Holding on and letting go

I think what I will remember most about Aunt Eleanor are her hands.

I remember those hands holding thread and a needle and pillows or quilts she just made. I remember those hands gluing buttons to frames, cutting out patterns, pinning needles in place for her next project. I remember those hands holding stacks of family history she had just typed up.

I remember those hands laying a flower on her mother’s, my grandmother’s casket.

I remember the first time I noticed the tremor in those hands and wished I could hold those hands and make that tremor go away.

I remember one of the last times I held those hands, how warm they were, how firm the grip despite all her body was fighting. We were in the nursing home where she had been living for several years. Parkinson’s was making her body and mind weaker.

I told her something I didn’t say much to her or my grandmother when I was younger, simply because they were a family who didn’t say it as much in words as they did in actions: “I love you, Aunt Eleanor.”

“Oh, sweetie I love you too,” she said and she held my hand even tighter and we sat there for several moments in silence, the TV on the wall blaring the news or the weather channel, I can remember which.

I don’t think she wanted to let go. I didn’t either.

I wasn’t sure she even remembered who I was that day but looking back it didn’t matter if she did or didn’t recognize me or even if she thought I was my mom, since some days she called me by her name. All she knew was love – that she felt loved, that she felt love for me and that at that moment the room was full of peace.

The day Mom called to tell me Aunt Eleanor was gone I thought about how much I hadn’t wanted to let go that day.

A week later when I drove by the nursing home I realized I still didn’t want to let go.

“You know, I really miss her,” My Aunt Doris, Eleanor’s sister, said to me last week when we visited her for her birthday. “”We don’t realize what we have until it’s gone, do we?”

I agreed and we sat there a couple moments in silence but then it was time to leave and head back to our home in Pennsylvania. I left Aunt Doris there, in her chair by the window, thinking about her sister. My kids, dad and I, got into the car. We drove down the road and we thought about Eleanor too.

We missed her and I wished that I could hold those hands one more time.

My aunt Doris and aunt Eleanor when they were children and it looks like they are in the driveway at their grandparents’ home, which is where I grew up.

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