Dear Huhana and Kāhu,
Today when we visited my Grandad, your Great Grandad, he was having a bad day. He was flicking his red-rimmed eyes from side to side, as he flipped from sad to frustrated and back. The nurses told us to take him somewhere quiet. We tried, but even your usual two and five year old antics couldn’t cheer him up. So we just sat there, him in his wheelchair, me on the foot of the bed holding his hand, and you two milling around at his side. Kāhu, you tapped away at the rubber on his wheels like the mechanic in the making you seem to be right now.
Granddad’s knuckles are like knobbled tree roots dried hard. The skin on his hands, dry and thin. But his grip still squeezes like the vice in his workshop. Maker’s hands. Mum’s hands. Mine. He doesn’t say anything, just sits there holding my hand. His eyes search the world outside his window obviously still unsure where he is. He frowns and squeezes my fingers stronger, sighs, lets go, then squeezes again like he’s trying to figure something out. I want to say, “You’re nearly a hundred, Grandad, don’t be too hard on yourself.” Something comforting. Something nice. But I don’t. What do I know about all that? I just sit and squeeze his hand back in return.
Then you sway up to the side of his wheelchair, Kāhu, and reach your hand out. You place four little fingers on that leathery skin of his, your pads on the back of his hand. Just touching, not really holding, your fingers are too small for much more. And his eyes move to you, and the edges of his mouth lift. I don’t think he remembers you right now, but I don’t think he needs to. He remembers what love is. He knows the feeling of a two year old grasping at a grown up. He held my Mum, my Uncles and my Aunty when they were as small as you, then my sisters, my brother and me too.
Sitting there, I like to think he remembers that act, and everything that holding hands means. I like to think he recognises even then, when nothing else makes sense, that you reaching out, making human contact says ‘I love you, and that’s the most important thing’. Such a small act for you, placing your hand on his, might have been the most happy moment of his day.
And that’s what we were there for. Grandad was having a bad time. And you reaching out helped him smile. Thank you for holding his hand. I hope you remember the grin that little act lifted, and I hope you know you can do the same whenever you choose.
And that’s what we’re here for. One small act from you, the tiny effort of reaching out, can sometimes be all it takes to make someone else’s day. That message of love can be the touch that brings their eyes back from the window, to focus again on life – to smile again and remember. You might be surprised who needs that right now. Reach out first, don’t wait until you see the tears in their eyes.
Someone said we’re all just walking each other home and I think they were right. Some of us are closer to home than others, but we’re all on the same hīkoi together. We might as well hold hands for the walk.
Love you, Dad.