I linger by her bed after soup supper, and she asks repeatedly whether I’m going to leave her alone.

“You’re never alone, Mom. We never leave you alone.”

I hold her bent, frail fingers in mine, and she squeezes my hand gently, squeezing, squeezing, squeezing.

So many things I could tell her, but they are insignificant. We silently stare at each other, and she sighs occasionally, a faint wisp of contentment on her face.

My back aches from sitting, and I crawl into the well-disguised hospital bed beside her, laying my head on her chest. She puts her arms around me, softly stroking my neck with one gnarled hand and patting my chest with the other. Stroking and patting so softly that it’s almost undetectable. The way I softly pat my own children, afraid to breathe too deeply because I might wake them up and they’ll be gone.

I hear her heart beating faintly, deliberately, unhurried as if savoring the moments while being careful not to scare them off. She murmurs loving sounds deep in her chest. The same loving sounds I murmur in my children’s ears whenever they’ll let me.

As she finally slips into a rare, peaceful sleep, it occurs to me that one of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to let them love you.