The last words my mother spoke to me were “I will always hold your hand”. I held her tiny, cold, and puffy hand through that last night of her life in the hospital. In the morning I watched her chest rise and fall, as she slowly took her very last breath. I truly expected to feel her presence then, as she had promised, but felt nothing. I looked for her everywhere for weeks, for months, but she was gone. The stark finality of death confounded me.
When my first child was born three months later, I half expected to look into her eyes and see my mother’s soul. It was clear however, that my daughter was a unique individual from the very start. I had to come to terms with the fact that my longing was just a wishful notion. The magical thinking that follows death of a loved one.
I did find her, eventually, but not where I would have expected. A year and a half later, on a wintery night, my baby woke me with her cries. With a fierce mothers need to warm and comfort her, I brought her into bed with us. I hushed her, and soothed her, and held her hand as we both finally drifted off to sleep. My epiphany came somewhere in that half sleep state. The hand that I was holding was suddenly so familiar, tiny, cold, and puffy in mine. I had held this hand before.
I was flooded with the exaltation of a reunion with a long lost love, wakened now by the realization that a baton had been passed. My mother was there, where she had been all along. That intense mother love, that profound need to soothe my baby’s cries, resonated within, and I found her deep inside me. I was the mother now. She had shown me the way. I understood that the incredible depth of what I felt for my daughter, was how my own mother had always felt for me, and she was there. Honestly, for the first time I reflected on the gestation, birthing, nursing, and holding, all of the draining things mothers give to their new child with love. All that she gave of herself was what brought me here, to my own motherhood. Now, whenever the small hand of one of my own children slips into mine, I hear her words, “I will always hold your hand, ” and she is there with me.