My mother is never settled. She is always traveling. And she is tired of it.
“I’m tired, tired, tired! I want to go home!” she can cry. “I’ve been here and there, moving too much and I need to go home!”
But home is no longer clear–the house she has been living in these past 30 years, but no longer recognizes as home. And so in her mind she is flitting about, unable to find a place to settle.
And just as her thoughts flit about, so do her hands. Searchingly, feeling for the edges of her blanket, reaching up to feel and explore her own face as if an object she doesn’t recognize.
Years ago, as she began to develop arthritis, she grew to hate her hands. “Look at my knobby knuckles,” she would say in disgust. She took to wearing large rings to hide what she saw as ugly and awkward.
Now in this last year since her stroke, as she has lost so much body mass, her hands have been transformed. From the tough knobbiness of the arthritic to the fragile. Literally breakable; when she is rotated regularly to avoid bedsores, one hand might get caught beneath her hip, and her aide is quick to free it: “We can’t have that happen.”
No. We can’t have that happen. Because her hands now are as delicately boned as a bird’s. As the sparrow I saw last night as I was sitting out on our porch where I sit every night no matter how cold. Needing air.
The trees were quiet with birds who’d already settled for the night.
But this lone bird flitted about frantically. From the porch railing, to bush, to railing, over my head, to porch roof, back to railing, then bush….Flitted about like my mother’s hands, searchingly, trying but failing to find a place to settle.
I longed to cup the panicked bird. As I can long to cup my mother’s hands. To give solace. Comfort.
“No,” my mother will say if I ever try to take her hand. She will pull away. Those hands too restless to cease their wandering. Their flitting. Like the panicked bird lost in a darkness relieved only by the light of a dull porch lamp .
All her life, my mother’s hands were committed to the tactile of her art, although she no longer recognizes her magnificent expansive works. Such as these, as she was always moved by the nuances of stormy ocean days: When not painting, she was sketching. I remember the scratching of her ink pens. Summers, at the lake, where she would again and again try to capture the imperfect of rotting tree stumps. A beauty not as obvious as a flower in perfect bloom. Nor as obvious as the perfect sunset as opposed the turmoil of a cloudy ocean day.
Sketching at the beach: quick renderings of people to capture the energy of an instance. On Monhegan island in Maine, she would draw the cragged rocks. I would look up to watch her draw, from where I might be sailing a small wood boat in shallow pools collecting between the rocks.
I remember when her hands were strong. Tough and unmanicured, to press in sand and seaweed into her canvases for texture, scraping at the canvas. To smear the paint with bare fingers when she could not get the effect she wanted from her large sweeping brushstrokes. And I can still hear her palette knife scrapping against a canvas….
And with her grandchildren: When her hands were still strong enough to introduce them to real hammers and nails to build sculptures in her studio:Exploring hands, tracing fingers through sand: Touching hands: Reading-time hands: Hugging hands: Quiet hands: As my mother lays dying, I am both moved and horrified by the fact that I actually find beauty now in her hands. In this new fragility.
Horrified because it wrenches me to see my once strong mother reduced to the fragile. To the easily snapped of delicate bones.
But moved by how the secrets of her hands have risen to the surface; the subtle curve of the delicate bone, the intricacy of veins branching out into the complex blue of a late evening sky just touched by last traces of light, the translucent white of her skin:
So are you.