02 February 2016

motherhood with a camera

her hands are my hands are my daughter's hands.

strong, capable. veins like little green rivers, skin like butter and butcher paper. and that ring she wore, that sterling silver dogwood ring, the one I can't ever remember not on her middle left finger. on that day, she took the hands of her mother, my grandmother, and danced. grandma's cheeks pink with rouge, a creamy coral dabbed on just before mom slipped strands of plastic yellow beads around her neck. this was the ritual: rouge, necklaces, music, dancing. I watched from the edges, willed myself to ignore the scent of lysol and urine, concentrated instead on the faraway radio sounds of dolly parton and the two dancers in the room. they lit the place up, spilled light into dark nursing home corners for a few minutes, corners no one likes to talk about.

in just two short years, just one year after her own mother, she would be gone. how could I have known this? how could any of us have known this? in those last days, I held her hands in mine, sat by her bed while she slipped in and out of sleep, in and out of that deep, unknown place morphine takes people when the pain is too much, the world is too much and the cancer is about to swallow them whole. I sat by her bed and held her hands, tv flickering and murmuring in the background, toddlers and tiaras and wild gyspy teenagers on repeat while my worst nightmare played out in real time. I held her hands like she held mine on the first day of school, on the way to my first dance class, the first time I had my heart broken. I held her hands the way she held her own mother's hands the day they danced at the nursing home. I held them and I pleaded with her to live. quietly, desperately. please, please live. I pleaded with God for the miracle of all miracles, pleaded in shameless, messy ways, over and over and over again.

a few months after she died, I found her jewelry pouch. tucked beneath a tangle of polyester slips and snagged pairs of pantyhose, there it was. all my favorite pieces were there; the bracelet with the little silver charms she'd collected while traveling through europe when she was in college, the oval locket my dad had given her for christmas one year, the one that held the teeny tiny baby pictures of us inside, the collection of silver bangles with turquoise stones and the ring. good lord, the sterling silver dogwood ring, the one I can't ever remember her not wearing. as much a part of her appearance as the small, crescent-shaped scar on her cheekbone and the amber brown color of her eyes. I slipped it on my left middle finger and gasped. there she was. in the shape of my hand, in the color and texture of my skin, in the way her signature ring looked on my left middle finger. she was as close as my left hand, I could see her, feel her, any time I stopped to look down.

my own daughter's hands look nothing like mine. her fingers are long and slender, her skin noticeably smoother and fairer in complexion. hers are the hands of a possible concert pianist, an aristocrat, further proof of the mysteries of genetics. though once interlaced with mine, the differences mostly fall away. ava held my hand on some pretty unthinkable days, through some pretty unthinkable weeks and months, through the endless before and after. she held my hand when I shut down and pushed everyone else away, and then when I pretended I was fine. she was quiet but sure about it and acted with the same gentle tenacity as her grandmother, my mother, did for so many years.

her hands are my hands are my mother's hands.

she'll slip the sterling silver dogwood ring on her middle left finger one of these days and she'll see me, feel me. she'll remember her grandmother too. she'll look down when she needs to and know. we're as close as her left hand. closer, even. she'll know this. the ring on her hand will remind her.

(first written for motherhood with a camera, a space lovingly carved out by the luminous amy grace)


  1. A beautiful post. Both photo and words are powerful.

  2. thank you, it's so good to know, how others feel about the loss of their mother. Sending loving thoughts your way!

  3. Well, this got me right in the heart. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Your words are beautiful and heartfelt. Cancer also took my mother from all those who love her much, much too early. There are so many things I'll never get to say to her, advice I'll never be able to ask her for, and her strong embrace that I will never again get to feel. Sending you much love and hope that thoughts and memories of your mother will bring you some solace.