Look at it This Way

One of the lessons my mother taught me was to look at things from a positive perspective.  Whenever we were down in the mouth, she would begin with, “Look at it this way…” 

Me: “My car broke down and I had to walk a half mile to a phone.”

Mom: “Look at it this way.  You wouldn’t have taken the time to see what a beautiful day it is.”

Or, Me: “I lost my job.”

Mom: “Look at it this way.  Now you have time to finish that sewing project you are working on.”

You get the point.  It is with that attitude that I have begun to see the Hospice House where my mother is staying.  You can look at it as a place where people go to die.  Or you can recognize it as a place where people celebrate their last days on this earth.  I choose to see it as the latter. 

Tonight while visiting my mother at the Hospice House, I ask her if she is afraid.  Her shaking hand takes mine, and she nods her head.

“Sometimes,” she says.  “Last night everything was very dark, and I got very scared.  But Eric, the nurse who was on, came in.  He sat by my bed and held my hand. He goes to my church, you know, and I think he was praying for me.”

I have come to think of Eric and the other nurses and staff at the Hospice House as angels.  I have never seen them grumpy, have never heard them complain, or act unprofessionally.  They comb her hair and help her to the bathroom, and when they change her sheets, they coordinate the colors, so her room looks fresh and pretty.  They are kind and attentive and cheerful, and during this past week, they have come to know and appreciate my mother.  They tell me that they enjoy taking care of her and I love them for this.

While I sit next to my mother’s bed, my sister Teri sends me a text. “What is Mom’s favorite Christmas hymn?”  I know she is thinking of our upcoming meeting with a funeral director.

I ask Mom, and she thinks for awhile.  She can’t remember the name, and can only remember a few of the words, but she knows the melody.  She tries to hum it, but her voice is very weak, cracking and shaking, and I cannot follow it. 

“Hand me a pencil and paper,” she directs, and I obey.  She shakily draws a staff and begins sketching notes on it.  I desperately want to read it, but I have never mastered the art of reading music.  Then, I have an idea.  I pull out her laptop, the one she has told me will soon be mine, and I ask her to tell me the few words she knows.  A few moments on Google, and I triumphantly produce the lyrics.  Gesu Bambino.

“Mom!  I know this music!  I sang it in a pickup choir when Abby was a baby!” I tell her. 

I begin to sing it for her and she smiles and joins in.  She wavers, her voice barely above a whisper.  My voice cracks as tears roll down my cheeks and splash on the computer, and I can hardly hold the melody line.  We finish the song like a couple of old crows.  But to my ears, it is beautiful. 

I wish it were not this way.  I wish my mother could still sing in the golden voice that once held a spot in the alto section in her college choir.  I wish we were in our old house on Green Street, baking cookies and making plans to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.  This is not my first choice.  But look at it this way:  for a few shining moments on a frozen December evening, I get to hold my mother’s soft hand and sing her favorite Christmas hymn. 

Oh, come let us adore Him.

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My Mother’s Hands

I have always hated my hands. Unlike the slim soft hands of most women, they are work hands- made for wringing diapers and kneading loaves of bread, like my mother’s.  Other women wear colored nail polish and sparkling jewelry to call attention to the delicacy of their hands.  They easily slip into slim leather gloves and tiny gold rings with diamonds that catch the light.  But I am embarrassed by my hands and do not call attention to them, but rather keep them hidden, even stuffed into pockets whenever possible.

Today, I helped my mother prepare for her transition to a nearby hospice house. After several days in the hospital, she was unwashed and uncombed.  Her soft curly hair was matted from lying in bed and her hospital gown was twisted and wrinkled.  Knowing how this made her feel worse, I volunteered to give her a sponge bath and she agreed.  As I gently rubbed her back with a warm wet cloth, she sighed in contentment and told me how she remembered washing her mother shortly before she died.  I felt honored to be part of this legacy of love- to be the one to carefully wipe her face and rinse her feet.  Her hands were bruised and swollen.  Afraid that her rings would become so tight they would hurt her, I soaped her hand, and in one gentle motion, slipped them from her finger to mine.

We moved her to the hospice house where angelic nurses fluttered in to welcome her to her new room. The walls were washed in sunlight and the furnishings cozy and inviting.  The sterility of the hospital was replaced soft footsteps and cheerful chatter, as the nurses worked to make her comfortable.  She smiled in relief and appreciation.

Later that evening, as we stood by her bedside, I watched her hands shakily finger her rosary beads while praying the Chaplet of Devine Mercy.  Her hospital gown had been replaced by a soft white flannel nightgown, her hair combed.  Her hands counted their way through the prayers.  The same hands that rubbed my back to put me to sleep. The same hands that braided my hair, and hemmed my dresses, and hammered nails into the wall to hang my artwork.  The same hands that wrote on the chalk board for hundreds of middle school children.  The same hands that held my father’s when he passed from this world to the next.

When I got home this evening, I took a long hot shower, letting the water wash rivers of tears down the drain.  As I dried my face, I caught a glimpse of my hands in the mirror.   The two silver rings, one filigree and the other turquoise, still were on my finger.  They fit my hands.   My hands.  Made for wringing diapers and kneading bread, and washing my mother in her final days.  They are big and strong.  And beautiful.  They are my mother’s hands.

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