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My Mother’s Hands

Christmas Card Mother's handsThis past Saturday morning Peter and I were at the grocery choosing a package of bacon when, at the other end of the cooler, I saw my mother’s hands reach in.

They weren’t my mother’s of course, but the shape of the fingers and knuckles were so similar to the image etched in my memory that I froze in surprise. I leaned forward so I could see around Peter; the woman standing there was about my mother’s size and height, with the same style and colour hair, and appeared to be about the same age my mother would have been now, had cancer not taken her.

But it was her hands that struck me most.

My mother’s hands were a nurse’s hands, a caregiver’s hands, the hands of a woman whose time for leisure was limited. She thought them less elegant than those of other women. I thought them strong, but at the same time gentle. Her hands eased pain and comforted. They cleaned wounds and bandaged them. They rested on feverish foreheads. They cleaned and scrubbed and organized. They sewed beautiful clothes. They reached for the collars on people’s jackets to stand them up.

I touched Peter’s arm and directed his gaze. I didn’t say anything; I didn’t need to. When we walked away, me pushing the cart as I usually do, he spoke a single word. Lonely?

Things hit you extra hard sometimes was my answer. Then I took a deep breath and blinked to clear my eyes as we turned down the next aisle.

I’ve written before about how vivid images can spark memories, and this one was particularly powerful. When I next walked past a rack of Christmas cards for Mothers, the experience intensified.

But the memories sparked by the hands and the greeting cards didn’t make me sad, despite the fact that I had to clear my eyes. Instead they reminded me of how strong my mother was, how kind, and giving.

You teach people to be kind by being kind, she always told me.
You teach people to give by giving.
And you teach people to love by loving.

I don’t imagine I’ll ever meet the woman with hands so like my mother’s. But if I did I’d tell her about the Saturday morning she reached for a pack of bacon and reminded a daughter of her mother, and some of the most important lessons she taught me.