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"Her Hands" | A Poem for My Mother

Updated on October 10, 2011

My Mother Died of Breast Cancer 15 Years Ago

Writing poetry can be a cathartic and cleansing experience. I wrote this poem about six months after my mother's death, spilling almost complete onto the paper, needing little revision afterward. This is, as you may guess, an intensely personal poem I have not shared with many people until now.

My mother has been gone for fifteen years now, and we just passed what would have been her 70th birthday.

Poem and photos copyright © 1990-2011 Carma Paden.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Do not copy without permission.

Photo copyright 2011 tandemonimom. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Photo copyright 2011 tandemonimom. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

1965, my mom with my older sister and me.

My mother, Betty Jane Stewart, was a gracious Southern lady born in Memphis, Tennessee. She married a Texan and raised her children in Texas. She was horrified by the Texas hillbilly drawl coming from her children's mouths and would not let us get away with "whur" and "thar" instead of "where" and "there" - but she never lost her own sweet Tennessee accent.

She died in May 1996 when my only child was eight months old. She was 54 years old and the breast cancer of a few years before had metastasized to her liver. She was survived by her mother, her husband of thirty-four years, her three children, and five of her nine grandchildren (all three of my sister's children, one of my brother's two children, and one of my four children were already born). Her father and two brothers predeceased her.

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Psalm 116:15

Precious in the sight of the Lord

is the death of his saints.

Photo copyright tandemonimom. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Photo copyright tandemonimom. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

My mother, Betty Jane Stewart.

This photo was taken after her breast cancer, but before it moved to her liver.

Her Hands

for my mother, addressed to my daughter

In your high chair you sit

beside me at the sink

watching my hands in and out of the soapy water

When suddenly I am not at the sink looking down

but beside it looking up

up at her hands in water like this

Hands that looked then as mine look now

long and a little bony

with veins that show ropy and blue

And through a sudden shine of tears

I cannot see my hands at all

or you

But only her hands

hands that will not hold mine again

hands that won't write my name again

Hands that lifted you only once

then waited for others to place you gently in her lap

then folded together empty forever

Your sweet fat hands my daughter

that look like starfish now

in silhouette against a nightlighted ceiling

Your hands like mine

will grow long and a little bony

will someday show blue ropy veins

And you will wonder peevishly

why your hands must grow to look like mine

as I once wondered why mine must grow like hers

You will not know that they are her hands

long departed

and that her hands caressed you through mine

Poem and photos copyright 1990-2011 Carma Paden.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Do not copy without permission.


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    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 

      5 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      Beautiful tribute to your mom. I really enjoyed reading the poem

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 

      5 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      Beautiful tribute to your mom. I really enjoyed reading the poem

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 

      5 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      Beautiful tribute to your mom. I really enjoyed reading the poem

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      7 years ago from United States

      Beautifully written! I can barely see through the tears to write my comment. How wonderful to be blessed with such a wonderful mother. Our angel quest was to search one word and find lenses worthy of blessing. I chose Memphis. This is a wonderful lens and I am so glad my journey brought me here. You have been blessed,

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      7 years ago from Canada

      What an amazing poem - you had me crying too. Your mom sounds like a positive force in your world who will remain with you forever. You are a tribute to her.

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 

      7 years ago from Canada

      Nicely done, Carma. Bet you still miss your Mom a lot.

    • clouda9 lm profile image

      clouda9 lm 

      7 years ago

      Yes, I too had a lump in my throat as I read this. Beautiful, lovely, real tribute to your precious mother!

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Lovely poem - I had to take a sip of my coffee to smooth the lump in my throat. Poetry seems to turn out well when it arises from a strong emotion like this. Lensrolling to my lens Mothers Day - a Tribute to My Mother, and also here are some Angel Blessings, you deserve them

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      The poem is lovely - a great tribute

    • jmsp206 profile image

      Julia M S Pearce 

      7 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Lovely poem about your and story your mother!

    • AbsoluteJeanius1 profile image


      7 years ago

      Beautiful poem. Loved the pics of your mom - such kind eyes she had!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Right from your heart to the paper indeed! Beautiful - both the poem and your mom. And yes, you do look like her.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 

      7 years ago from California

      What a beautiful way to pay homage to your Mom.

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 

      7 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      Beautifully written! You look a lot like her:) I'm so sorry you lost her so young.

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 

      7 years ago

      And I can see her face in yours. Thank you for sharing this beautiful, personal story of your Mom.


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