We crowd into the room, shuffling songsheets so everyone can see, children in front. I turn so Jeff can read the chords, the neck of the guitar jutting awkwardly in front of me. We have an audience of two.
He lies next to her on the bed, on her left. He is neatly dressed, his white hair carefully combed. She lies slack-jawed, eyes staring up to the ceiling. Purple blotches cover her arm. Her right hand rests loosely on a baby doll placed on her chest. He is holding her left.
He smiles and wishes us a Merry Christmas. He has a request: Could we sing “O Holy Night”?
We find it on our songsheets and begin to sing. The key is a bit high, and we search for the top notes of the chorus.
He closes his eyes as we sing.
They have been married for 50 years. She has been in this room for three. When the dementia blossomed, she forgot his name and began asking for the man who left her a widow in her 20s. He requested a larger bed be brought into the room so they could lie next to each other. So he could hold her hand. Some would say he belongs outside this building, but he does not agree.
We marry ‘til death do us part, but we do not choose the manner of our parting. We speak with longing of the desire to grow old together, but we do not picture this. And yet he stays, and he waits for what is next, and he holds her hand.
“Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name all oppression shall cease.”
Oppression ceasing. No more slack jaw, no more vacant stare. No more hours of airless waiting, marked off by the whir of the blood pressure monitor. The death of death at the birth of Christ. O holy night.
My eyes are pulled to the hand strumming the guitar.
I will hold that hand. I will hold it. Or it will hold mine. I do not know what the years will bring, but I know this with increasing certainty: that hand will stay in my hand. And we will wait together, for as long as we are given, for the end of oppression. He has come. He is coming.
“Thank you, that was beautiful.”
He is being kind—-we are not great singers. I am the one who should speak those words. Thank you. Thank you for the hope in your hand.