The Legacy of Holding Hands

My parents were hand holders. It always made me smile when I saw it. It was one of the first things people noticed about them.. More times than I can count I had friends call and say “I saw your parents. They were just walking along and holding hands. They are so cute.” And they were. It was almost like a game of “I spy.” “I spy the McKinneys holding hands. Again.” We grew up seeing it, but I got so many of these calls I soon realized what a rarity it was. I loved it about them and what they taught us through this one gesture.

Mom and Dad were married 59 years and 11 months. On January 30, 2017, it would have been 60 years. They were engaged after three dates. Married after just one more. And not just a normal “get married and go on with your life” wedding. My 19-year old mom dropped out of nursing school in Newport, South Wales, packed her things, and got on a plane bound for the United States. She gave up her whole life there to join my dad in North Carolina for a small wedding at my grandparent’s house, with only the pastor and his wife, and my dad’s parents in attendance. No pictures, no fancy reception. She then moved with him to Massachusetts, where he worked full time and maintained a 3.8 grade point average in engineering school at Northeastern University there. Not an easy feat. Four out of the five of us kids were born there. More of a challenge.

As mom points out, leaving dad was never a practical option, so they had to work things out. Growing up we learned that in real life relationships you love, honor, and respect each other….but sometimes you also get angry. But you work it out. You don’t hold grudges. You are always loyal.

If you had met my dad, you probably wouldn’t have thought of him as a hand holder. He wasn’t what you would consider  a romantic. Romantic gestures were not the norm. If left to his own devices  he would most likely buy my mom a gift on the level of a vacuum cleaner or a mixer. That may be a romantic gift to some, but not to my mother. Yet he could surprise you….on the occasions when he ended up buying her jewelry, he bought her beautiful things. He had wonderful taste. Well, except that time he listened to the opinion of someone else. That was not a good idea. I think he learned his lesson. The one piece of jewelry he bought mom that she never wore.

There was a certain level of emotion my dad just didn’t possess. He was a classic engineer. Logic trumped all emotion. He could not care less about what anyone thought about him. This was on a level I have never encountered in another human being. It never occurred to him that it was any of his business or even something worth thinking about. I mentioned this to someone recently and they said that sounded like me. Oh….I so wish it was. It used to be a foreign concept, but I have learned from him in time. No, first I have to feel the pain, but then blessedly the logic I learned from dad now creeps in. Why should such a thing really matter to me? Unlike my dad the feelings are felt, but in my life I am blessed with plenty of love. I’ve learned, however, it doesn’t have to come from everyone. I won’t waste precious moments of my life worrying about it….instead I will enjoy and celebrate that which I do have. It is enough.

My cousin and I were talking when my dad was in the hospital about being raised by these McKinney men for whom the words “I love you” just weren’t often said. Yet we never doubted their love. (So OK, there were those times growing up I knew my “real” royal family were going to come for me and take me away from my Cinderella life….but maybe the thought that I read too much during these years was correct after all.)

My dad was in the hospital since November 8.  Much of that time is heartbreaking. Some of it was full of great beauty. My mom lovingly feeding my dad vanilla ice cream underneath his oxygen mask after he had what would only be his first surgery that day. (He savored each bite. I am so glad…vanilla ice cream was his favorite and it was his last real food.) Mom sitting in a chair next to dad’s bed, holding his hand as she slept with her head on his bed. Each of his children, and many of his grandchildren, kissing his cheek and reaching for his hand as they visited with him. Him squeezing back. Until he couldn’t. Then us just squeezing extra.

I had several friends who during these last days advised me to make sure I told dad I loved him. Does it sound weird that I didn’t find that to be important? I never have doubted, never will doubt, that he knew. Oh, this man of logic knew. It wasn’t because of us saying the words (because as I said before, those didn’t matter to him). It wasn’t because of my ability to be the best daughter (because he really didn’t require much from me as his daughter….and we all know I was his favorite anyway.). It wasn’t because of gifts I gave him…..I realized years ago he took no pleasure in gifts and it was a kindness not to make him open things and appear grateful. It was a burden to him and not a pleasure. No….these typical things others may need were not a bit necessary for him.

I was part of this man…..and him part of me. He knew I loved him just because I did. Would we all have liked more days together? Certainly. Are there more things I wish I’d either had him tell me about or I wish I had listened closer to? Oh yes. But my logical dad wouldn’t comprehend wasting time on regrets. He accepted what was. I will do the same.

When we first moved my dad to the Hospiçe House last Friday, and I reached for his hand, it was cold. It was a bit disconcerting. Later that night the radiating warmth returned. The last time I saw him on Saturday afternoon I held that warm hand for what would be the last time. As he and mom taught us, that’s what matters.  These McKinneys are hand holders. We are forever unified. He is a part of who I am and forever I’ll feel the warmth of his hand in mine. No regrets understood or allowed. I loved him and was loved by him. That will never end. I am grateful for the gift.

1 Comment

  1. Beautiful, Kim! Until you lose your dad, you can't fully appreciate these words and their depth. Much love and prayers for your family. I'd love to listen if you need to talk. Sorry I couldn't have been there…I was at the funeral of another friend who lost her dad the same day as you did, but you were on my mind as well. Much love to you. Robin Necci


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