Monday, 6 July 2009


R had the most beautiful hands I have ever seen on a man. In a romantic novel, they would inevitably be described as 'sensitive'.

He had perfect long, thin pianist's fingers, very much like the cast of Chopin's hand in the picture.* This is ironic since I am the piano-player in the house and always struggle making big chords. (His own musical career lasted precisely one lesson and ended when he realised he was expected to practise!)

I loved those hands. Holding them, feeling their gentle touch on my skin or watching their dextrous movements as he wired up a light socket or typed on the keyboard. When my hand was in his I felt safe and protected. Hand in hand we could do anything we put our minds to.

One of the hardest parts of watching him die was seeing the way they changed. I don't know if it was the medication, the heat of the room or just his circulation shutting down, but after they unplugged all the life support machines, his hands swelled up. As the hours ticked away his fingers metamorphosed into grotesque sausages with taut, shiny skin and by the time he took his last breath they were someone else's entirely. Where did his beautiful hands go? Who had them?

After he had been laid out at the hospital, I took one look at his body and left the room. They had arranged him so that he was holding a fabric rose on his chest with those ugly new hands. I just wanted to scream that they weren't his and demand that they bring back the right ones. For the same reason I couldn't go to see him at the funeral home; I wanted to remember him as he really was, not in this travesty of a body.

I don't know why, but I have been thinking about his hands all day. Possibly because my own are rather grubby again after another weekend in the garden or perhaps just because it is so long since I last saw them.

I wish I had a cast of his hands like the one in the picture.

* Photograph taken from Wikimedia.


  1. J,

    i am empathetic to what you're feeling. i loved my husband's hands but his were large and scarred from being a soldier. still, i loved them for the gentleness they brought to me.

    i also feel compassion for your memories of the time in the hospital. i vividly remember and wish i didn't.

    i will keep you in my thoughts through these memories and hope for, i don't know what we all need other than some kind of peace.

  2. My husband was a tall, thin man and he was so bloated and large at his death, he looked nothing like his handsome self. I remember thinking that he would have been abhorred at having to wear the size 36 waist pants I got to bury him in! He also couldn't fit into his shoes but I insisted they be placed in the coffin with him because I thought he would need his shoes wherever he was going.

    I haven't thought about any of this in quite awhile. We did have lots of photos around that showed how he really looked. But I remember thinking that he just was not the same person he'd physically been in death as he had been in life. I only now remember him as he really was.

    Thank you for letting me share this memory with you. I know it is not cheery but it has given me some comfort to relate it here. I guess it is because I know you will understand and that I had a similar experience.

  3. I think it is so creepy that they posed your husband with a fake flower. ("Oh, she'll like this.")
    Don't worry about the cast of his hands. You have good memories, and that's more real.
    My love to you.

  4. I've found it very difficult to push certain images out of my thoughts. Your description of R's hands brings back my memory of how my husband's lips became distorted by the ventilator hose as he died. It was very upsetting and I don't think I'll ever forget any of that. I have similar memories from my Dad's death, and that was over ten year's ago, so I guess some of these things stay with us forever. The other thing it is hard to get over is how my husband's body became ravaged as the cancer spread into his bones. He was such a strong, athletic man, but within the space of a few months, he was so thin and bent like an ancient man. My only strategy to get past some of this stuff is to keep some photos of him around the house - ones from before his illness. As I've got most of my house packed up to sell and move, I haven't got too many photos around. However, last week when I had to change the water pump, I set a photo of him on the work bench where I kept the tools while I was installing the new pump. It felt nice to see him while I worked - looking young and healthy and smiling.

  5. @ WomanNShadows: These memories do bubble up unbidden from time to time, but I have such a store of good ones to take their place and it is becoming easier to make the switch as time goes on. I hope it will start to be the same way for you.

    @ WitM: Yes, the thoughts aren't cheery but they are all part of the memories of a life we loved. I think I have held them in for all these months because of the painful feelings they bring, but it now does good to let them out and fly up through the ether.
    In some ways, the fact that R looked different in death made it easier to let his body go.

    @ CC: Yes, creepy is exactly the word, and R absolutely despised fake flowers which made it worse.
    Do you think the cast would be a bit too Addams Family then? I prefer to think that he could have been both beautiful and useful as a paperweight in a William Morris sort of sense!

    @ Bev: I guess the memories don't disappear altogether, we just get better at keeping them under control. And they will all go towards making us what we will be in our new lives, even the painful ones.
    I love the image of you having Don's picture with you as you installed the pump. It's always good to have someone there to talk to as you work through these jobs (if that doesn't sound too mad widowish). Perhaps I shall take R with me next time I try to round up the sheep!

  6. J - on Sunday, I actually said out loud, "I want to see your hands" ... strange that we were both thinking of our husband's hands at the same time! I too was wishing that I had a caste of C's hands and when he was dying, I ensured that I imprinted them in my memory - at the time it was incredibly important, and actually still is. Cliff had the most enormous hands, but strangely they were elegant. I loved watching him working with his hands.

    Bev - I have a picture of Cliff in my car boot so that he goes EVERYWHERE with me - it just keeps me calmer.