Hands

I wrote about my conflicted relationship with my mother after she suffered a stroke, her first one, not the big one. This morning Facebook showed me a picture of our hands and a link to that post. This is the original:

  • I have been openly mad at her since ’95.  I was probably always mad at her, always wanting more than she could give but that was the breaking point.  She chose reputation over responsibility, her name over honesty and lies over her love for me.  It took the death of my brother to open the doors again but I never let them go very wide.  Without trust, relationships are really just drive-bys.  So we circled around each other and tried to find a way in, a way back.  Then she started using pain meds like I eat M&M’s and once again it became clear she would never be the mother I wanted.  More backing away, more superficiality.  Weeks would go by and I wouldn’t talk to her and it wouldn’t bother me.  She stopped coming to family events, became a joke when it was time to send out invites.  We all learned not to count on her and we all pretended we didn’t care.
  • Two days ago my step father called to tell me in agonizing detail how he thought maybe she was sleeping longer than usual, how he later, yes, later went to check on her… detail after detail before he finally responded to my “Bob, is she alright?”   She wasn’t.  She isn’t.  Sixty years at 2 packs a day plus 10 years of pain meds that would make Intervention shocked led to an inability to breathe deeply enough to rid her body of the carbon dioxide.  She may as well be in the garage with my brother, whose death she has never recovered from.   We are left with the choice of treating her pain and thus killing her or clearing her lungs and leaving her in excruciating pain.  Add to the mix that she is so disoriented and confused that she by turns doesn’t recognize us or can’t bear for us to leave.  She has no idea where she is and often can’t string a sentence together.  Nine hours of “please help me, please, I am begging you, please someone help me, please Lisa won’t you help me” gave way to more pain meds and higher CO2 levels today.  I have about a 5 minute tolerance for the begging and pleading by a 75 year old woman.  Fortunately my brother and the hospital staff support this decision as well.
  • When the priest came in last night to administer last rites, I felt no spiritual connection, I felt no presence of the Holy Spirit.  I felt shocked that this man could so easily forgive her sins and send her on to Jesus when I still was holding on.  Holding on to all those times she let me down, hurt me, didn’t seem to care.  But a weird thing happened today:  all I could remember were the times we went shopping and laughed until we cried.  How I used to call her every day.  Every day.  For years.  How I learned to cook from her and used to call her and ask for Betty Crocker.  I started to remember how much I loved her at one time and I really wish I hadn’t remembered that.  Because now this really hurts.  Because I still do.

Facebook, using an impersonal algorithm that chooses important events in my life, decided I needed to remember. My first response outrage, tinted with the ugly colors of self-pity. I really need no help remembering loses. But my eyes kept going back to the picture, our hands united. I have a fascination with hands. I notice people’s hands like others notice eyes or clothes. Hands tell me how hard someone works, of course, with callouses, but other work doesn’t produce those. I look for scars, for how well the nails are maintained. That tells me how much self-care the person practices. I seek signs of anxiety around the nails, a bit of dirt or flour from time in the garden or kitchen. Any paint flecks? More still, I watch how each person uses their hands. Do they gently ruffle a child’s hair, any child that happens by? Do their hands stay in constant flight as they speak, creating words and song to animate the conversation? Is there a hand free ever to pat the back of a stranger, a friend as they meet? One free to wave? Are their arms always full, to create a protective barrier while doing good works? I have created my own hand evaluation measures. Probably quite flawed but it works for me.

Thus, I kept looking at my hands clasped with mom’s and saw more. Now with eyes grown accustomed to life without her, life lived with many more hurts and celebrations she has missed. I looked at her bruised hands, the nails she took such pride in, remembering every Sunday night she set up her station to remove the polish from that week, began filing and reapplying the color for the week ahead. I don’t know that my mother ever had her nails done professionally. I have never grown nails like her. I rarely polish my nails, she had an office job, I work in kitchens and play in mud. I also noticed the ring she was wearing, one always on her hand. It was one she had created from the stone from her wedding ring from my father, I believe. That ring now graces my hand, a daily reminder of where I came from,   a piece of my mom always with me. I’m not sure why I wanted that ring, the only thing besides her recipe books that I asked for. I haven’t dug too deeply into my motivation, I wear very little jewelry, I certainly don’t wear big diamonds. My nails don’t do justice to such a beautiful piece. It hasn’t left my hand though since the first time I put it on.

I carry my mother with me, our differences evident in our hands. Mine is tattooed now with a charm bracelet, each charm signifying a member of my family and one for my faith and friends. I know she would ache at our current hurts, she would delight in our grandson. I am grateful for my mother, the woman who gave me these hands. Hands to type, hands to ruffle my Plum’s hair. She gave me a chance to make the next generation better.  She set me free to become my own woman, away from old hurts. I pray I do her working hands justice. Her hands remind me she loved hard, she tried, she hurt much. She  is my mom, bruises and all.

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