Why I Can’t Hold Hands With My Mother

I found her yesterday in a hospital bed.  Pale and aghast at the pain, she couldn’t speak.  She could hear.  Sometimes.  Some voices.  Could she hear mine?  “Mother.”

What did she need?  The nurse fetched the pillow, together we tucked it under her head.  Balding, white hair.  I remember the glorious red of her hair and the brilliant red of her lipstick.  She stopped wearing lipstick when I was a little girl.  But I remember.

She didn’t have her “teeth” in.  Family code for dentures.  They put them away when they operated and her face fell back into an old, old woman’s face.  Trying to sleep through the pain and the drugs.  More drugs through the I.V.  Then she could sleep.

I, never still, stood for two hours watching, watching.  As she slept, pained even in her sleep.  Trussed up from the surgery.  I watched her and saw her open her eyes, sometimes in confusion, sometimes in fear.  She looked around, saw me, slept. 

But her left hand, shoulder fixed years ago, would rise and reach into the air.  I watched.  Her hand would drop.  Then rise, fingers seeking and not finding.  It never occured to me why.  As I watched.  The lovely young nurse came in, smiled quietly, reached for the reaching hand and said “you’re okay, Sweetheart.”  She’s not, I thought.  She’s in pain.

When the social worker came in, she said it reminded her so of her mother.  The teeth, the hair.  She took her hand and said, “you’re beautiful, Sweetie.”  I watched.

She worked, always, she worked.  She raised baby sisters; she worked on the farm.  She sewed, she baked, she ironed her way through young motherhood.  She raised boys.  Boys are hell.  But these boys, she raised and she ironed their shirts and she lifted weights with them.  She loved them.  She cleaned other women’s homes and she called them houses.  She carried water, cared for animals, planted, harvested and canned.  Never idle, she created things I only now know are beautiful.  Tying simple string with a hook into beautiful, intricate patterns I could never learn.

I saw her skin, torn by the doctors, deeply wrinkled by the sun.  I have those same frown lines, or would if I didn’t smooth my forehead.  I looked at her face as her hand reached, reached.  Sun ruined and worry lined.  All those years and no laugh lines.  I miss the slash, the devil may care slash of red lipstick.

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