The Feeling of Her Hand


October 20, 2015 by Katia

To my grandma on the eve of what would have been her ninety fourth birthday.


I don’t know what it is about bedtime. Maybe it’s that quiet time of day that welcomes contemplation. A time for withdrawing inward and staring at your fears. Maybe it’s the sheer visual likeness between sleep and death, but time after time as I lie down in bed with him my six year-old son will bring up my mortality and occasionally his own. Sometimes he’ll hold back his tears, because he’s a big, six year-old boy and sometimes he’ll succumb to them whimpering softly or sobbing inconsolably.

Last night I saw the signs. His voice became so tiny, it felt like I was witnessing his inner dialogue, the words came out of his mouth rapid and slurry then all of a sudden loud and clear, even if choked:

but I never want to lose the feeling of his hand! And I never want to lose your cuddle!

He would be so sad, he explained to me fighting back tears and occasionally losing, if he ever forgot what his parents felt like.

But here’s the thing. You never forget that!


So I told him about Babushka Tala’s hands.

My grandma passed away last December when she was ninety three. Before experiencing loss, I read my fair share of accounts of others on how they’ve dealt with loss and grief. A recurring detail in some of those stories was the grainy quality and gradual blurriness that much too quickly takes over your memories, initially playing in your head on an HD screen. You start forgetting what the voice of the person you’re grieving sounds like. Some would mention forgetting facial expressions or even certain features. It made loss seem like an active, ongoing process. I now know that indeed I have to struggle some days to resurrect Babushka’s voice unique as it was — naturally low and fuelled by a lifetime of smoking, the subject of endless internal family jokes. Anecdotes about her don’t pour out of me on demand, when my six-year-old asks for an entertaining story about his great grandma. But I am haunted by the touch of her hands.

The sensation of those firm fingers visits me unexpectedly, like a ghost, and brings me much comfort.

What were her hands like? He asks.

Strong, I tell him, firm.

Unapologetic. Unlike her. Her touch was reassuring. It promised stability, even if she never believed in it herself.

Maybe they were a reflection of her biography, in a way. Withered. Sturdy. They were a vehicle channeling her different attributes: a lit up cigarette, a pen and notebook jotting down sarcastic thoughts, holding a book for hours, holding the phone to her ear as she worriedly dials you.

You know, Babushka Tala had healing hands, I remember all of a sudden.

When I was a little girl and she’d put me to sleep, if I ever complained about any pain, she’d place her hand over it. I remember her hand on my tummy. I don’t know if it was the power of suggestion, I tell him in not so many words, but it always worked. He immediately takes it to the superhero realm, and I calmly walk him back to Tel-Aviv in the 1980s.

Although, she must have had some real power, as she was able to stop her own bleeding and would always tell us about it proudly.

His eyes widen as things get so much cooler all of a sudden.

See, I told you how I’ve always had cats growing up and all of our cats, for some unknown reason, had real passion for Babushka Tala’s hands. Her hands were a cat magnet and unfortunately they used to scratch them, bite them, scrape them, you name it. Babushka would then stare at her own hands and make them stop bleeding.

He is satisfied now. He wants to hear stories about ways that Babushka Tala was funny and again I struggle a bit but come up with some examples. How do you explain sarcasm and self deprecation to a six-year-old? Before he falls asleep he asks to look at a picture of the two of them together on one of our visits back home and I tell him that in the morning, I will show him one.

Daniel 1 + Israel 126

But there’s also another picture. One that I don’t tell him of.

The last picture of Baba Tala and me together. It was taken at the hospital when I flew back home to see her, when we thought we were about to lose her, three months before she died. When I walked into the hospital room she was firmly grasping the metal railing of her bed.  And I was flooded with memories of grasping hands. Babushka holding that little handle above the passenger seat’s side window in the car, something I’ve never seen anyone else do. I remember her hands grasping the sides of her hospital bed years earlier, when she’d broken her hip for the first time. Always grasping. Maybe that was her looking for stabiity.

When I last saw her, Babushka Tala wandered between sleep and wakefulness, both startlingly similar. When our eyes met her face would light up and shine and then she would stare into something unknown and wander back into sleep, seamlessly, always holding my hand.


29 thoughts on “The Feeling of Her Hand

  1. Grandy says:

    This entry has a lot of my favorite things: little boys (I have 2), the emotional pull of memories, the bond of family, and the legacy of generations who helped us to stand where we are now. Just beautiful and nice way to start my morning.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much. I read your comment this morning on my way to work and it warmed my heart. It’s always very gratifying when your words travel far and resonate with someone else. You’ve warmed my heart. Thank you!

  2. roweeee says:

    Thank you so much for sharing all these precious moments: your son’s questions and wonderings and your relationship with your Grandmaother. My grandfather was 95 when he died a few years ago. I alwyas photographed our hands. His hands shook badly in the last couple of years and he used to hold his hands together to keep them still. I remember taking his hand and setting the shaking free and the intense irritation it caused him. His hands shaking and trying to fight their way back together again. It was quite draining n some ways to see him in those last years and yet it was also very uplifting. He was so precious and he got to meet and hold our kids, which was special. Thank you for helping me to relive those memories tonight as I prepare to head off to bed. I hope for sweet dreams xx Rowena

    • Katia says:

      That you so much for this very personal and heartfelt comment. I was reading it on my way to work this morning and had to fight back tears. I don’t think I ever realized what a central feature the hands were until I wrote this. 🙂 Hope you had a good night with all the sweet dreams you wished for. XOXO

      • roweeee says:

        You’re welcome, Katia. I related very closely to what you wrote as well.
        My other grandfather spoke about hands on his death bed. He had lost a leg to cancer and those comments have always stayed with me and perhaps underly why I’ve photographed hands ever since. Take care xx Rowena

  3. amiezor says:

    Beautiful, just beautiful.

  4. Oh Katia, this is so beautiful. I remember the smell and feel of my grandpa’s cheek. He’s been gone almost 2 years but I know that I will forever keep this little part of him. ❤

    • Katia says:

      So interesting to me that out of everything it was the tactile memory that prevailed. Interesting that it’s the same for you (plus the smell). Hugs to you, dear friend.

  5. samivalles says:

    Beautifully written and felt.

  6. vnktchari says:

    Very interesting and appealing story. It is a tribute to your worthy grand mother and at the same time a moral message parting to your son to value and honour the great legacy.
    I have lost my wife exactly 3 years back and yesterday was the 3rd anniversary we celebrated. You may like to view the tribute posted by me to my wife at this link.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much. I appreciate your words of wisdom. I look forward to reading your words of tribute.

    • Katia says:

      I just read your post and couldn’t comment there, but what a touching and lovely tribute. Every word is wrapped with so much love and appreciation that I’m sure she would have been both thrilled and humbled to read this. And you’re right, remembering is the wrong verb as we never really do forget. Wishing you and your children lots of peace.

  7. ghabeba says:

    just beautiful!

  8. Ellen B says:

    I had a special relationship with my grandmother which I never got to enjoy as an adult. I often wonder what conversations we would have now. Her hands and feet are a vivid memory. Every time I wiggle my toes I think of her. Thank you for a lovely read.

    • Katia says:

      And thank you for a lovely comment! It’s such a cliche to say this, but that longing is so bitter sweet, isn’t it? I’m so sorry you didn’t get to experience your grandma as an adult. I didn’t experience as a mom (meaning after I turned into a mom six years ago). I left Israel 8 years ago and had my kids in Canada. It always saddened me that my present (and future) is cut off from my past. My grandma got to see my older son twice but she was already deeply affected by dementia. What I mean by that is that I can completely relate to the feeling you describe of not getting to enjoy your grandma as you enter a different stage in your life. I’d like to think that even though we didn’t get to enjoy them, they still do get to enjoy us. xoxox

  9. I’m so sorry for your loss! I lost my brother almost 6 years ago and I plan to write of my experiences with grief. Did you find it therapeutic writing this? I hope so:)

    • Katia says:

      Wow. I’m so so sorry. Thank you so so much for reading, commenting and opening up about your personal experience. Yes, it’s not the first time I’m writing about her (and I suspect it’s not the last one either) but I have all these different thoughts, images and emotions brewing in me like lava and it definitely feels therapeutic to spill them onto paper, or a computer screen – as it were, and then rinse and repeat 🙂 I was somewhat prepared for this happening, as my grandma was very sick and old therefore writing about it didn’t bring up anything traumatic, although it stirred a lot of emotions. You probably know best whether you’re prepared to touch this subject. Much love and peace to you and please feel free to share once or if you’ve written something. xoxo

  10. This is one of the many things that capture my respect for women, their inordinate abilities to express very complex, deeply profound human emotions. Men, for the most part, lack this capability. You, my lady, excel in your craft. You have my respect. God bless you…


    • Katia says:

      Hi Bill, this is a huge compliment and reading it a couple of days ago warmed my heart. I’m glad I was able to express my (still raw) emotions coherently. Have a wonderful day,

  11. lrconsiderer says:

    So beautiful, Katia, and I’m so glad you’re able to use this kind of family story as a parent, to offer comfort to your son. That’s awesome and just lovely. I’m glad you have such beautiful memories and moments in your past, and that you recall them so perfectly well.

    I’m beginning to lose the memories of my grandad. I realised that recently when I was trying to describe him to a friend. I was sad about that.

  12. This is lovely – I have a very similar photo of me and my mum’s hands the day after her stroke. I thought I was losing her and so I took her handprint and had it made onto a silver charm which I wear on my wrist…. at first it was for the grief and loss of her. But now, five years later, that handrprint no longer feeds represents my grief but my strength. It no longer represents my loss but her love and although her hands meant everything to me, I live with her handprint on my heart… as you will too. Her love and influence will always be a hand on your back….

    • Katia says:

      I read this comment yesterday and carries the warmth of it in me all day. Thank you for such a thoughtful andll heartfelt comment. I know you’re right. This comes at a very meaningful time for me.

  13. Melissa Rose says:

    You have a natural talent for capturing honest human emotion…I’m drawn to your stories. Truly beautiful.

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