She is bent to 90 degrees. She is standing over her walker, hovering, swaying slowly like an ancient willow fluttering by the water’s edge. It is as if she has forgotten where she is, forgotten that her walker has a seat on which she can rest. It is as if she is too tired to remember.

I watch. I wait, unwilling to get in her way, unwilling to tear from her the dignity of making her own way back to her bed.

She wavers, she hesitates, drifting fore and back. I decide.

Hey, Mom. Would you like some help to get back to bed?

She nods very slowly, her world shrunk to inches. Words are too much.

Then: I think so.

While we wait for a hospice bed, I have been camped out in her suite at the seniors’ home. In truth, I have camped here off and on for many nights, recently deciding that every night would be best.

My bed is now four pillows overlaid with a comforter and a wool blanket. Another cover and I are on top of this makeshift arrangement – on the kitchen floor. I am here because although Mom is safe, warm and dry, we are getting close to the end.

She needs help in the day. She needs help in the night. Dad needed similar help. I slept this way for a month beside Alan’s bed.

Dad, I’ll help. Hold onto the pole. Let’s get you into your chair and to the bathroom.

Before I began sleeping next to his bed, he would insist on getting to the bathroom by himself, only to end up in a 90 year old heap on the chilly night floor.

Rob! She calls, 83 year old panic in her voice.

Dad fell! I can’t get him up.

Once more before I move into his room at night, there is a thunderous crash that rattles the bones of the house by the creek.

It’s okay, Dad. We’ll do this together. And we do. For a month.

Four years later I guide Mom’s walker slowly from the bathroom door where she parks it when she goes in to do her business. Now in the quiet hours, the dark broken only by a nightlight and a small Christmas tree, she leans, she sways, she drags one foot behind the other. We’ll be going to the hospice tomorrow or, if they’re still short-staffed, the next day.

She made it here – slowly but safely. In silence I had watched her incremental progress from my so-called bed, ready to help if she faltered. Now she is too worn to get back, to retrace all 15 or 16 feet of the journey.

We rest after one and a half steps. On this night, it is too much.

Mom, I’m going to help you turn around so you can sit down. Then I’ll wheel you back to bed.

Brakes well set on the walker, younger hands on her older, stooped shoulders, we pirouette slowly, perhaps doing the last dance of the dying. She gets through most of the turn and suddenly slumps, her full but frail weight in my arms. Down, like syrup slowly from a jar. Down.

Carefully. There. She is safe, soon tucked in, and me again on my pillows.


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