Standing in front of the mirror getting ready for bed tonight, I examine my hands. Much softer than ever before, they remind me of my mother’s hands.

I am sitting by her deathbed, holding and caressing her hand as she lies there, sleeping the sleep from which she will never awake. Everything has come to this, with the world moving along outside this bedroom at a snail’s pace, visitors creeping in to ask how she’s doing, the sun rising and setting with no meaning, food appearing and disappearing with no taste.

People die every day, but there is nothing mundane about my experience. Soft, wrinkled, and now withered away, these hands babied me when I was little, prepared meals for me, sewed clothing for me, played classical music on the piano, propped open my eyelids looking for lost contact lenses, shook my hand when I received my graduate degrees, and held my babies when they were born.

My hands have diapered those very babies, strung electrical wire, built barb-wire fence, packed parachutes, driven tractors, held horse-reins, played guitars, graded student papers, typed scholarly articles and letters and countless emails, caressed my wife, straightened my children’s tousled hair.

These hands have changed and are changing still. No longer calloused fence-building hands, they are now my mother’s hands.

In this vision, I am not only the one sitting beside my mother’s deathbed, but I am also my mother, biding my time, fading out of existence, waiting for a metamorphosis. I feel the helping hands of others in my sleep, and I hear their assurances that everything will be all right and that it’s ok to let go. But like her, I hang on to this existence, restless in my death throes — it’s all we have known, she and I, this life — as Hamlet says, it’s better to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than to travel the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.

At the end, lying in the very same bedroom of her childhood, she is surrounded by her family, me holding her hand on one side, my sister holding her other hand. Friends support her out of this existence, holding hands and praying. The nurse takes her pulse and gives us updates and we watch with dreadful anticipation her final breaths. She dies. We sit with her body, brushing her hair, touching her still-warm hands, grieving for ourselves, but also feeling relief that the pain of this life is over.

Will anyone sit and wait with me as I shuffle off this coil? I want to believe my friends and family will, but I also fear being alone. Can I count on helping and caring hands when I need them?