It has been almost three years since my brothers and I brought my mother to her nursing home. As expected, in that time, she has greatly deteriorated. No longer feisty, she is complacent. No longer mobile, instead of wandering the halls, she sits in a wheelchair. Her speech is spotty at best. It is so hard.
As she progresses, I find it more difficult to bring the kids. My nerves are heightened when I enter the locked wing, and while I seem to have endless patience with my mother, I am sometimes quick to overreact when my daughter is, well, being 5, or my son is not engaged. I am not proud of that. Still, we can have a nice time, all together. Oh my heart, the first time we saw my mother in a wheelchair! When it was time to leave, my son insisted on pushing the wheelchair to bring my mother to sit with her friends, surprised that it was harder to move than it looked.
I had a nice visit with her last month, solo. My mother was happy. We looked at photos. I talked about our family. She had a snack. When it was over, I wheeled her over to sit by a more verbal friend whom she cannot recognize by name but appreciates by sight. I left the home feeling good about the visit, appreciating that I had a chance to spend some positive time just with her. Then I jumped back into my busy little family, placing the visit somewhere in the “Mom” box in my brain.
But a few nights later, the most wondrous thing happened.
I woke up about an hour before I needed to get up, and settled in to the blanket for a bit more rest. I quickly fell back to sleep, into one of those deep dream states that felt so real. Logically, the dream made no sense. Adult me was back on the Long Island Rail Road, with about five adult girlfriends, giddy and chatting. We pulled into the station of the Town where I grew up and exited the train. I left my friends for a moment and went downstairs, and I saw a black convertible with the top up. The driver side door opened and out walked….
Not the 70 year old, sitting in a wheelchair with food-stained clothes and a blank expression. It was MY mom, with her warm smile and love in her eyes. With her quick, sarcastic wit. With her open arms. It has been years since I had seen her last but somehow, she was there. She saw me and I saw her and we hugged, that deep hug that only your mother can give you. We talked a little bit. Not about anything real, just one of the million little conversations we had during my lifetime with her. It was amazing.
Then, slowly, I woke up, clinging to the remnants of the dream. I think I had this half smile on my face, because truly, after that dream-spell, after that brief gift, that time where I saw MY mom, it just had to be a good day.
I thought about that dream a lot over the next few days. In that fleeting moment, I did not feel sadness, guilt and obligation. Instead, I felt such joy, such love, such peace.
I am a mom with a young family, so I am busy, spread thin and always trying to keep afloat. I have on some level chosen to deal with the heartbreaking and permanent loss of my mother by focusing on her present life, bringing her a bit of sunshine and love, instead of focusing on how her illness impacts me.
But after the gift of that dream, I started to wonder, maybe there is another option, one that I was not ready to explore three years ago, when she was transitioning to this devastating last life phase. Maybe it is time to spend some time with MY mom – thinking about the real her, our lives together for so many years, talking about her with people who love her, inviting myself to remember.
Because, remembering her? It did not make me sad. It filled me with joy. I think it is time for me to work on living my dream, reclaiming parts of MY mother, keeping the real her alive.