Have you ever looked at your hands and thought about all they have done through the course of your lifetime? I know that sounds weird, but really, if you think about all you do with your hands in a single day, the thought of what you’ve done with them over a lifetime can be mind-boggling!
When I was little I loved to play in the mud. I would dig in the dirt made wet and gooey by the rain and would make pies and other “delectables” We threw mud-bombs at each other and we covered the side of the house with a thick layer of nature’s “paint”. As I grew older, my creativity would lean more towards writing and I would write for so long that my hand would cramp. Still, I would shake it, massage my palm and my fingers, and start writing once again.
Over the years I learned to crochet, cross-stitch, and sew. One of the first big projects I ever did on my own was to make the baptismal gown that most of our children have been baptized in. Looking at it now, I see all the mistakes I made, but I know it was made with such love and devotion that I can easily look past those sewing errors. I loving stitched together matching dresses for my girls and vests for by boys when they were small. With the very same hands, I have made more meals than I can count. These hands have been busy!
My hands have been held tightly while watching a movie and gently kissed on my first date with Mike. They trembled with excitement as I felt my husband slipped a ring onto my finger on my wedding day. I would reach out with these hands to grasp my babies as they were born, tenderly stroking their faces and then carefully cradling them next to my heart. These hands have bandaged boo-boos, rubbed sore backs, caressed fevered heads, and bathed more slippery baby bodies than seems possible. They have shook hands with famous people, clapped in appreciation and joy, and covered my face in sadness. They have gingerly taken care of my dying mother and then grasped my father-in-law’s hand tightly as he slipped from this life into the next.
As much as my hands have experienced, often when I look them, I don’t see any of those things. Most of the time when I look down at my hands, I am reminded of Joseph, Sarah, and William- babies I held for just a moment in time. Some days, the memories take my breath away.
Joseph, Sarah, and William are not the only babies we have lost through the years. There are many more, but most of those losses were so early in my pregnancy I wasn’t able to hold my babies. With the few others that were lost later in pregnancy, I didn’t know I could have the option to have their remains and so I didn’t. Joseph would be the first my hands would cradle as my tears gently bathed his tiny body and my heart cried out in agony.
He fit so perfectly in my hands. I remember lifting his hand, one so tiny it’s hard to imagine, with my own. It was so little compared to my own finger. I thought about all the things his hands would never do- the mud pies he’d never make and the pictures he’d never draw for me. When I look at my hands now I see him there, lying so quiet, so still. His skin was pale and thin. I couldn’t see completely through it, but I could see the shadow of his heart, the heart that I had watched stop beating on ultrasound the week before; the heart that I willed to beat once again. While we have pictures of him, I don’t need to get them out to see him. I only have to look at my hands and I am transported right back to that day when my heart felt so much love and so much pain all in the same moment.
It wouldn’t be long before I was holding yet another baby in my hands. Sarah was born at 12 weeks. She was so much smaller than her brother and her birth was different as well. My hands and heart each hold a different memory of Sarah’s birth. Where Joseph’s birth was very peaceful and beautiful, hers was frantic. With Joseph, my water broke and he was born. Sarah’s birth would not be so easy. She was so little that at first I couldn’t find her amongst all of the blood. I remember crying in despair as I searched for her. I have the distinct memory of looking at my hands covered in blood and thinking how no one should ever have to go through a birth like this. Little did I know that we would go through something even harder when William was born.
Sarah was tiny. Whereas Joseph could fit in my hand, Sarah could fit on my thumb. She had stopped growing well before her heart stopped beating. I wasn’t prepared for how small she was. I had never before seen a baby so little, so beautiful, so perfect. You could see her eyes, her feet, and her hands- hands that were too little to hold.
Months later when we found out we were expecting William, I was overjoyed at the thought of being able to hold and cradle another baby. After all the pain our hearts had endured, we hoped for the best. As it was, God had other plans. William was born too early. Only halfway through my pregnancy, he was too fragile to survive. His birth and death were tragic and life-changing. One of my most vivid memories I have of his birth is when a nurse came to me long after William had been born and gently took my hands and tried to clean them. Blood was dried deep into the lines of my hands and underneath my fingernails. It had stayed on my hands for so long that they were stained red and she couldn’t get the blood completely off. It physically hurt to look at my hands.
Later that night, when I was all alone in my room with William, I held him in my hands and looked over every inch of him. I gathered him to me and pressed him against my skin next to my heart. I willed life back into him. My heart cried out to God, “My God! Why have you forsaken me?” There were no answers, only silence. I held William for a long time, my fingers gently caressing him. When I thought I couldn’t take another moment of the pain, I picked up my rosary and fingering the beads, I prayed while I held my son.
There are times when I look at my hands and I am overwhelmed at what they have been through; overwhelmed at what they have held. There are many days, despite how full my life is, my hands feel empty. There is a physical ache to hold the babies who once were in my hands and yet now are so far away from me. I often look at them and see their little bodies, so perfect and so beautiful, and my heart cries out in agony; I long to stroke their faces, to kiss their cheeks, and to hold their hands.
When I look at my hands I see you. I am thankful for God’s gift of life and His trust in me. I wish that you were each still here with us. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of you. I love you with every fiber of my being. I miss you terribly.
My hands once held you, my heart always will.