Cold Hands, Warm Hands

Her hands were so cold. 

So she said. I told her to slide one into my circa 1995 chocolate brown leather jacket pocket. Along with mine, we filled the cubby and my heart revved like a little Honda 50cc in second gear. This was getting real. We laid on the freshly dewed grass beside Lake Bonnie and stared at the stars, at least that was my excuse, two cold hands melding hearts. That was our first romantic touch. 1996.

She drove a stick shift, a maroon 1995 Nissan Altima. I watched her hand as she changed gears. If you knew her, there was nothing surprising about the way that she drove. I could never figure out why she wanted to drive a stick, she was already short on hands between coffee, make-up application, a cell phone, and you know…driving. 10 and 2 was replaced by 6 and a knee. She loved to drive. For seven years she told me that the greatest thing that the disease had stolen from her was driving. 

Three years ago, I found myself reaching for her wrist. She was unsteady and I couldn’t just hold her hand. I was afraid that it wasn’t sturdy enough to keep her upright if she began to fall. She was frail and delicate. I had to keep her out of the inevitable wheelchair as long as I could. Some semblance of normality. We moved from holding lovers’ hands to holding a wrist for balance as she stumbled through hallways and aisles and foyers and lobbies.  

They say hindsight is 20/20, which isn’t actually true. Science has already shown us that we recreate the past by changing our memories. Framing them the way that we want to remember. Tiff hadn’t eaten in weeks. Barely drank anything each day for weeks. So, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when she woke up with a 105 degree temp Sunday morning- August 26. I immediately phoned her nurse, but she wasn’t available. The on-call nurse came and helped get the temperature to a manageable target. Triple digits. 

“Do you have a minute, I’d like to talk to you,” she said. I got mom and dad so that we could hear the gameplay together. Just another round of medicine I assumed. “Tiffanni has started to transition.”

Nine days before, Tiff and I saw a movie and ate at Dairy Queen. Well, I ate. She didn’t want anything and I couldn’t talk her into it. But I didn’t think anything of it. Transition. Three days before she went shopping with her dad. Transition. We did what most do. We argued with the nurse. She didn’t know Tiff and our situation. She was new to our family. Tiff just didn’t feel well, but would be fine when her fever went down. 

“In my professional opinion, you have two to three days.” I’ve never heard more jarring words. There was no container to put them in. They just fell out onto the floor. No way to process, no way to decipher, life-changing words.

“Sometimes they rally. Sometimes they catch a second wind and go back to normal for awhile, but I wouldn’t expect that. We can come check on you whenever you need- just let us know.” And she left. Four people in the house and I had never felt more lonely in my life. Never more hopeless.

The kids came home and I sat them down on the couch. They immediately knew something was wrong. A few years prior, I sat them down on the couch to tell them that our 15 year old dog had died while we were on vacation. I think it was my tone, or the way that I said, “Sit down, I need to tell you something.” I’ve traumatized them to couch sitting family meetings. I’ve been working on redeeming the couch with family devotions, but they still have big eyes every time that we sit down for a conversation. I usually start with, “Everything’s fine. Let’s sit down for a few minutes and talk.” It takes a few minutes of conversation for their hearts to slow down. It’s amazing how a single act, a single moment can condition a person.

 We cried a lot that day on the couch. The escapist part of me kept thinking that a few months from now, everything would be easier. The dad part of me just cried and listened. I was pretty good at both parts that day. “Can we see her,” they asked.

“Of course, but she probably can’t wake up. But you can climb in the bed with her and I bet that she knows you’re there.” So they took turns looking at her. Running their fingers through her hair. Laying in her arms. Crying on the bedsheet. Three puddles. Kids growing up in minutes. I felt sad. And guilty. And tired. And lonely. And protective. And somber. And a hundred feelings that don’t have names. 

We spent the next few hours oscillating between pretending like it was a normal day and talking about how it wasn’t. Homework and a TV show. Dinner and showers. A video game and bedtime prayers. All the while Tiff lay, transitioning, in the next room. Living and dying, the full spectrum, under the same roof. 

But then something miraculous happened. I went in to check on Tiff and she was awake staring at the ceiling. “Whatcha doing,” I asked. 

“Nothing.”

“The kids want to see you,” I said. I called for them and they all came from their normal life grief havens. That was one of the most special moments of my entire life. Where the living and the dying held hands. Ever briefly, but held hands nonetheless. 

Over the next hour, we talked, and laughed, and reminisced, and pretended we weren’t crying. I caught each kid turn away from Tiff to wipe tears, only to turn back and belt out a song. For the life of me, I can’t make sense out of what they sang to her. A three-part broken harmony rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Belted. Like top-of-the-lungs. Who knows what that was about. But they sang and Tiff smiled. Each kid kissed her goodnight, we prayed, and everyone went to bed. “She rallied,” I thought, “That nurse doesn’t know us.” And I went to sleep. 

Around midnight she woke up again. I heard her stirring and woke up as well. “I’m hungry,” she said. 

“You are? How about I go fix you a smoothie,” I responded. And she consented. She hadn’t eaten in days and here she was hungry. “What does that nurse know?” I thought. For the next hour we talked and laughed and she ate. Looking back, I think I knew it was our last conversation ever, but then again, hindsight plays a few games. I climbed in the bed with her and held her hand. Frail. Delicate. Sweet. 

The next morning her fever skyrocketed. It was obvious what had happened. She woke up to tell us goodbye. I called in all of the family because the next few hours would be the last. By mid-afternoon we were in the last moments. Twenty-four hours filled with everything that life offers.  

Her hands were so warm.

And she breathed her last breath. Just me and my sister talking in the ad hoc final stage bedroom while other family were taking a break. “It’s going to be a long night,” Hospice had said. It didn’t feel eventful or surreal. I had thought of that moment so many times over the last seven years. It wasn’t like any of those forecasted moments. Katye and I talked and I glanced back and forth at Tiff’s stomach, heavy breaths. Then they just stopped. I held her hand and waited for them to begin again. Please begin again. She was gone.  

I’ve replayed those moments a hundred times in the last twelve months. Twelve months. I’m not sure how many of you are still there, but I just needed to put this on paper. For me. For the kids. However I remember those last few days, factual or framed, I just needed to remember. As I look back over the words above, they seem so fragmented and disheveled. Just a shotgun blast of random thoughts to remember those last few days. Words are a sorry substitute for pictures. And that’s what I remember most about those last days. Pictures. Glimpses.

Thank you for helping me to grieve well. For reading my words and for praying for my kids. Thank you for your kind thoughts, both stated and just felt. I am grateful to have such amazing family and friends. Thank you. Sincerely, Jeremy.

69 Comments for “Cold Hands, Warm Hands”

Matt Ramm

says:

Thank you for sharing your grief with us. This was the saddest, yet most beautiful thing to read. I love you, man.

Elsie Cowart

says:

Jeremy, thank you so much for sharing. It brought back some memories of last moments with those close to me that have passed. It’s a good thing that the Lord calls us to remember. You have a gift for putting those memories into words . ❤️❤️

Lynda Dickenson

says:

Still here, still amazed at your ability to put these moments into words, and still thinking and praying for your family often.

MICHELLE

says:

Thank you for sharing your family with us. Praying for you and your children. May God continue to be with you and give you all peace & comfort that only He can. Hugs!!

David and Joy Newton

says:

Still here. Always. A bit weepy eyed sitting in Starbucks at the moment, but thinking of you and the family, praying, and remembering.

Noah and Cheryl Bowman

says:

Jeremy, thank you for sharing this. I felt like I was there with you. We are still praying for you and the kids.
Love to you all!
Cheryl & Noah

Patti Bauer

says:

Thank you Jeremy for sharing this with us. I can’t feel your pain because I am blessed to still have my husband. But that doesn’t prevent me from caring so deeply. It is amazing how one can remember the details of a loved one slipping away. I remember Daddy’s death from 1971 like it was yesterday. I’ve never been able to decide if that is good or bad…

Julie Kulp

says:

As I gave my testimony on our move to Alabama in the Frontline Ladies Bible Study this past Wednesday night and recalled the wonderful meal you and Tiffanni made for our family in 2010 when we came to visit Alabama and Kingwood Church to see if we could call this place our home. You opened your home, your family, and your hearts to us that night to a family you had never met before. It was such a fond memory I still vividly remember and such a delicious meal! As we sat around the kitchen table talking as we darted so many questions out to you both and you answered so calmly! Thank you for being so real, and so comforting! Praying for you during this difficult time. So glad we can now call Kingwood our “home!” Love you and your family so much!

Denise Lynn Kato

says:

Still here, still reading, still crying, still praying for a family I don’t know but who are dear friends of a friend, still wishing it had not had to be this way for all of you. Wishing that you and your family can find some peace and some comfort.

Graham

says:

Dang dude. I’m at work. I can’t go out of my office red faced and blurry eyed. There should be a disclaimer on this at the beginning. No one can stop reading once they have started.

Trish Sprinkle

says:

Thank you for sharing this uncharted journey with us . So thankful even when we have no direction He holds the compass .. keeping you all in my prayers as you journey on .. until the day you are reunited

Maureen

says:

I am a hospice nurse. I live these moments with families and it never gets easier. I pray for you and all who loved your Tiff.

Joy Standifer

says:

Thank you for giving us a glimpse into the love of your family. You give hope to so many! Love and prayers for you today.

Dianne Montgomery

says:

Hugs sweet guy and hugs for your kids too, everyday. Thank you for being so honest, so transparent. Thank you for putting into words emotions that seem impossible to describe. God is with you Jeremy.

says:

I cry as I read this, for you for your children, for the could have, should haves, what ifs.
There are the moments no one sees the thousands of memories, the tears, the heartaches, watching your children try to process all this and you cannot fix it for them.
Grieve anyway that helps you, everyone of us grieve differently and on our own time line. Do not be pressured to ” get over it”. This belongs to you and you alone.
Thank you for sharing these precious memories and thought with us.
Thoughts and prayers are with you and your children Big hugs for everyone and many prayers God bless you and yours

Carolyn

says:

All the way until that last breath she knew how much she was loved. You couldn’t have given her anything better. Thank you for sharing your heart.

Phyl & Monta King

says:

Thank you for continuing to write of your deep love and great loss of your remarkable Tiffanni. Our prayers continue to remain faithful for you and your children who carry on her talents, joy, and beauty.

Connie Champion

says:

Thank you for sharing the story of your life with Tiff from the beginning to end. What a beautiful love story. I’m still here.

Gayle Snyder

says:

Thank you for sharing. I know your easy as hard gets words have been medicinal for you, but they’ve also been a kindness to us… so beautiful and loving. I think of your family often and remember them in prayer.

KIm Gilmore

says:

What an honor that you would share your treasures with us! They give us courage to exchange sight for vision. Grace, peace, and strength be multiplied to you and your family continually.

says:

Jeremy, we love you all so much. You have a beautiful soul. Thank you for being brave enough and generous enough to share the most intimate moments of your precious marriage.

Wendy McNish

says:

So beautiful! I taught her to drive a stick shift in a red Toyota Station wagon – she loved it – I love her. Thank you – her earthly time will live on through you and her children. Can’t wait for the reunion!

Nicki McAbee

says:

Thanks for sharing with us the most sacred time for your family. I pray that you and the kids feel the love and prayers from so many today. The McAbee’s love y’all! ❤️

Cissy McNish

says:

Oh PJ! Everything you have ever written has touched my heart but, THIS! ♥️ THIS!
Jr & I were in the vehicle today, I was driving and he was silently reading something from his phone. He rarely ever does this in the car so I ask, what is so interesting? He replied with, I’m trying to read something PJ has written….have you seen it? Since I had not, I ask if he would read it aloud as I drove. Jr loves to read and usually reads really fast however, this time was different….It took almost our entire car ride for him to get through this. He read, stopped and cried, then read some more, only to cry some more and some more and some more….And of course I was a mess before he finished the first paragraph…..
You get the picture…💔
You have no idea the the strength and the hope you give to so many by sharing the difficult and personal struggles you and your family have been through over the past few years.
Not many could write so beautifully about such great heartache.
Jeremy, you are one of the strongest, bravest and most loyal men I have ever known.
You have once again touched my heart, by sharing what is in yours.
We love you PJ and we pray that the strength and hope you so generously give to all of us, is manifested a gazillion times right back to you, and to your precious family…..
Still here my friend….wild horses couldn’t pull me away! ♥️

♥️♥️♥️
Cissy

Sarah

says:

Thank you for letting us be a part of seeing the inside of you and your family and Tiffany’s life and death. I know for me it’s been wonderful to read every word you have written. A few weeks ago I found a book she gave me and it just happened to stumble into my life right now at the time I need it most. She continues to impact people’s lives even in her death and I am amazed at how God can use one person to bring light to so many people. 💕 Sarah Hayman-Gabriel

says:

Thank you for sharing. Hindsight to me, is kind of a magnifying glass. Time passing allows one to process a huge event, and to focus in on the moments that happened then, which are relevant to now. Hold on to those moments and let them continue to help you in the work of grieving. Let hindsite help carry you through this “transition” of your own, into life today and tomorrow and the years ahead. I’m glad you have written them down, for one day your perspective of them will be adjusted again, with the details of other moments not happened yet. Prayers for you and for your family as you navigate the future.

Carly

says:

We love you guys forever- praying for you. Press on “my good and faithful servant”. Y’all are evidence of a Holy Trinity who is empowering the impossible and bringing hope to the hopeless. You and tiff were life changers 20 years ago and you two still are today! Her tattoo has come true- healed! And one day you and your kids and family will be too but for now just keep doing what you are doing. It’s holy, sanctifying, precious, real, painful, and beautiful pushing the rest of us to fight the good fight. Thank you Jerm!

Vonna

says:

Words are inadequate to express my reaction to this post. Jeremy, through your words and all that brings those words to life, the light of Christ shines brightly. Reading your post felt so deeply sacred and holy. Sending hugs and love to you and your family.

Tracey McDonald

says:

Man oh man! I remember the transition with my grandmothers and mother in law…tough stuff. But talking about it helps somehow. Sending love and prayers your way and for the kiddos too!

D

says:

You have more than just a gift- it is an anointing to tap into the souls of others and make them feel. Don’t stop sharing it!

says:

This is really beautiful. So glad you’re writing again. Emotion and writing are so interconnected, and when our emotions are in a certain place, it’s almost impossible to write. But God is giving you some new words, and sometimes we have to get out the old words to write the new ones. God bless you. Keep pushing to get the words out.

Bryn

says:

Jeremy, you have so beautifully expressed this heartbreak. Connecting us through hands and touch. Sending so much love and comfort to you and your family.

Mary sellers

says:

This to me is an example of what loving someone is all about there together in the good times and the bad in the beginning and in the end! I’ve lost my mom and sister in the past two years and was with them both when they passed it was difficult but rewarding to know where they live now! Jeremy it was and is very evident how much you loved Tiffany. God bless you and your family and I pray Gods best for your continued future. I love your posts and always look forward to the next!

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