The small frail hand wraps around my thumb. It’s weathered fingers still retaining a semblance of strength. I ask her if she is feeling OK and two quick squeezes on my thumb are her reply. As I sit with my mother on this night, I realize this is how we were introduced on another June night, sixty years ago when I was born. My first attempt at communication with her would have been my small hand wrapped around her finger and squeezing it, just as we are doing now. When vocal communication isn’t possible, touch makes everything right.
Cindy and I have been maintaining a bedside vigil now for five nights as my mother collects her thoughts and summons up the courage to move on to the next stage of life. For the last few days she’s chatted and hummed, recited nonsenses rhymes from her childhood, winced with pain, and let tears flow with frustration.
As I seemed to sense sixty years ago that there was something bigger than my mothers womb, and pushed my way into the world, my own mother seems to sense that something bigger awaits.
I daub her lips once more with water using a small cotton swab, and then take her hand again. She gives it a squeeze to say thank you. I’ve held this hand so many times but never paid attention to it. It’s the hand that guided me as I lifted my first spoonful of food to my mouth, it held me as I grew frightened on stormy nights, at my first sight of the ocean, of a steam engine arriving at the platform, my first day of school, my last day of school, at the airport as I left England, at my wedding and as I showed her my son for the fist time and she squeezed my hand. And then as I became Susan she took my hand as we entered the courthouse to change my name. I was fifty-four, she was eighty-nine. She’s never let go.
And now at three in the morning as she squeezes my thumb, I realize that though I’m comforting her, she’s also comforting me, and I hear her voice telling me that all will be well.