Flashback April 29, 2015: “That’s it Mom, you’ve almost got it,” I encourage her. Her left leg is crossed over her right at the knee. She’s leaning down and working on her left shoe. She makes a loop and then another, twists them together and tries to feed one through the other. I watch in wonder and hope she’ll manage to make it happen this time. She ties her shoes differently than I do. I ask myself how that can be. She makes another attempt. Misses the last step for the fourth time. She’s SO close.
“I almost got it,” she says.
“You want to try again?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says. “Do you want to try?” That’s my cue. I sit down on the floor in front of her, and grab the laces that now lay limp on either side of her shoe.
“The left one is much shorter than the right Mom. Maybe that’s the problem.” I loosen, tighten, pull, loosen, tighten, pull until the ends are equal. I tie a bow, and make another knot with the loops to stop it from coming undone.
“I can smell one next, but it doesn’t rain,” she says. “Are there any?”
“Yes, there are,” I answer in flow. “Do you want to try walking now?
“Okay,” she says. I get up; take her hands in mine. They’re soft and trusting. We’ve done this hundreds of times. She knows the routine.
“Ready?” I ask, knowing she is, but asking anyway.
“Yeah,” she says.
“One…” I start counting slowly.
“Two,” she follows after a slight delay. I match the length of her pause. “Three,” we say in unison.
“Stand up Mom.” I counterbalance her weight with mine and leverage her to her feet. She stands easily today. Once she’s up, we wait. When she feels secure and comfortable, she’ll try to move her right foot. She always starts with the right. It’s the shakier one. The first few steps are tentative. It’s like she’s trying to remember how to put one foot in front of the other. Her head is tilted and forward; I see the top of it. I imagine her eyes are fixed on a spot somewhere near my belly button. Our goal is a sofa in the drawing room across the hall; it’s about 40 feet away. We begin our two-step shuffle.
“You’re doing well, Mom,” I say. “How are you feeling?”
“Are you able to walk okay?” I check in again after 10 feet.
“Yeah.” She confirms. The old wooden floorboards creak underneath us. It’s a friendly, comforting sound. Old houses are like people, their souls remain intact even when they’re worn out and cobbled together. I stop and bend my knees until my head is below hers so I can look up into her eyes. We used to be the same height, but she’s several inches shorter than me now.
“How is it? I check in once more.
“It’s okay. There are chairs close by on either side: our safety net.
“You wanna keep going?
“Yeah. A little bit.” We’re more than halfway now. I stop again, release my right hand from her left and point to the far end of the room.
“Mom, we’re aiming for that sofa over there.”
“Oh, the sofa.”
“Yeah, can you make it?”
“I think I can try,” she says. Her voice is firm, strong. Five simple words capture her fierce spirit. We walk another five feet or so. Her breathing has become slightly rapid and labored, like mine does when I go for a run by the lake.
“Are you okay?”
“Do you want to keep going?”
“Well yeah, but not too much.” She has a good handle on what she can and cannot do, even at this late stage.
“We’re almost there Mom.”
“Oh dear.” A note of worry; I stop.
“We’re going to rest for a bit Mom.”
“Okay.” I feel her hands relax. We’re a pair of connected human statues. We breathe.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.”
“We’re going to rest for a little bit, okay?” I repeat to reassure her. We resume our journey when the time is right.
“You’re doing beautifully Mom, just beautifully. We’re almost there.” She says nothing. She’s focused on her feet. We reach the sofa. Turning around is not as easy as going straight. I help her to pivot in little increments, lower her gently onto the sofa, and then squat in front of her to get into her line of sight. Her hands remain in mine. I look directly in her eyes. They’re clear.
“You did it!”
“I did it!” Her face is slightly flushed, bright and alive.
“How does it feel?”
“Felt good.” Yes it did. Like her, I felt it in my core. I fetch us both a cup of tea. Mom has a chocolate covered cookie with hers. I don’t have a cookie; joy is more than enough for me.