I didn’t know what to expect as I entered the hospital room where my mother’s body lay. She appeared peaceful, as if she was sleeping. I sat next to her bed and took her hand in mine. It was eerily cold, a cold I was not prepared for, and the reality of her death began to sink in. I kept her hand in mine and found comfort in the lingering scent of her hand lotion. It was the scent I most associated with my childhood. There was rarely a time her hands did not smell of it. I sat for several minutes, holding her hand, not ready to let go.
The scent of her hands lingered on my own when I went to bed that night. I intentionally did not wash them. I kept my hands close to my face as I fell asleep that night, breathing in the scent, trying to hold onto her.
In the morning, I carefully turned on the shower, making sure my hands did not get wet. I knew I would never see her again, hear her again or touch her again. The only tangible sense I had left of her was the scent of her hands on mine. I stood naked outside the shower cupping my hands over my face like an oxygen mask. I breathed in deeply, wanting every cell in my body to absorb her. I reluctantly stepped into the shower. As the water washed over me, my emotions did the same, and I began to cry.
I find myself thinking about her hands often. Not only the scent, but how comforting it felt when she gently yet firmly pressed her hand against my forehead to check my temperature when I was sick. I remember her hands folded in prayer or working their way around her rosary beads. I think about the time she spent making clothes and hand embroidery. I wonder how many hours her hands were tucked away inside her yellow rubber gloves while she cleaned or did dishes. I see her hands turning countless book pages. I feel her holding my hand as she walked me to school each morning when I was little. I recall her hands pulling weeds, baking cookies, wrapping gifts and doing the endless number of tasks a mother does.
Our hands tell the story of who we are to those who are willing to take the time to listen. They are an extension of our thoughts and emotions. We can so easily express ourselves with an angry point of the finger, a loving stroke on the back or a playful tickle. They can represent protection or fear, tenderness or harshness, productivity or idleness. Our hands can express who we are by what we create with them and they allow us to share ourselves with others. Some hands speak unassumingly and unknowingly, while others speak loudly and purposefully.
I look at my own hands, watching the skin get thinner, the wrinkles get deeper and the dark spots get larger and darker. I contemplate the story they are telling, who is listening and how it will be remembered.