When my mother died,
I sat at her bedside and held her hand
Until I could feel it turning cold.
I’m certain I cried,
But I don’t remember tears.
I just remember the soft vellum of her fingers,
The falling temperature of them,
The slight part of her lips.
“Stay as long as you’d like,”
The man from the funeral home said.
But I could feel her body stiffening,
And I knew it was time to go.
Outside her room,
The nurses had delivered snacks,
Tiny packets of Oreos and oatmeal creme pies,
Coffee, water, lemonade.
My older sister busied herself with phone calls —
Aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, friends.
My mother had been loved so well.
At the funeral home,
She laid silent and still in the dress I’d chosen for her.
She did not look like she was sleeping as some said.
She looked dead.
My mother had been too full of life
To mistake this for a nap.
Her hands rested, one on top of the other,
But they didn’t touch.
I could see the space between them.
It unsettled me, that space.
I wanted her hands to touch.
Every time I walked by her open casket
To thank someone else for coming,
I looked at her hands
As if they’d somehow closed the gap on their own.
I even pushed on them a little
To see if I could coerce them together.
My mother had always been a toucher,
A hugger, a lover.
And in death, one hand would not, could not touch the other.
I did not force her hands together.
The cold stiffness reminded me that it was a fool’s task,
A worthless gesture,
An unnatural fixation.
Her hands would no longer comfort me.
They would no longer rub my back when I cried.
They would no longer hold my babies
Or my babies’ babies
If they someday choose to have them.
The distance between her hands
Was an infinite, holy space.
One we could never travel again.