Life and Death in Our Hands

I remember that Saturday 
Bletchley – Queensway 
My memories of the street,
Hazy through the mists of decades of time
But the memories of that conversation
As clear as the wrinkles that now adorn this face of mine

We stood together, hand in hand
Father and son
Outside the post office 
Man and boy. As one.  
But then you leant your head towards mine 
And gently told
That I – Your son, 
Might be too old
For my hand to be in yours.

I have no idea what that felt like for you
And how or if you prepared
But at seven or eight years young 
I felt a little scared 
I felt a little hurt
I felt more than a little confused
But oddly grown up
Those big hands would no longer keep mine safe between them. 
Their warmth would no longer warm mine
But there was a sense of acceptance. 
This is what we did now.
Whether I was ready or not.  

Ours was not a touchy feely relationship 
You were not a touchy feely man
For thirty years,
As boy and man
As youth and man
As man and man
We barely touched
Except to shake hands 
Until the cancer came
As you slept in the hospital bed
I held your hand.
But only while you slept. 
When you came home, we hugged. 
And it was clumsy
And truth be told
It always stayed pretty clumsy
But it was still a hug
And it was our hug.  
There was a sense of acceptance
This is what we did now
Whether you were ready or not.  

Ten hugging years and then  
Sadly you got ill again
I sit by your hospital bed once more
Your hand in mine for days on end 
And your hand most definitely holding mine back
And there was a sense of acceptance
That this is what we did now
And that we’re both ready for it.  

I kissed your forehead
Warm against my lips
And said goodbye
That I would see you in the morning 
For what I thought may turn out to be the last time

It wasn’t to be 
Within the hour, the call came
We think he’s gone – the lack of certainty quite in keeping with recent days
I arrived and saw you.
I sat and held your hand
As I had done so many times in recent weeks
For the next hour
Maybe two 

That’s when it strikes me
Should your hand still be
So warm
I reach over
And touch your other hand
It is cold.  

Just as your hand, all those years ago, 
provided warmth and safety to mine
Until I was ready to let go
So the warmth of my hand
Brought warmth to your hand 
As your body chilled around it
Until I was ready to let go once more. 

And then
It is time
I kiss your forehead
Now cold against my lips
And finally, let your hand go
A sense of acceptance
That this is what I must do now
Whether I am ready or not.

(c) Michael Gurner – February 2019