A year ago, I had the enormous privilege of holding my grandmother’s hand as she passed away. It was devastatingly beautiful — and changed me forever.
I had woken up on a Friday morning, planned out my outfit for my husband’s holiday work party and looked forward to only working half a day. That’s when I got the call that my grandmother’s condition was grave. It probably wasn’t worth coming home, I was told, because I might not make it in time.
I immediately thought that I needed to hold her hand one last time. Those hands that I have held so many times and that I know as well as my own. They were not delicate and feminine — they were sturdy and strong. Her veins were just underneath the skin and I can remember being able to feel the blood pulsing through. Her skin was soft and carried the distinct almond smell of the Jergen’s lotion that she always wore. Arthritis had deformed the joint on her index finger and it had been that way my entire life. I never thought of the pain it must have caused her…I only thought that it was uniquely her. They were *my* grandmother’s hands.
Those hands made homemade bread and peanut butter cookies that were always in the house. And, deviled eggs on special occasions. They held me steady when I was little girl and she took me on hikes in Capital Reef National Park, where my grandfather was a Park Ranger. They made Christmas ornaments that I will treasure forever. They hugged away my tears when I really missed my grandfather. They played countless games of Bridge with her girlfriends and shook the hands of strangers at the Cultural Center where she volunteered her time.
As she aged, the skin became thin and they bruised easily. But she didn’t. She was still tough as nails and wanted to do everything for herself. We once caught her shoveling the sidewalk when she knew she shouldn’t be, but she wanted to clear the walk for our arrival. Every year when I would visit, she would squeeze my hands and look me in the eye and tell me that she’d be there waiting for me when I came back. Until the year she didn’t. And, I knew that our time was short. I thought I was at peace with our goodbye that year. She hugged me tight and told me to be happy. But, when that call came, I knew I had to go.
When I walked in the room that cold December morning, it took my breath away. She looked so small and frail. Her hands were folded across her chest and her eyes were closed. She hadn’t spoken in a couple of days and I feared she would not even know I was there or know who I was. But, when I took her hand and whispered “I’m here Grammie”, she struggled to open her eyes and ever so slightly squeezed my hand and whispered “My Steph…my Steph…”.
I held her hands for the better part of 2 days and sang her Christmas carols and old hymns. And then she was gone.
She was the best person I knew and I loved her fiercely. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss her and want to hold her hand again.
Nelda “Ruth” Wallace – 12/17/1919 – 12/21/2014