Those hands that once held mine

TBH LP - Image 4

By Dean Harrison | Wednesday 23 August 2017

As I was sitting holding Mum’s hand in the hospital, I thought of all she meant to me and the number of times she had held my hand. I pretty much knew this was the last time she would do so.

Mum had dedicated decades of her life to being the best mother and grandma she could be. She could knit for England, and was sure nobody in the family would ever go cold, even knitting a 13 foot long Doctor Who scarf at one point.  She also became a prolific cake baker and decorator, being commissioned to make many birthday and wedding cakes for family and friends, always artistic and creative.


Me and my mum, Patricia Shelton

Around Christmas in 2012, her partner Michael told us all that Mum had started to become increasingly forgetful and disoriented. It soon became evident that she couldn’t be left to do even simple things such as washing the pots. At least, not if you ever wanted to find any of them again.

Aged 16 Mum was crowned Miss Ilkeston.

Aged 16 Mum was crowned Miss Ilkeston.

She would often spend weekends at our house, to give Michael some respite from watching out for her. But the constant toll on his wellbeing became evident in 2014 when he had two minor heart attacks. Following an operation it became impossible for Michael to maintain full care of her. We were both in full time jobs; I was away from home a lot. So sadly she moved into a care home.

In the late eighties Mum’s mother Gertrude was diagnosed with dementia and also moved into a care home. It had always worried Mum that this condition might eventually strike her, and she didn’t relish the thought having seen its effects first hand.

Mum was diagnosed with vascular dementia and initially didn’t react well to being in care. She became agitated and aggressive to the point where she was briefly sectioned. But once the correct medication was prescribed she settled into a wonderful nursing home, near where she had lived with Michael and where she was born.

Mum aged 3

Mum aged 3

After Mum died, once I got home, the experience flooded out of me as a poem. It almost wrote itself. I read the poem at her funeral. How I got to the end of the reading I don’t know. I guess she was holding my hand one last time.

I shared the poem afterwards on Facebook, and many of my friends who had lost someone to dementia commented how much it struck a chord with them, with many sharing it themselves.

I’d originally written it specifically about MY Mum and MY experiences, but on reading it back I can see how it would fit for so many. As I read it now it gives me strength, and I wonder if perhaps it could give strength to others.

So I give this poem for all to use and share as they see fit.

Those hands that once held mine

(by Dean Harrison in memory of Patricia Shelton)

When I was knee high, I was immortal
Because my Mum always held my hand
I knew no harm would come to me
In this, the safest place in the land

Her hands were always there to guide me
To show me where to go
Her hands were forever knitting
To keep us warm in Winter’s snow

They were there to wave me off
Each morning when I left for school
Because you know she wouldn’t let me
Grow up to be no fool

As I started to grow older
I would walk of my own accord
And those hands once there for safety
Changed roles to encourage and applaud

Later when I took a hand in marriage
With new little hands to hold in mine
She was always there when needed
To take their hands and give us time

For many years they still held strong
Wrapping presents as each birthday came along
Giving out big hugs at Christmas
In the growing family throng

But then they started to become unsure
Not remembering what to do
So I knew that it was my time
To hold her hand and help her through

We walked so many miles
In corridors hand in hand
I just hope that in her own mind
We were walking in the sand

But then that week I held her hand
And it slipped away one last time
And now they’re in a better place
Those hands that once held mine


  1. Fiona morrison shaw on 17th September 2015 at 8:10 pm

    Brought back a lot of memories of my nan and uncle Alec, fortunate enough to still have my parents. Lovely words.

  2. gwen on 17th September 2015 at 8:52 pm

    going through the same with my husband of 54 years married, God gives me strength to hold on

  3. Sara Taylor on 26th September 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Such a beautiful poem thank you for sharing, It’s funny how as you find yourself remembering things like holding your mother’s hand whilst walking to school remembering feeling forever safe as long as she was there for you.
    I have just found out my mother has dementia and I’m not quite sure how to process this information as it is a shock but yet I had noticed she was getting forgetful and seemed agitated sometimes.
    I think I didn’t really want to imagine it could happen but it has.

  4. Mary Ramsay on 4th October 2015 at 8:31 pm

    Lovely poem, nobody knows until they walk in carers shoes. I lost my dear husband 73 last week. We have been married 3 years. He was diagnosed with vascular dementia 18 months ago. God gave me strength to carry on.

  5. Carol jewson on 16th October 2015 at 8:48 am

    My mam too had dementia. .she died April 2015.
    Watching my lovely mam deteriate mentally. In a inhumane way ,is totally heartbreaking and becoming a total stranger to uour own something you never think will happen ….she too ended up in a cate home because of agressiveness and the need of 24hour care . .I feel so blessed I held her hand as she left this world .just as she held mine as I entered this world . …

  6. carol richardson on 16th October 2015 at 8:52 am

    Beautiful and so true I also walked many a mile hand in hand in corridors with my beautiful mam .Such a cruel illness .

  7. Jenny on 16th October 2015 at 9:38 am

    I’m very sorry for your loss. Your Mum sounds like a wonderful lady.
    I found your poem beautiful and hugely moving. I lost my dad three years ago who had althezimers and I too always remember his strong hand holding mine throughout my life . It’s an image I’ve carried with me since the night he died. You articulate the feeling and emotions around it perfectly. Thank you.

  8. Tracey on 19th October 2015 at 1:21 pm

    Beautifull words .i lost my dad 6 years ago with dementia .niss him every day x

  9. Carol on 19th October 2015 at 1:30 pm

    This was us just last weekend. Still so raw. Your mum and mine sound so similar. How does one get over this loss? Alzheimer’s is such a cruel illness 🙁

  10. Ceri on 21st October 2015 at 10:08 am

    This is beautiful ❤️

  11. liz robertson on 21st October 2015 at 11:12 am

    beautiful made me cry

  12. anne shaw on 21st October 2015 at 12:59 pm

    Terrible thing, dementia.My husband and myself have gone through it with his gran. Sorry, but would take too long to let anyone who might be reading this, to tell all of what happened. So Sorry for your loss, and your poem is Lovely, thank you for sharing it. x.

  13. Cathie Kelly on 21st October 2015 at 1:55 pm

    My sister aged 69 died eleven years ago with Dementia, She was my favourite of my four sisters always with a smile. I think it started when her husband died at age 54 she just seemed to lose all interest in everything. She had nine children and ten Grandkids. I still miss her now.

  14. Harvey Rudkin on 21st October 2015 at 3:44 pm

    What a wonderful poem. It has brought me to tears not only for Dean and his family but for myself. You see I was 2 when my mum passed away and the poem reminds me of the many times I wanted a hand to hold mine.

  15. Cathie Kelly on 21st October 2015 at 9:20 pm

    My sister aged 69 died eleven years ago with Dementia, She was my favourite of my four sisters always with a smile. I think it started when her husband died at age 54 she just seemed to lose all interest in everything. She had nine children and ten Grandkids. I still miss her now.

  16. Jackie on 23rd October 2015 at 7:40 am

    I lost my mum in February this year she left the cruel torture of altzimers for five years whilst lying in my arms,she was 82 I cared for her doing all the things for her that she loving did for me as a child, she would often hit me or bite and shout at me these were the hardest times and i cried often and after no sleep for 3 consecutive days and nights finding the strength to carry on being patient and loving knowing that inside she was fighting the cruel evil torture of altzimers. I cried for 3 hours solid with her in my arms when she left and at her funeral but have not cried since as I know she is no longer suffering but I feel cheated of my own grieving I miss her so much and ive been unable grieve because of anger and relief for her not sufferimg anymore reading about all your own experiences has aloud me to do that now I’m finding it so hard to write this through my tears my heart goes out to each and every one of you for your courage your love and patient’s when times were hard and your loss that spand many months, years in my thoughts always

  17. elaine on 23rd October 2015 at 7:42 am

    Brought back so many memories of my very lovley mum, who I miss every day. It is still very raw as we just lost her this year to dementia. She was loved by all and still kept her sense of humor to a certain extent. We cared for her for 3 years between my brother and my family it was hard to make that decision to put her into a care home, but we found one near to her home and the care for her was secindvto none.

  18. Aline on 23rd October 2015 at 8:26 am

    When I last held my mums hand I cried as I wanted my mum back in the room. I felt selfish. I asked my big sister to have the weekend away. Even though I did not like giving Mum her injections I did for a week in the past. And other times. My sister said. No. I knew in my heart why. Like you holding your Mums hands was as important to you as when she did yours. my big sister did when my Mum didn’t. Held my hand Now she holding our Mums hand we we can’t. Hands are for holding in love and for warth. In care and fir giving. Thank you for sharing your poem. I read a book which my sister gave me about Mothers. Which I actually gave my Mum. which I will be giving my daughter which I will give my girl Jean as she is a proud Mum now. Thank you big Sister. And thank you Mum for giving us the faith and understanding to love and care for others as you did, and in your beatiful blue eyes you look at us with pride. Thank you big sister Sally Ann fir sharing this poem which brought so much emotions of sadness and happiness in all want he wrote. And fir looking after Our Mum like she did us when we were all wee and grown up with our own. God bless. Xxxx

  19. Valerie on 23rd October 2015 at 9:41 am

    Thankyou for puttiing your feelings down, they are thoughtfull and beautiful, I havent managed to read it all yet.

    My mother died of a heart attack when she was 61 – I thought we were robbed at the time. However when her three sisters died with differing kinds of alzheimers I have thought sincethat Mum and all of us were saved, she would not have taken it kindly.

    She had had her grandmother living with them during and just after the war which she found trying. In the mornings when she worked in munitions, she was up first so used to take her Grandma a cup of tea and often found her in a muddle trying to put her clothes on. Later in the day Grandma used to say to Mums mother, ‘That one who is on in the morning isnt very patient!!’ This still makes me smile as my mum wasnt known for her patience when under pressure and wouldnt have teken kindly to people helping her,

    I have worked as a nurse with those with Alzheimers and now do voluntary work taking sufferes out for the day to give the families a days respite. All are different and just as precious.

    Thanks again for your insightfull words.

  20. Alan on 12th November 2016 at 7:55 pm

    Hi Dean,

    I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to use your beautiful poem at my mum’s funeral this coming Monday.

    She lost her battle with dementia last Sunday and every part of your writing struck a chord with me and resonated with my own lifetime with my mum.

    Thank you very, very much

    • Dean on 7th September 2017 at 11:06 am

      Hi Alan,
      Sorry I didn’t see your comment at the time, but I hope the poem helped you draw strength on the day. I still to this day don’t know how I managed to read it, but I’m so glad I did. Now when I read it, it brings more smiles than tears.


  21. Wendy Heath Evans on 10th September 2017 at 9:38 am

    What a lovely poem and so recognisable for many people. My mum has dementia so I am living the poem as I am reading it. Well done a beautiful journey. I also have written some poems that are based on the people around me but I do not know if they will have the same effect on the reader as they had on me writing them.

  22. Ann Ryan on 5th November 2017 at 11:49 am

    Hi Dean

    My mum also suffers from Vascular Dementia for many years . Mum was cared for at home up until December 2016 . She needed 24hour care and we could not provided this level of care. With a very heavy heart and an enormous amount of guilt, we as a family decided she need a nursing home. She did not settle in the home and the guilt remains with the family.

    Today as I write she is on her final journey , I could not sleep thinking about her and decided to look up the internet to see if I could find any poems that would speak to me about my mum.

    Your Poem “The hands that once held mine” is my mum . I have got great comfort from reading it and I will be forever great full to you, for putting my great mum into words

  23. debbee on 14th January 2018 at 12:02 pm

    Hi Dean,

    Have just lost my mum to the dreaded dementia. The last time I saw her before she died I held her hand and my husband took a photo, which we are using on the order of service.
    I read your poem, which although wonderful is not my mum.
    So hoping you don’t mind I have borrowed your idea and composed my own tribute to my mum and her hands.

  24. Helen Wearmouth on 28th April 2018 at 10:37 pm

    Hi Dean,

    I’m a funeral celebrant, searching for poems for families who have lost someone close through dementia.
    I love this post and your poem is beautiful. The gradual path by which you describe the exchange of caring is bursting with love.
    I feel poetry, but lack the ability to write it. My reason for writing is to express my gratitude for people such as yourself, who possess the ability to express powerful feelings with such elegance.

    I hope you continue sharing your gift.


  25. Jerri Blemker on 5th July 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Thank you. My mom passed last week at 91 years. All I have been able to think about is holding her hand thru her long hard battle. I am thankful she is at peace,but it hurts so much not being able to sit with her and hold her hand. Your poem has expressed so much of what I am feeling. Thank you and God Bless you. Jerri Blemker

  26. Dean Harrison on 21st February 2020 at 10:08 am

    Some four and a half years after she passed, today would have been my Mum’s 82nd birthday. Coming back here to see all these wonderful replies makes my heart sing. I’m so glad my poem can help people, and it helps me to know that a little bit of her lives on every time somebody reads this poem.

    Please everybody, continue to use and share this poem, draw strength from it knowing you are not alone.

    Dean Harrison

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About the author

Dean Harrison

Dean Harrison is by profession an IT consultant and creator of the Workload Automation Programming Language for z/OS, but when not doing that he sings in various bands and now apparently writes poems too.