Usually when one thinks about two people holding hands they envision lovers, boyfriend/girlfriend walking together. The first realization that a guy is interested in you is when he first takes your hand. The first contact between a boy and a girl. The first sensation of their touch, their skin against yours. Holding hands is the beginning of a relationship. Sometimes it is a relationship that only lasts a short time, other times it signifies the beginning of a lifetime together.
The first time we "hold hands", our first lifelong relationship, is with our parents.
The inaugural touch outside our mother's womb happens usually moments after birth. It is our parents caressing our arms, hands, placing their finger inside our hands, the first time someone holds our hand. As a small child our parents hold our hand to keep us safe, keep us from running off, keep us near. Holding our hand is in essence a safety net between us and the outside world. As we grow older, as we feel safer, we reach for our parent's hands less often. They too relax their "grip" on us. With continued independence we no longer seek the contentment, the safety of our parent's hands, we seek the comfort of a companion's hand.
Over the past eighteen days I have lost track over the number of times I have held my father's hand. Late at night when Dad has trouble breathing he reaches out for my hand. Anytime he is in pain or scared I reassure him everything is okay by simply taking his hand, caressing his fingers gently as they wrap around mine. The simple gesture of holding his hand let's him know I am not going to leave him. I will always be with him.
Thursday night as he was sleeping I sat in the chair next to his bed staring at our hands entwined together. I could tell when my Dad was in pain, I could feel him squeeze my hand in his sleep. I noticed how frail, how thin his skin had become. I began to wonder when did I stop holding my Dad's hand? When was the last time I remembered reaching out for him? I searched my brain, trying to locate the answer to my question.
Over the past five years as Dad has battled his cancer, I have caught him when he has fainted. I have put my arm around his waist helping him in and out of his wheelchair. He has leaned on my shoulder when he needed help walking. I have placed my hand on the small of his back, balancing him, shadowing him as he walked up the stairs, walked down the hall. I was there ready to catch him if he fell. I have sat with Dad stroking his arm while he was waiting for a doctor, while he was getting chemo. Until he was admitted to the hospital my Dad never reached for my hand, I never reached for his. The last time I remember holding my Dad's hand was in 1985. I had just given birth to my daughter. I was excited to be a mom, Kathryn was beautiful. As I laid in the recovery room after having a c-section the realization hit me I was going to be a single mom. I was going to be raising my child on my own. I suddently felt alone and scared. When I saw my Dad come into the recovery room I reached up for his hand. I needed him, holding his hand was my safety net. When he took my hand, when I felt his fingers around mine, I knew everything was going to be okay. I was not alone.
I continued to stare at our hands. I was amazed at the difference time had done. Our hands had drastically changed over the past twenty five years. My Dad's hands went from being strong and tan to frail and covered in bruises from all the injections and IVs. I thought to myself, twenty five years later our roles were reversed. Before his hand was the reassuring grip, now it was mine. In the past it was the gentle squeeze of his hand that let me know I would be okay, he would always be there for me. Now it seemed, it was me letting my Dad know I was going to be with him, I would help him through every final step he faced. He would not be alone, I would always be with him.
In my mind I was trying to recall when did this transformation take place. When did I become the parental/sheltering figure. The longer I laid with my head against the back of the chair staring at our hands, the more tears began to form in my eyes. I began to comprehend the truth, our roles had not reversed. Dad may have reached for my hand in comfort but he was giving me more. When he was squeezing my hand he was letting me know he was okay. I began to understand, as long as I could hold his hand, no matter how weak his grip was, I felt safe. As long as I could hold his hand, I could still hear his voice. Over the years, hearing my Dad's voice always made any bad day better. Dad had a way of making me feel like everything would be fine. I could handle it.
Ever since I was a little girl, Dad was my umbrella protecting me from all the frightening storms that lay ahead of me. He was always there when I needed him. I slowly began to comprehend looking at his frail fingers wrapped around mine soon I would no longer have his hand to hold. I would no longer hear his voice ask how my day went, how I was doing. We would no longer share our talks on Thursdays. My lifeline, my safety net was slowly leaving me. The man who in my eyes could make any and everything better, help me solve any problem was no longer going to be here with me. I was going to miss him more than I could ever adequately describe in words.
While I sat next to his hospital bed, holding his hand, Dad's grip tightened around my fingers as if he understood what I was thinking. What I was trying to accept. I smiled, told Dad everything would be alright, I would be alright. I promised him once again I would be right next to him holding his hand. The rest of the night while I sat with my father, I longed to have those twenty five years back. I wish I could regain all the times I neglected to reach for and hold the most wonderful hands I have ever known, my Dad's.