“She’s awake.” I say to my husband as we watch TV in the living room. He’s in one Lazy Boy. I’m in the other..“Do you want me to go this time?” he asks sincerely.“No. I got it,” I respond as I snap the foot rest closed and stand from the comfort of the chair. I check in on her and then pass through the living room and into the kitchen.“Everything OK?” my husband asks in a hushed tone.“Yep. Just getting her some water,” I respond quietly. I walk by his chair. He catches my hand and squeezes it.“You OK?” he asks, his eyes searching behind my facade.“Yep,” I say and squeeze back tightly. I take the water to her room and put it on her bedside. She’s fallen back asleep already. I sit in the rocking chair next to her bed and gently caress her hand.
What an awesome hand. This perfect, strong hand. This hand planted hundreds of tulip bulbs and picked just as many apples. It held hymnals, played the organ, knitted socks for WWII soldiers – countless socks, cross-stitched; cooked; collected coal and potatoes for survival. This hand held and cared for three children into adulthood. It changed diapers, cleaned up vomit….saved my life.
A simple gold band on a finger of this hand symbolizes 42 years of devotion and care to one man. It is beautiful to me. I look more closely. When did all these wrinkles appear? Where did those blue and gray protruding veins come from? Why are these nails yellow? Why isn’t this the strong hand I know? Who changed hands on me? Why are these hands so soft and frail-looking? What happened to the strong woman these hands belonged to? Who is this meek woman in the bed next to my chair? I can see a touch of that feisty auburn hair but the rest of this woman’s hair is white. When did that happen?
She’s waking. This woman’s eyes look tired and worn, and gray. What happened to those vibrant blue eyes? Why is she looking at me? What’s this stranger trying to say? She seems to know me from some distant memory.
“Mom!” I want to scream. “Come jump rope with me!” “Mom! I’ll race you across the pool!” “Mom! Push me on the swing! Pleeeeeeease!”Please.The stranger waves her hand toward the wastebasket. I pick it up and put it by her mouth. I go to the other side of the bed to lift her gently into a sitting position. She vomits. I grab a tissue from the bedside table and wipe her mouth with one hand. My other hand caresses her back. She lies back down. I wipe a damp cloth across her forehead and kiss her lightly. She closes her eyes. I tie a knot in the bag to mask the foul-smell and carry it to the garage to discard it.
“Mom!” I hear. I move quickly down the hall to the next room.
“What is it honey?” I ask.
“Nothing. I was just scared” my daughter responds.
I move next to her bed, stroke her hair with my hand and gently kiss her forehead. “There’s nothing to be scared of,” I whisper as she slowly falls back to sleep.