When I was a child, it was your hands that were getting down and dirty, scraping the barbecue, planting seeds, trimming rosebushes, stopping my spinning chair at the kitchen table. I remember watching your hands place toothpicks in the petals and stem of delicate passion flowers so they would stay open. I remember your hands holding the tiny paring knife, standing at the kitchen counter, every morning as you prepared a mound of fruit to top your bowl of mixed cereals. I also remember your hands opening the lids of multiple salad dressing bottles as you mixed dressings to top your salads at dinner.
I don’t remember you playing games, I don’t remember you reading books aloud, I don’t even remember you often holding my hand or holding me on your lap. I guess those weren’t necessary ways for you to show me your love. You brought me alongside you, and allowed me to follow you around, as you did your work. I remember reading the funny papers and watching America’s Funniest Home Videos on your tv on Sunday evenings. I remember sitting on your left side at the dining room table every Sunday night for our weekly family suppers. I remember you always saying supper, rather than dinner. I remember you holding your fork in your left hand, while I held mine in my right and tried not to bump into you over the table corner.
There were years, my most formative years, with a thousand miles between us where I did not get to much practice the art of being a granddaughter. As I look back at it now, with more perspective and wisdom on the subject, I can see that those were also the years where the Alzheimer’s was settling in to your cells and beginning to take over little by little. I remember you coming to visit, especially for Thanksgiving and November birthdays. I remember your addiction with little dogs and the daily newspaper.
The years I was in college, the early years of my marriage, the time I have spent in the trenches of young motherhood, I do not have lots of memories… but I missed you. I remember missing you.
I remember going to California to see you eleven months ago. It was my first time seeing you in a wheelchair, seeing you in “an assisted living center,” seeing your eyes deeply while knowing without a doubt that you don’t see me back. I remember bringing you a gift my children and I had made: a fidget blanket to keep your hands happy. I remember you loving it; in fact, you loved it until just a couple weeks ago.
I remember you moving here in May, and the delight it brought my soul. I remember bringing my children to see you; the newness of that first time, and then the normalcy of seeing you multiple times each week. I loved holding your hands, rubbing your shoulders, scratching your back. The way our eyes connected sometimes made it feel like you knew me deeply and truly: but then I would wonder if, instead of seeing me, somehow your brain saw your wife of years gone by in my visage. It brought my heart so much joy to look into your eyes connecting with your soul, while my body leaned close over yours. I knew your wrinkles, your grizzly whiskers, your long earlobes, your wild eyebrows. Your hands would sometimes let go of your fidget blanket long enough to reach out and touch my face or grip my hand. I loved how your hands would pat my children, rub them, hold them. Both of my youngest children loved to sit on your lap, Simeon especially asking for rides on your lap as we pushed your wheelchair around in big circles in the backyard, crunching yellow leaves this fall. Asher, my special boy you always had a unique connection with, would stare into your soul through your eyes as your hands wrapped around his back. You would smile for him when you wouldn’t smile for anyone else.
Then it happened: every part of you grew suddenly tired, massively weary. I brought you ice cream, I fed you bites of cold caramel creamy goodness when we could not get you to swallow anything else. It was the last thing I fed you, except for the apple cider mixed with Ensure I gave you in a syringe at Colin’s house the week before you died.
That was the day we gave you a living memorial. We sat you on the big brown leather couch, propped with some pillows, your foot on a little wooden crate. Grandma held one of your hands, Mama held the other. I was kind of wishing you had a third hand I could hold. I sat near your feet, sang toward your face, rested my hand along your cheek, and let my tears fall on your lap as I sang to you of day’s end, death’s disrobing, and being in God’s loving presence. My daughter danced for you. One of my boys read Psalm 90 for you. We sang hymns on end following your birthday songs, with Psalms sprinkled in.
And then the days grew long as we felt the night of death draw near. We rotated sitting at your bedside so you would not be alone. We sang to you, read to you, held your hands.
There were times when you would squeeze my hands when it really seemed inexplicable.
And then you raised your hands. Your body was as wasted away as I could imagine, so I have to believe it was your renewing spirit that was lifting those weary bones and drying skin into the air with praise.
When Mama read you Ephesians 1, your hands were raised in a strength that was clearly not your own.
When we sang you hymns of faith and psalms of hope, your hands would raise – it made us want to keep singing!
Oh Grandpa. Your hands.
I love those hands. I held your hands tight and told you how I could never look at lemons, blueberries, passion flowers, or cherry tomatoes without thinking of you. I also think I will never see tired old hands without remembering yours.
The last week of your life, I got to spend a lot of hours at your bedside, and I hated the time when I couldn’t hold your hands because they were being held by other people instead.
There was a wish inside me that I could be holding your hands when your body was delivered of your spirit. Rather, I held your hands often during the laboring of your body while your soul waited on the Lord for the full renewal of being called Home, and it was my own daddy whose hands held yours and whose voice you heard as the angels escorted the real you away from your body’s shell.
I did not come see your body after your spirit passed away beyond the veil. I heard that your wife and daughter held your hands and kept them warm until you were taken away. I saw a picture of Mama’s hands holding your hands as you lay in your handsomely wrought casket at the funeral home in California two days ago… it was the part that broke my heart. Your hands.
Today I saw a picture from 62 years ago, you holding my mama in your arms. I saw your young, healthy hand holding her chubby little toddler thigh. I cried. I never saw your hands like that. But they were the same hands. Those hands that held my mama in your youth are the same hands I saw working in the garden twenty-five years ago, and are also the same hands that rubbed my babies’ backs this summer, the same hands that I held while I sang to you on your deathbed, and the same hands I saw with no warmth or blood or life as Mama held them in hers two days ago.
Now your hands are crossed across your body, which wears a suit many sizes now too big, as you rest in your coffin of wood beneath the layers of earth, dirt, sod, and California sunshine. Grandpa, my memories of our life together are scattered and incomplete. But as I scatter these words through my fingertips at your memory, please just know how completely I love you. How thankful I am for you. How I will not forget your hands.
You made it to the finish line with valor and integrity. I trust your hands are still raised in victory, praise, and joy.
I love you, Grandpa. xo