My grandfather’s hands played a prominent role in my childhood. His hands were strong, and I spent many bright afternoons outside watching him chop wood for the fireplace. His hands were busy, tending to his vegetable and flower garden or adding a column of numbers for his accounting work. His hands were steady as he guided our entire family and cared for my grandmother.
When I was a young girl he took me with him to the pool. I had not yet mastered the art of swimming and ventured into waters that were too deep for my tiny frame. I suddenly found myself floundering under water, and can still vividly recall the panic I felt as well as the sight of the bubbles swirling around me. It seemed to last an eternity. Then suddenly I felt myself being lifted out of the water by a pair of reassuring hands. My grandfather had saved me, just as I knew he would.
I continued to rely on those hands into adulthood. My grandfather and his caring hands were always there when you needed him, all you had to do was ask. As time passed his hands began to show their age, and it frustrated him that he could no longer do as much to care for my grandmother and the rest of our family. We reassured him that our love for him was not dependent upon his usefulness, and we knew that the time had come for our family to take care of him. We were grateful for the opportunity to repay in even a small way the love that he had shown us for us for so many years. So care for him we did.
As my grandfather’s time on this earth drew to a close his health began to fail him, and he entered the hospital due to difficulty breathing. He had made it very clear that under no circumstances was he to be intubated, so he utilized an oxygen mask to breathe. Every breath was a struggle, but my grandfather faced his final moments with strength and dignity and on his own terms. As I sat beside him in that hospital room I wished with all my might that there was something I could do to ease his suffering, but the best I could do was hold his hand and love him. And so I did.
I held his hand all night, sleeping next to his hospital bed, hoping that somehow my love and strength could pass through me into him. There were moments that were more of a struggle, and he felt like he was drowning trying to breathe. So just like he had reached down into the swirling waters and saved me that day when I was so small, I tried to save him. I would turn up his oxygen, whisper to him that he was not alone, and squeeze his hand tight.
Those precious, precious hands. Hands that had guided me through so many of life’s milestones. It was a privilege to hold his hand as he neared the end of his journey. I just hope that he found my hands even half as much of a help and comfort and his were to me.
I’m still holding onto those hands in my heart.
Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Certified Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist
Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234