My Mother’s Hands

My Mother’s Hands

missing my motherGrowing up, I didn’t really look like anyone in my family.  Adults would study me and proclaim that I must have come from the Milk Man.  When I was mad at my family, for whatever reason, I’d use this as a tool to feel sorry for myself, casting myself as the outsider.

There was, however, no denying that I had my mother’s hands.

My three sisters had long, beautiful fingers—like our father’s.  I, on the other hand (literally), had my mother’s short, stubby fingers.  Back then I refused to see the resemblance.  I was afraid that if I looked like my mother, I would act like her, too.

My mother was part traditional/part tyrannical. At least to my child’s eye. She cooked, she cleaned, she baked chocolate chip cookies. But buried deep in the pockets of her apron there was a sadness, an insecurity, and a loneliness so extreme it manifested in many ways. She was easy to anger, hard to please and in need of a lot of attention.

As a little girl I was always trying to please her and be her favorite, even if it meant tattling on one of my sisters.  I needed to be deemed the “good” daughter. As a teenager I rebelled.  I wanted my mother to know how much she’d disappointed me. As an adult, I craved her time and attention: a lunch out,  a day of shopping, a visit to my house for a coffee chat.  But my mother flatly exclaimed she preferred to stay home.

Years after I was married, I was able to bury the need for my mother.  I focused on my own family instead, and pretended it was enough.

On the very day my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, everything within me changed.  It wasn’t about me any more.  I didn’t care how she had made me feel once upon a time.  I only cared about how she felt, and how to get her through this. I began calling her every day to ask how she was. There wasn’t much to talk about other than her illness, but I was happy just to hear her voice.  I’d visit, not expecting anything from her other than to be near.  I didn’t judge what she said or did because there was so little time.  If she mentioned needing something (like money for the outrageously expensive pills which allowed her to digest a meal), I’d willingly offer it.

It felt good just to “do” for her.

A couple days before she died, as I was pushing my mother in her wheelchair,  I got up the nerve to tell her that I loved her and shared how much I loved spending time with her.  This felt very intimate to me, thereby unfamiliar.  After all, my standard share was a peck on the cheek and a distracted “love you.” When my mother sweetly replied, in an unguarded voice lightly laced with morphine, “You can see me any time you want,” I realized that I always could have. Maybe she wasn’t there for me in exactly the way I had wished, but my mother had always been there.

We put her in hospice that day.  As I helped care for her, I held her hands in mine and realized how dear those hands were to me. Today, I look at my own, mirrors of my mother’s, and I thank God for giving me these hands. They are the truest thing I have of hers.

 

4 Responses to My Mother’s Hands

  1. This is such a loving and heart-bursting testament to your mother and the complexity that runs innately through the mother-daughter relationship. I am deeply touched by your story. Thank you so much for sharing. I am going to call my mother right now.

    • Thank you so much Kate! Sorry for the delay in getting back to you but I hope you had a nice conversation with your Mom! 🙂

  2. I can’t agree more with you, Denise. I had somewhat similar experience with my mother. She was impossible to please, even for someone like me and boy I was good at it. So good in fact, that after I moved to US and started to live by myself – totally forgot what was that I suppose to be wanting in life. However it never was enough to please my mother.Now, looking back at this, I see it as a blessing. My mother gave me a shot at loving her unconditionally and would not accept anything less then that. I wanted feel good, but believed that until my mother would approve of me I would not be able to. I was so wrong and my mother helped me to get there. The freedom feeling, which comes from realizing that you don’t need people to behave in certain way to be happy, is just tremendous.

  3. I can’t agree more with you, Denise. I had somewhat similar experience with my mother. She was impossible to please, even for someone like me and boy I was good at it. So good in fact, that after I moved to US and started to live by myself – totally forgot what was that I suppose to be wanting in life. However it never was enough to please my mother.Now, looking back at this, I see it as a blessing. My mother gave me a shot at loving her unconditionally and would not accept anything less then that. I wanted feel good, but believed that until my mother would approve of me I would not be able to. I was so wrong and my mother helped me to get there. The freedom feeling, which comes from realizing that you don’t need people to behave in certain way to be happy, is just tremendous.

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