I stepped into the hallway for a moment, trying to warm my extremities by walking the ten steps from the bed to the automatic doors directly across the hallway. The broken thermostat and the constant blowing of cold air from the vent above my chair was just one more thing to bear but at least it kept me moving. Over the course of four days, my short walk across the hallway had become a ritualized escape from the monotony of trying to find rest and solace in a place where none was offered. At this moment, though, in the not-quite-middle of the night, I stood listening to the hums and beeps all around me and I looked in to the room at you, sister, and watched as you folded one of the many blankets that we had scavenged and hoarded. Your features are gifts from our father, possibly the only one he ever gave you, but in this moment I saw the echoes of our mother traced in your profile. It was something about your determination salted through with resignation that made you the sum of her in that moment.
I looked down at my own hands, in the unloving florescent glow of way past midnight, and saw my mother there, too. I had always been ashamed of my hands, scored as they were with lines and the appearance of age even as a young girl. I thought with regret, too, about how I had often been ashamed of my mother. By how I judged her for being so injured by life, for losing the ability to trust and to give of herself freely. Not for the first time, I regretted that life had not been easy for her, that it was too straight a line between ugly events and violence to a young wife and mother who otherwise might have been quite different. Living with fear for more than a decade will change a person. My mother is the strongest person I know but her need for strength came at a cost to her and her five children. I don't think I have her strength, but I will finally appreciate these hands I inherited from my mother. To be reminded of her in years to come I will have to look no further.
It's not often that my siblings all gather in one place, and still rarer when our gathering is not punctuated by the endless pushing of buttons and rankling of nerves. But in that moment I saw reflected in our unity at her bedside what we must have looked like as children, when our lives were lived in a state of perpetual fear and uncertainty and we simply held onto each other and trusted. This is what she taught us under the very worst of circumstances. Raw emotion and a deep, abiding love for each other was what sustained us then and, thirty years later I see it will be the same. If it is true that one can only know deep sorrow for having also known great love then I am thankful my life has been rich with the gifts of the heart.
My mother left the hospital bed around which we had kept vigil. She returned to her own home with the mass in her brain that is quickly taking her from us. It is one more thing that we, her children, have to watch her endure. And it hurts like no other grief I've known.
My hands will go on to nurture and love. They will caress my children and soothe them through what is to come. They will get dirty in the act of gardening, a passion once shared by my mother. They will be entwined with my husband's hands as we face old age and, eventually, death. And they will remind me, forever, of a strong and proud woman whose gifts to me I'm only just beginning to fathom.