My Dad, who just turned 97, lost my Mom exactly two years ago, after a remarkable marriage that lasted nearly 69 years. I say remarkable because my parents were not only devoted to each other, but were often cited by others as a model for the way a marriage and lifetime partnership should work. When asked, they would always say that a sense of humour was a key to their success.
They also believed in taking time to celebrate their marriage by marking their “monthaversary” on the ninth of every month. Even while raising five active kids and assorted hangers-on, Mom and Dad always went out together on their monthaversary to have time alone together. They also repeated their wedding vows on that date each month, a practice my husband Russ and I have adopted as well.
But just now, as Valentine’s Day approaches, I’m thinking of their hands-on love. Mom and Dad loved to hold hands. I noticed this particularly in the last few years. Whenever we would set up a group family photo, Mom would remind Dad (as if he needed reminding) that she wanted him beside her to hold her hand. When Mom could no longer walk over to Dad herself, he would come over to sit next to her and take her hand in his.
They also had a hand signal love ritual, one I remember learning as a child myself. One of them would squeeze the other’s hand four times (“Do you love me?”) and the other would respond with three squeezes (when I was a child, the “game” was, does that indicate “Yes I do” or “No I don’t”?). The response was two squeezes (“How much?”) and the finale was a long, strong squeeze indicating the strength of their love.
I can’t remember now, but I think it was Dad who, a few years ago, finally shared with me that this was their private signalling to each other of their love.
When my mother was gradually passing away from us two years ago, at home in her own bed with family close at hand (interesting how we use that expression), Dad asked for their twin beds to be pushed together, and for Mom to be turned onto her right side at night so he could reach over and hold her hand as they slept, side by side. That was also, by the way, the name of “their song”… Side by Side.
Dad had a hard time believing the kind hospice workers when they told him that Mom was actually dying. We’d been through close calls with Mom before, but this time the signs were clear and we all knew it was a gradual, peaceful, but final, decline…it was just a matter of days.
I remember the evening when Dad was able for the first time to accept the finality of Mom’s condition. He told the hospice worker, as we all sat discussing the situation once again, that he now agreed that this time things were different and he might be losing Mom. He said the way he knew this was because the two of them had a secret communication system that was fail-proof, but Mom hadn’t responded. For the first time ever, she hadn’t squeezed his hand.
Mom passed away a couple of days later, with Dad sitting beside her bed holding her hand, the sun streaming into their bedroom, and family surrounding them.
“Hands-On Love” © Star Weiss photo
“Emily and Gerry Weiss, side by side” © Star Weiss photo
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