These Hands

Mrs. Bradley lived in Room 325 of the Lilac Manor Senior Care. As a hospice chaplain I visited her regularly. With translucent skin and delicate bones, Mrs. Bradley reminded me of a baby bird woman. She listened to me politely each week waiting for me to go away. One afternoon I asked, “I know you’re too nice to tell me to buzz off but I don’t want to bother you. Mrs. Bradley tell me what you want.”
“I want,” Mrs. Bradley said tossing her sudoku magazines on the table. “to play poker. The only one who plays here is Midge and she cheats.”
We used to play every week. In the nursing home sunroom with the sunburnt pothos and hostile pet parrot, we sat and played cards. I was good and she was better. Eventually we talked, mostly I talked. I covered going to college, dropping out, returning to college and seminary. I covered my little apartment, my ancient car, my parents, my boyfriend not boyfriend. She told me about winning an art prize in high school and working at the perfume counter at Gimbels. I could picture her elegant fingers showing a fancy bottle of scents.
“I unload my heart to you every week, Mrs. B. I don’t even know about your family,” I said once walking her back to her room.
“Your heart is young and joyful. I’m pleased to listen. I’m old and empty. I married my best friend. We had a good life and two children, so beautiful. Jim died young and my girls well they are focused on their own lives.” As Mrs. Bradley talked her blu veined hands turned upwards holding emptiness.
At two am not long after that I got the call she had had a stroke. I rushed to her bedside. Instead of her neat cardigan with jeweled sweater clips and her tidy bun, Mrs. Bradley was in a shapeless hospital gown unable to talk to move each breath labored. I prayed, contacted her family, made final arrangements, the chaplain duties.
Then I talked about getting a dog and my cousin’s upcoming wedding and the fight I had with my dad. I stroked these empty hands that lived and lost and put my hand in hers.

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