She lies on the bed with her eyes closed, her hair puffed around her like a cloud. She’s not sleeping inside those closed eyes. Her body is still but she laughs along with someone I can’t see. I come closer and tell her I’m there and she says, “Momma?” When I take her hand she giggles and talks to me about candy. Her hand feels so fragile, her skin tissue paper inside my hand. She is 95 years old.
But in that moment she’s a child holding her mother’s hand. And inexplicably I’m reminded of my daughters.
Later that day, when I’m cuddled up with my kids at bedtime, I’m reminded of that woman. It resonates with me deeply that in her last days her mind clings to moments like this one. These moments matter – deeply.
But it’s not that thought that steals my breath away and makes me tremble with new awareness. It’s this:
Someday, if our stories go as I hope, my babies will be old.
Someday their chubby, little hands will be wrinkled and fragile; their skin will be tissue-thin.
I hope that when that day comes my children will be surrounded by family. I have to believe, with every ounce of faith I can muster, that someone will love them as fiercely as I do and care for them and give them words of comfort when they’re scared.
One day my children will be vulnerable, weak, and maybe even call for me – but I won’t be there.
It’s heartbreaking and terrifying. But it’s also, ultimately, okay.
This is how life was designed. There’s an Irish proverb that says, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Today, it’s my role to be the shelter. I protect my children, nourish them, and teach them. I do these things so that eventually they won’t need me. And then, one day, they will become the shelter – for their children and, perhaps, for me.
This is life.
And it’s beautiful, miraculous, and scary.
It’s also simple. We need to love each other. Protect each other. We need to be the shelter for the people who have no one left to look at them with love and memory.
And the next time I hold the hand of someone on the other end of life, I’ll remember that I’m holding the hand of someone’s child. And I will be their shelter.
“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and the wrong. Sometime in your life you will have been all of these.”
Dr. Robert H. Goddard
My heart goes out to those whose stories didn’t go as hoped, especially to parents who fiercely loved children who did not get the chance to grow old. Life has so many different truths and I hope my words didn’t cause any pain.