I awoke from the ether-induced stupor, alone in the cold, sterile facility. The pain in my throat told me my tonsils had indeed been removed. There was seemingly no one around.
I lay there waiting, not sure what would happen next. Still groggy from the anesthesia, I drifted in and out of sleep. My dreams even frightened me, featuring surreal events and creatures. I was alone and scared. I was seven.
Then I heard her coming. Heard her high heels clicking rapidly down the hall. I knew they were coming my way, instantly knew that was my mother. She breezed into my room like a breath of fresh air, exuding her typical high level of energy and self-confidence. She hugged me, and I could feel the excitement of her world of business and politics emanating from her professional garb. I knew that she had postponed or interrupted something important to be with me, knew that I was more important to her than any unfinished business. She stroked my head and gave me ginger ale until I drifted back to sleep. But I still heard the distant clicking of her high heels when she left.
Today, more than 40 years later, it is my high heels that click down the hall. Click down the hall of the nursing home where my 87-year-old mother now lies alone. It is she who awaits a visit, awaits someone to comfort her, to assuage her fears and loneliness. To give her a sip of water. I am the one who brings the sights and sounds of the outside world into her little room. And I am the one whose heels she hears getting fainter as I too soon leave her alone again.
“I heard you coming,” she said as I entered the room tonight.
“I know you did, Mom, because I remember hearing you walking down the hall when I was in the hospital”. I told her the story of my recognizing the sound of her high heels after my surgery. She cried, and I cried. We cried for all the places she could never go again. We cried because our collective world has gotten so small. We cried because our time together is drawing to a close.
It is now my turn to take care of this woman, to pay on a debt I can never fully repay. It is I who must now miss meetings and appointments and parties because she needs me. For there are many places my high heels take me, but none as important as to my mother’s bedside.
-Excerpt from They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad by Patricia A. Nugent