Last month, I hosted my first-ever Meaningful Moments Writing Contest for my email subscribers. Two winners were selected, with the grand prize being their stories featured here on the Ink & Impact blog.
It is with pleasure that I share the first winning entry, an excerpt from Linda Bragg’s memoir-in-the-making, Heart Thieves.
Linda’s other writing has appeared in the Tampa Bay Times and she has won awards from the American PEN Women’s Writing Contest/Pinellas County Chapter and the Writers-Editors Network International Writing Competition.
My Sister’s Hands
by Linda Bragg
My sister had elegant hands with long, slim fingers and not a snag of cuticle. They were the sort of hands you see on television where the handsome prince-of-a-husband slips a diamond ring onto his beloved’s finger – not hands like mine, utilitarian, scrub-a-day sort of hands – but hands that were made to lift a teacup with an aristocratic curve of the pinkie.
Yet these graceful hands had nothing to do with tea parties or expensive rings. They dealt with the raising of four children, cooking countless meals, and rolling crust for holiday pies. Her hands washed mounds of laundry and dishes after a day of work pounding at her company’s computer. They cut the hair of homeless people as part of a ministry she loved. Her hands didn’t lift teacups, but dainty seashells from her favorite Turtle Beach.
I never realized how one day her hands would become such a focus for me. She was dying from cancer and confined to a nursing facility. Her hands, fingertips touching like a house of cards, lay atop her belly. Her body, once plump, had withered to the point that the one ring she wore now swung loosely on her finger like the earth around the sun.
One afternoon, a tall, lanky boy entered her room. His jeans were torn at the knee, a red bandanna circled his head. He was a friend of one of my nephews. “I just have to see her,” he told me. The boy sat in a chair next to her, gently holding her hand. My sister had been given an injection for pain and her eyes were closed. He talked to her softly, in words that moved me – this boy, who was not my sister’s child, spoke to her as if he were.
“Mom, I can’t stand to see you like this. Please get better, Mom. You’re an angel. Please get better.” Tears sprang from his eyes as he talked to her. He stood suddenly and strode out of the room; I followed. Outside, we hugged.
“Don’t let this get you off course,” I told this young boy. “She would want you to have a good and happy life.”
“I can’t stand to see her like that,” he said. “She’s like a mother to me. She’s an angel.” We said good-bye and I watched him disappear around the corner.
She had many other visitors; some came alone, others came in groups to pray with her. Although weak, my sister greeted each with a dignified lift of her hand. As if a plan had been agreed upon previously, her visitors commented on her beautiful hands. Her face, having lost so much substance, was one they could hardly recall. They all told her they loved her. I came to realize the depth and breadth of my sister’s life by the number of people she had touched and who loved her in return.
She cried only once. The holidays were near when she focused her ravaged, sunken eyes on me and said, “I don’t want to die on Christmas because of my kids.”
One morning, a few days before Christmas, I entered my sister’s room to find another colorful bouquet had been delivered to the group of others on a shelf. Someone had brought a tiny Christmas tree complete with twinkling lights and sprinkled with button-size decorations. I read the cards to her. Former co-workers – people she hadn’t worked with for over a year – had sent the bouquet and festive tree. “They don’t know how much this means to me,” she said as I dabbed away her grateful tears.
Rag-doll weak, she wasn’t able to unwrap her gifts. I opened them for her as we waited for her daughter to arrive from out of state; I prayed she would get there in time. I showed her a photo her daughter had sent – my niece and her husband holding my sister’s first grandchild, a grandson. I placed the picture in my sister’s hand. She studied their lovely, fresh faces. In a rush of sudden fatigue, her hand dropped to her chest, the photo clasped to her heart in a mother’s final hug. Her eyes closed in a silent goodbye to her only daughter.
As I left that day, I did what had become habit for me: I turned to look at her. Sometimes I was in my car only to return to her to hug her one more time – to tell her I loved her once more. At the doorway, I paused. It was the first time I saw her turned away from me. It was the last time I would see her alive. She died the next day. She had lived through Christmas.
My sister was cremated. Her children wanted to return her to her beloved Turtle Beach. On a dim, bitter January day, we drove to the beach, huddling together in the salt-rich squall. The pastor bore a simple box. It held what was physically left of her. The bits of bone resembled chipped pieces of polished shell. They looked as though they were going home to their proper place. My hands dug into her essence. I grasped the fullness of her. Unfurling my hand, I watched her fly with the wind as I prayed a silent prayer: Goodbye. I love you. I’ll see you again.