I miss her, Mum, even though she’s not gone. Still here, but not. I see a flash of her smile and hear her laugh.
Drying dishes. Tears in my eyes, wishing for easy conversations.
I move on. Wipe down the kitchen bench-top; my daughter has left hot glue gun remnants soldered onto the surface.
I pick at the glue with my nails, observing my hand as though it’s my Mum’s hand; remembering when the Alzheimer’s wasn’t so severe and the motion of cleaning could bring some purposeful moment of calm.
My hands are showing my age. Forty six. Hands, they tell so many stories and interconnect us all, as I wrote in a blog post ten years ago, when my Mum was able to read my posts and respond:
‘What are those blue, bumpy bits?’ my daughter asks me, as I reach out with my hand to turn the page of the book we are reading.
‘Those are my veins,’ I say simply with a smile. I can see from her face that she thinks they are kind of ugly.
‘What are veins?’ she asks.
‘We all have them,’ I say, ‘They are like streams of life running through the body, with the heart at their source.’
I look down, past my older children’s young hands, to my baby’s hands. They grow by the day, like a sunflower in the height of summer. Where my knuckles protrude, she has only dimples. Where my veins bulge, hers are barely visible. I wear my heart outside my body, like the veins so prominent, feeling every raw emotion life passes my way.
My hands tell a story, like the lines gathering on my face. Her hands are so pure and smooth, like the first crisp page in a journal begging to have a story inked upon it.
I see my older children looking, with their keen, fresh eyes. They wonder if their hands will look the same one day, but never believe they really will. But my baby doesn’t see the bumps and grooves. She just watches the magic I weave with my fingers as I grasp easily at food to place in her mouth, make shadows dance on the wall and sing nursery rhymes with dancing fingers.
My mind takes me back to when I was a little girl sat in the back of my parents car, holding my Grandma’s hand. She always loved to hold my hand in hers. She’d admire our soft, pink skin with a sense of awe that I didn’t understand and on cold days she would ask to warm her hands in mine. I would study her hands with the same interest as a gripping book. Where my hands were simply pink, her hands were decorated with rings that glittered in the sun. Each ring told a story, much like each line on her loving hands.
My grandfather’s hand was strong and his grip on mine firm and certain. I would marvel at his hands tending the roses in his garden and working on a carpentry project in the garage. He would often have a cigarette balanced between his forefinger and middle finger, where the nicotine left a yellow mark.
I marvelled at the blue veins rising over the knuckles on my grandparents hands, like a river in flood coursing around hills and over mountains. It was as though their lives were mapped out in a rich, textured tapestry upon their skin. Every touch they’d ever made imprinted in telling detail. The years of gentle caresses, combined with harder times.
I looked down at my hands again, feeling the warm, soft glow of my baby’s small hand next to mine and looked up to meet the gaze of my older children.
‘Your hands are like a book,’ I said.
‘As you get older they gather stories. The bumps and lines are like words upon a page, dancing their inky print across the paper. I have a few more lines, as I’ve more stories to tell, but I hope to collect many, many more.’
Now my Mum’s hands are unable to type a message to me, or write a card. She’s unable to have a conversation or to read a card I send her, but she still feels our love – deep within her, it’s just so hard for her to respond.
I have memories of my Mum’s hands holding her grand-daughter. I took a photo of her, cradling her newborn granddaughter, and she instantly remarked on how hold her hand’s looked. The passage of time is never more marked than when holding a newborn in your arms. In that moment her granddaughters brand newness, next to her skin was a vivid illustration of age. All I saw in that photograph was love. My Mum’s hands told stories of how much life she had lived and I couldn’t see past that.
‘Hands together in the circle of life, telling the passing of time. Carrying the genes of our loved ones that walked the earth before us and guiding our young ones as their hands explore anew.’
My mind flits to the Kapiti Coast, seeing in the New Year, a glass raised to the future, my Mum’s hands and mine, together.
Happier times, before we knew that a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease was just around the corner. We had such a wonderful holiday together, bouncing into the new year at a beach house on the Kapiti Coast, sharing the joys of nature, sunsets, walks, stories and music.
In the present I’m still cleaning, making the kitchen ready for the next day and trying to keep a sense of normal in a world that’s been thrown into chaos through a global pandemic. Here in our bubble we’re fine, in New Zealand we’re fine, but when our hearts are with loved ones living thousands of miles away it’s hard to always feel ‘fine’.
Time now in New Zealand 10:30pm. Time in England 11:30am. I keep going, thinking of my Dad and what he’ll be doing, how much mess Mum will have made and how much he’s had to battle to get her to drink, eat and take her medicine. My mind flits to the last time they came to New Zealand and the amazing holiday we shared in January 2018, travelling around the South Island. We holidayed large, knowing it would be the last time they’d be able to make the long journey from the UK to NZ.
It will be a while till I can travel to the UK to see them again. I try to talk to Mum over Skype, but she rarely ‘sees’ the screen and it’s hard for her to communicate. I call Dad often, when Mum has gone to sleep, so we can chat easily. I miss the days when I could chat with Mum and now feel incredible delight, tinged with bitter sadness for all that the disease has taken from her, when she manages a wave on Skype and a ‘yes’ when told, ‘It’s Sarah, calling from New Zealand’.
I can’t wait to be able to travel again, to hold her hand and stroke her hair, to tuck her in bed and tell her how much I love her.