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Detail of Lisa's hands, her right hand resting...


Her Mother’s Hand

By Teru Lundsten 

     It was Friday afternoon. Frances’ mother called and said, “There are drops of blood on my floor.”

     “We’ll be right over,” said Frances.

     Frances and her husband Mike took her mother to the hospital in their Audi. Mike drove, her mother sat in the passenger seat, and Frances in the back seat. Her mother looked pleasantly at the buildings gliding by, as if she were a tourist, never to see them again. “This is a nice car,” she said.

     Mike dropped them off at the emergency room entrance and went to find a parking place. Surprisingly, there were two steps up to the door. Frances’ mother wavered and Frances offered her hand. Her mother took it and Frances helped her up the steps. As her mother’s foot landed on the top step, she snatched her hand away.

     She was seen immediately and admitted. Sunday evening, having summoned her sisters back east, Frances sat alone with her mother in her hospital room. Her mother rearranged herself restlessly in her bed and muttered, “I love you.”

     Frances heard her, but she wanted to hear it more clearly. “What did you say?” she asked.

     “I love you,” her mother repeated, still not looking at her.

     “I love you too,” Frances replied. “I love you too.” She said it twice, just like her mother did.

On Monday Frances’ mother went into a coma and was transferred to the ICU. Frances spent the night there, sleeping off and on in a chair at her mother’s bedside. Monitors ticked, beeped, and pinged in rhythm and harmony. Frances’ sisters flew out on red-eyes.

The sun shone brightly on Tuesday morning, the summer solstice. IVs sparkled on a pole like ornaments on a tree. Frances’ sisters arrived within an hour of each other, and their mother died an hour after that. 

Her body was swollen because her kidneys had not eliminated the fluids from the IV. Her features were bulbous, and her mouth was taped wide open with a respirator still pumping oxygen into her lungs. Her face was a grotesque, puffy mask, but curiously artistic.

A few days later, an autopsy determined that she had died of an advanced case of undiagnosed liver cancer.

As Frances made arrangements at the funeral home, she asked, “How will I know if you cremate the right body?”

“We can expose one of her hands,” said the funeral home director. “You’ll know.”

On the appointed day, Frances and Mike went to the funeral home, downstairs to the crematorium. Frances’ mother’s body lay in a simple wooden box, shrouded in plastic. Her right hand lay elegantly on her abdomen. Someone had taken care to place the fingers together.

Swollen as it was, Frances knew it was her mother’s, and nodded. An attendant placed her mother’s hand under the plastic. Another attendant assisted him in putting the lid on the box and the box in the oven. They closed and secured the door, and flames ignited in a loud whoosh. One of the attendants said the cremation would take several hours. Frances and Mike listened to the whooshing sound for another few moments, then left.