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Squeeze My Hand and I’ll Tell You That I Love You – By Mary Marcdante

May 14, 2012

Remember when you were a child and you fell and hurt yourself? Do you remember what your mother did to ease the pain? My mother, Grace Rose, would pick me up, carry me to her bed, sit me down and kiss my “owwie”. Then she’d sit on the bed beside me, take my hand in hers and say, “When it hurts, squeeze my hand and I’ll tell you that I love you.” Over and over I’d squeeze her hand, and each time, without fail, I heard the words, “Mary, I love you.”

Sometimes, I’d find myself pretending I’d been hurt just to have that ritual with her.

One morning, when I was in my late 30s, following a visit by my parents the night before, my father phoned me at work. He was always commanding and clear in his directions, but I heard confusion and panic in his voice. “Mary, something’s wrong with your mother and I don’t know what to do. Please come over as quickly as you can.”

The 10-minute drive to my parents’ home filled me with dread, wondering what was happening to my mother. When I arrived, I found Dad pacing in the kitchen and Mom lying on their bed. Her eyes were closed and her hands rested on her stomach. I called to her, trying to keep my voice as calm as possible. “Mom, I’m here.”


“Yes, Mom.”

“Mary, is that you?”

“Yes, Mom, it’s me.”

I wasn’t prepared for the next question, and when I heard it, I froze, not knowing what to say.

“Mary, am I going to die?”

Tears welled up inside me and I looked at my loving mother lying there so helpless.

My thoughts raced, until this question crossed my mind: What would Mom say?

I paused for a moment that seemed like a million years, waiting for the words to come. “Mom, I don’t know if you’re going to die, but if you need to, it’s okay. I love you.”

She cried out, “Mary, I hurt so much.”

Again, I wondered what to say. I sat down beside her on the bed, picked up her hand and heard myself say, “Mom, when it hurts, squeeze my hand and I’ll tell you that I love you.”

She squeezed my hand.

“Mom, I Love you.”

Many hand squeezes and “I love you’s” passed between my mother and me during the next two years, until she passed away from ovarian cancer. We never know when our moments of truth will come, but I do know now that when they do, whomever I’m with, I will offer my mother’s sweet ritual of love every time. “When it hurts, squeeze my hand and I’ll tell you that I love you.”

[This story by Mary Marcdante appears on pages 25 to 27 of Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul. It was shared as part of our Mother’s Day Reflection at our Services yesterday. Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul can be borrowed from the Book Nook outside my Office. To my mind, this story goes well with Robert N. Munsch‘s Love You Forever. A video of the latter being read by Munsch is embedded below. It can also be borrowed from my Book Nook.]

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