebound and unable to operate a vehicle. This took an understandable toll on my family in many ways, but I also learned things through this challenging season and saw a side of my father that I simply hadn’t seen before.
One thing that amazed me the most throughout this very painful journey was that my dad never complained. With this disease comes embarrassing falls, a humbling dependence on others, and a hijacking of any future plans that you might have intended for your life. He didn’t complain the countless times he fell down when he surprisingly lost muscle control. He didn’t complain when he had to rely on his wife and children for help with daily activities like eating, bathing, and dressing. He didn’t complain about the very extensive process of loading him into a wheelchair-accessible van every time we needed to take him to the doctor. If I lost even a fraction of the physical freedoms that I saw my father lose, I think I would be inconsolable. But this just wasn’t the case with my dad.
In Matthew 7:24 Jesus says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” My father’s foundation was truly revealed when the storm of ALS rolled in. He may not have been standing physically, but he was always standing spiritually. He chose to hold onto peace and maintain a steadiness throughout his sickness, despite the daily reminders of all that he was being robbed of on this earth. I was grateful to have witnessed his God-fearing heart in these moments of trial and to see his faith lived out so fully.
In late 2018, my phone calls home revealed that my father was beginning to lose something that up to that point had gone unaffected.
I’m beginning to lose my voice,” he told me. As a vocal coach and someone who focuses on the voice for a living, I had realized this long before he admitted it out loud, and I could tell that this revelation hit him differently.
The man who had been so steady throughout this trying process was finally shaken.
It wasn’t just his physical voice and sound that he was losing. He felt like he was losing his “voice” in this world. The truth is, your voice is intricately interwoven with your personal agency. It’s the power to communicate not only simple words but also who you are in this world. Your desires, your decisions, and your freedom all flow from a place of having a voice.
As my dad lost his ability to speak, it seemed he began to lose his ability to resound in his world as a man and father.
So although I never heard my father complain about having to use a cane, losing the ability to walk, needing to use a wheelchair, or losing the capability to feed himself–I found it interesting that the one physical thing that he didn’t want to let go of was his voice.
As the disease continued its progression, our family began to speak up for him whether it was with doctors, nursing staff, or to each other. My dad held many different leadership positions throughout his life and was accustomed to calling the shots. You can only imagine how he felt about relying on other people to make decisions for him concerning some of his most basic needs. He was losing his voice.
Have you ever lost your voice? Either literally or figuratively? Maybe you have experienced the misfortune of acquiring vocal damage or trauma that is hindering your voice from being all that it was made to be. Or, are you experiencing a figurative silencing of your voice that is affecting your power and position in your workplace? No matter the circumstance, losing your voice is something that no one wants, but many experience.
In certain settings, if you don’t have your voice, it can feel like you’re in the lion’s den. Whether you are on a stage in front of thousands of people, or simply trying to express your opinion over a conversation at dinner, your voice is your power.
It’s important to use the voice that you’ve been given. It’s important to speak up when it’s your turn to be heard. It’s important to cherish the gift that is your voice.
In May of 2019, my father left this earth and went to be with the Lord. The struggle that he endured for six long years was over. In some ways, you could say that his voice was silenced once and for all. But before my father would ever lose his voice, he made sure to use his voice. My father’s voice lives on because he didn’t waste a single breath when he had it. He left nothing unsaid before he left earth. And I like to think that some small part of that voice is in Nashville, Tennessee, shaping the voices of the future.
If you’re reading this and feel like you’re losing your voice, or that the way you communicate and sound doesn’t feel authentic to who you know yourself to be on the inside, you are not alone.
In my early 20’s, I found myself with a rough case of vocal damage that appeared to be irreparable. This experience marked me for life. To not be able to express myself as myself made me feel trapped and powerless. I am grateful to not only have healed from that damage but to now wake up each morning and have a voice that, for the most part, does what I tell it to do.
If you’re a singer, speaker, or professional voice user of any kind, you know your voice is priceless. I am honored to be able to give people a voice for a living. My clients entrust me with one of their most valuable gifts in this world. When someone who has lost their voice begins to see progress with their vocal development, a hope is fostered in their eyes unlike anything else. I have worked with many speakers who have come to feel ineffective in their workplace because their voice doesn’t properly express all that they intend to communicate. Watching these public speakers, doctors, sales people, and business professionals develop a voice that can fully portray on the outside all that they want to say from the inside, is one of the things that I love most about my job.
If you are wanting to ensure that your voice is a force of influence that you feel confident in using, I would love to help you on that journey. We’re only given one voice in this lifetime. Cultivating something as priceless and powerful as your voice is an infinitely worthy investment.
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To learn more about ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), please visit the ALS Association website