Holding Hands

April 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm (Uncategorized)

“Spring is like a perhaps hand…”
By e.e. cummings

Last week, Jay held my hand for a while. We didn’t talk much. We just held hands. After being together for seventeen years, we’ve learned that we don’t always need to be manufacturing words to communicate.

Truthfully, even if I’d wanted to summon my inner raconteur—assuming that facet of myself is still in there after 9 years of motherhood and chronic illness—I’d have had problems. A few minutes before Jay arrived at the hospital to visit during my monthly chemo infusion, the nurses gave me a lot of IV Benadryl to help keep my body from reacting to the bag o’ poison that is the protocol for managing my systemic sarcoidosis. My tongue felt like a slab of meat, and my eyelids were heavy.

“I’m sorry, but I’m very drugged,” I told Jay as he pulled a chair up to the recliner I was splayed out on. At least, that’s what I tried to tell him. It probably sounded more like, “Limes are forty, slut tied ham, cheery pug,” given the quizzical look Jay gave me, before murmuring, “Shhh. It’s OK.”

And then he took my hand.

He brought with him the smell of early spring. His hands were cold. They felt wonderful, as they covered mine. Even though Jay is a paper pusher—or keyboard clicker—by profession, his hands feel like a worker’s. He lifts weights, so his palms are ridged with calluses. The skin on the tops of his hands is dried and rough. We maintain a zealous hygiene routine in our house in the land of the immune-compromised. Jay is meticulous about washing his hands, or bathing them in gobs of hand sanitizer when he’s in the car. He’ll do anything to keep me safe, to the point that in the driest and most germ-infested weeks of winter, his skin cracks open and bleeds from all the washing. I nag him to use hand cream. But he’s too busy, he says.

In my Benadryl-induced fugue state, I got lost in his hands. I liked the roughness of his grip. I liked the feel of his tendons stretching to let his fingers weave through mine. I liked the bulk of his wrist bone, the hard edge of his nails. I liked the sense that his hands were bigger and stronger than mine, that they could cover me and protect me.

I couldn’t think or talk, but the Benadryl didn’t knock me out. The three other infusion medications on the day’s roster tend to amp me up. I start to feel sick and agitated from the chemo long before the bag is done draining into me. The Benadryl prevents my throat from closing in an allergic reaction. But it doesn’t give me the gift of sleeping through the seven, or eight, or sometimes nine hours each of my treatment days requires.

It’s taken some work for Jay and I simply to hold hands, skipping the informational swap-meet that parenting and marriage can become. We’ve both learned that not everything needs to be said, or even can be said. This latter was a particularly hard lesson for two aggressively verbal people. But there is pain, joy, hope, grace, humor, and hopelessness that refuse to be bound by the edges of letters and words. There are moments in Chronic Town—in any town—that dissolve language. Jay stayed and held my hand, even as he could have taken up a dozen “practical” tasks with his. There was a boy to shuttle to a Lego Robotics class, dinner to get on the table, laundry balled up and waiting to be sorted. There is always work to be done.

But holding on to each other through the drip-drip of the Rituxan into my veins, through the fatigue of chronic illness and parenting and stressful jobs, through our fears, are work of their own kind. It is work hands can take up.

Stillness – the ability to just be with another person – doesn’t always feel natural. We’re trained to swoop into a situation and fix it. We’ve got to bat down the thousand “helpful” ideas that bombard the stillness. Ask the nurses why she’s not asleep. Is she going to react to the chemo? Send a work text about a crisis at the office. Tell her to relax, that it’s OK. Ask if she wants a pillow. Or a cup of water. Does she want her ipod? I bet some music would take her mind off this problem. These are things Jay did not say to me. Instead we held onto each other. And it was good.

Staying with me—in that place beyond words—meant that Jay was truly with me. When someone executes a to-do list about and around you, it can feel lonely. I did not feel lonely, as Jay twined his fingers with mine and watched the medicine drip. I was held.

His hand in mind, his steady grip during some of my most-difficult hours, was a gift beyond measure. He showed up to my crappy day, and stayed there. He held my hand.

“I love you, Jay,” I said later.

“I’m a honey-dew day,” he probably heard, as my useless tongue made nonsense Benadryl words.

“Shhh, I love you,” he said. And I could feel his pulse, constant and warm, flow from his wrist to my mine.

Have you ever been in a place beyond words, when you really needed someone just to hold your hand and be with you?


  1. nann said,

    Beautiful – wonderful – I am typing through tears.

  2. Amy Pridemore said,

    It’s a beautiful thing when love wraps around you and is felt without words. Such a sweet moment between two of my favorite people. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Rayna said,

    Wow- that’s beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing. Thinking of you all the time!

  4. Claudia said,

    Lovely, just lovely. I am so happy for both of you that you have this love connection that moves through both of you. You are both very blessed. I am thinking of both of you, all three of you so often. Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing your world with all of us.

  5. Tracy Winn said,

    Rebecca, I loved Holding Hands. It was simple and powerful just like holding hands :-). It really stuck with me and I have thought of it many times. On vacation last week, I heard a song I had not heard in a long time. Remember the song from the Thompson Twins , “Lay Your Hands On Me”? They had the right idea too (see lyrics below). Wishing you loving, comforting, healing hands. Love, Tracy
    “This old life seemed much too long
    Little point in going on
    I couldn’t think of what to say
    Words just vanished in the haze

    I was feeling cold and tired
    Yeah, kinda sad and uninspired
    When it almost seemed too much
    I see your face and sense the grace
    And feel the magic in your touch

    Oh, lay your hands
    Lay your hands on me
    Oh, lay your hands, ooh
    Oh, lay your hands
    Oh, lay your hands on me

    Back and forth across the sea
    I have chased so many dreams
    I have never felt the grace
    That I have felt in your embrace

    Oh, I was tired and I was cold
    Yeah, with a hunger in my soul
    When it almost seemed too much
    I see your face and sense the grace
    And feel the magic of your touch

    Oh, lay your hands
    Oh, lay your hands on me
    Oh, lay your hands, ooh
    Oh, lay your hands
    [- From: http://www.elyrics.net -]
    Oh, lay your hands on me, oh

    Now, you made me feel so good
    Yeah, like I never ever thought I would
    You know you make me feel so strong
    And now our laughter just goes on and on

    So c’mon lay your hands on me
    ‘Cause close to you is where I really wanna be
    And if it ever gets too much
    I see your face and sense the grace
    And feel the magic in our touch

    Oh, lay your hands
    Lay your hands on me
    Oh, lay your hands, ooh
    Oh, lay your hands
    Oh, lay your hands on me

    Oh, lay your hands
    Oh, oh, lay your hands on me
    Oh, lay your hands
    Lay your hands on me
    Oh lay your hands, ooh

    Oh, lay your hands
    I wanna lay your hands on me
    Oh, lay your hands
    Oh, lay your hands on me
    Oh, lay your hands
    Oh, lay your hands on me
    Oh lay your hands on me, ooh
    Oh, lay your hands
    Lyrics from eLyrics.net

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