My mama’s shoes

Little girl in her mother's high hells shoes

Two overfilled cardboard boxes, taped and confined, have been harboring in the trunk of my car for months.

I catch sight of them when I stash a sack of groceries or stow a bag of bird seed. I know they are there, but I slam the trunk shut with defiance and forge on.

The boxes are there, waiting. They do not contain priceless treasures, expensive merchandise, family heirlooms, or things I need to unpack. They are, my mama’s shoes.

Like orderly soldiers, I found them, neatly spaced, side by side, on the closet shelves, in the house she once called home.

When I opened the closet doors, the white boxes beamed at me like rows of straight, even teeth, smiling from their lofty perch.

One by one, I surveyed the rows of boxes, each neatly labeled in black or red marker by my mama’s gentle hands. I recognize her careful, left-paw printing — elegant, artsy lettering befitting her organized, yet artistic, nature. Each box boasted its contents: Navy blue pumps. Tan flats. White sandals.

They are, my mama’s shoes.

My mama lives with us now, in a room that houses her now-small world. These boxes of shoes remained at the house she once called home long after we moved mom in with us, attempting to navigate this New Normal of caring for an aging parent.

My mama’s house is full, yet empty  — filled with artifacts of another time; relics of my mom’s life before Alzheimer’s claimed her memories, dignity, independence — even my mama’s shoes.

When I can carve out a little time in the bluster of my busy life — and can muster the courage to shoulder the pain of dismantling my mama’s life — I spend an hour or two at her house, trying to whittle down all that was once hers.

We finally turned off her phone line, cancelled the cable, transferred the utilities into our name. I’ve packed up dishes that now fill our kitchen cupboards. Always a voracious reader, a few of her favorite books line our bookshelves. Her oil paintings of sun-streaked desserts, majestic mountains and windswept beaches hang on our walls, reminding us of the days when my mom loved to travel; days when she perched in her upstairs studio, smearing paint onto blank canvases. My mom’s clothes hang in a small closet in her room now.  A few pair of lonely shoes huddle on the closet floor.

At my mom’s house, the dusty museum that was once her life, is being taken apart, room by sad and lonely room.

On this day, I am struggling for strength to take down those white boxes. I lift the lids to find my mama’s shoes, carefully wrapped in tissue paper, nestled heel to toe, toe to heel . I remember the navy pumps she wore with her tailored, navy suit — the ones she wore to important meetings as a contract negotiator for the federal government, high heels clicking into elevators and conference rooms. The tan flats were her go-to choice for khakis and pantsuits. I remember the white sandals being cast aside onto colorful towels when we’d roll up pant legs to wade into foamy surf on sandy beaches in Mexico and California.

These simple white boxes tell stories of my mama’s life. I feel like a thief, stealing them from the safety of the shelves. Box by box, I take them down, opening each box lid for a peek inside, then relegating them to the big cardboard box splayed across her bed. It is a painful process, and I wince as the big box fills. These are, my mama’s shoes.

Relieved of their white boxes, the closet shelves are empty now. The gaping maw of the closet mirrors the gaping hole in my soul as I take apart my mom’s life. In the room that was once hers, on a bed she will never sleep in again, I bury my face in my mom’s striped blue robe and sob, damning the disease that is taking her, stripping away small pieces; claiming her and carting her off as we cart away her things, box by bulging box.

Two overfilled cardboard boxes, taped and confined, have been harboring in the trunk of my car for months.

I drive to the donation center and pull into the parking lot. I sit in the car and try to talk myself into the task at hand. It is hot, and ripples of heat shimmer on the asphalt.

I watch a mother and young child come out of the store. The mother lifts up her child and balances the curly-headed toddler on her hip. They hurry on to their car, and the mom ushers the little girl into the back seat, strapping her into a car seat, keeping her safe.

I think of my own mama, across town in her small room in the house we now share. My mom is more my child than my parent now. I care for her as she used to care for me. Fate has reversed our roles, and I am content to be my parent’s parent; grateful for these days I can show her love and help ease the pain of this horrible disease. As she did for me, I now do for her. I will complete the tasks that God has put before me. I will, in time, pack up her life and haul it out, box by box.

I put the car back in gear and pull out of the parking lot onto the busy street. On this day, I am not ready. Today, I am just not strong enough to say goodbye.

Two overfilled cardboard boxes, taped and confined, have been harboring in the trunk of my car for months.

They are, my mama’s shoes.



About barriepagehill

A former print and broadcast reporter, I am blogging to document my experience as primary caregiver to my mom, who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease. I find writing cathartic and find it helps me order some of the chaos of my cluttered life. My writing is reflective of my experiences with my mom and matters I find important as I navigate the New Normal of living with a family member tormented by this devastating disease. As my mom's condition worsens, I am grateful for the many blessings in my life. I hope my writing chronicles some of our experiences and documents this bittersweet journey.
This entry was posted in Alzheimer's, Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's Disease, Care for the Caregiver, Caregiver Burnout, Caring for a parent with Alzheimer's Disease, Caring for aging parents, Living with Alzheimer's and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to My mama’s shoes

  1. I always thought that I would go through my mother’s house after she passed away, but like you, that wasn’t in God’s plan. I had to do it, all alone, while she had no idea because she too had alzheimers. The only difference is that YOU are a wonderful caregiver who has opened her home to her mom. I am not that kind of person, but fortunately, God put wonderful caretakers in nursing homes just for my mom. Stay strong. And just hold on to those shoes. There is no hurry, you will know when it is the right time to let go. I did.

    • Thank you, Tina, for your words and
      support. Losing a parent is a loss we all must endure, and I am trying my best to let go, a little at a time. Bless you for taking care of your mom, too. We all just do the best we can. Thank you again for your support and words of encouragement.

  2. longeus says:

    Beautifully said, Miss Barrie.

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