Sunday, September 27, 2015

Death, Grief and Dreams

September 21 was World Alzheimer’s Day.  Alzheimer’s was not something that affected my parents or grandparents or other relatives but it has affected dear friends, their relatives and my dear, delightful, vivacious first Mother-in-Law. 

In honor of this beautiful woman, who was affectionately called “Bib” growing up (and for some reason, I always called her that as well), I posted a picture of her on Twitter with the hashtag #Take1Moment. This is a campaign that Caregiver Action Network created to “recognize caregivers who support their loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Bib (Betty) - Her birthday celebration in 2012
While I didn’t provide care for Bib, I saw how the disease affected her children and grandchildren and others who loved her and were her caregivers.  It was devastating to see this woman who was quite the fireball become lost in this awful disease. Bib ran a daycare most of her life and had such a wonderful connection with the children, they would come visit her years later.  She was a “glamorous grandma” and even took up modeling well into her sixties – fulfilling a lifelong dream of hers. She loved her friends, her family and even her beer and Seven & Seven.  She always had a twinkle in her eye and delighted in being mischievous. 

She once confided in me that the secret to her delicious green salads, aside from home-grown tomatoes and various other garden vegetables, was a sprinkle of sugar over the entire salad. 

Yep, that explains why her salads tasted like no other I had ever tasted. 

Bib was on my mind on September 21 but the entire day I had a nagging feeling there was something else I was supposed to remember about that day.  I felt like I missed someone’s birthday.  We have a lot of September birthdays in our family so I ticked them off in my head: Robert, Richard, Rich, Caty, Mark – nope.  None on September 21. 

Only in my dreams that night did I realize what my brain was trying to tell me. 

Rach, Trish, Mom, Grandma - August 1999
I woke up with a horrible feeling the next morning.  I had dreamt of my mom.  It had been a very long time since I dreamt of her (or, as I like to view it, since she visited me).  My dream was terrible, though.  I found out that mom, who died in 1999, had been alive this entire time and I didn’t know it.  I was horrified to find out she was living with Alzheimer’s in a care facility and that I had not visited her in 16 years. Oh, I was sick to my stomach! 

Bib’s daughter told me where my mom was and I finally found her.  I visited her and saw her living in a run-down facility but laughing with the other residents while keeping a beautiful, white puppy by her side.  She looked at me and didn’t seem to recognize me but then said to the other resident, “That’s my daughter. Just joking!”

She pulled a Robert.  Sometimes Robert will know something but say he doesn’t and then say it in a joking way. 

I knew Mom recognized me when she “joked” about it.

The guilt I felt was overwhelming.  (Seriously? I feel enough guilt during my waking hours and now I have to feel it in my dreams too!!?) 

The dream was vivid and real and Mom looked just as she did 16 years ago. It was no surprise she was with a puppy (I was surprised it wasn’t her beloved Sassy, though!). 

I woke up feeling exhausted and out of sorts.  Why did I have this dream about Mom?  Of course I still miss her after 16 years and as I approach my 55th birthday, I am struck more than ever by just how young 56 years old was when she died.
Mom, Trish, Rachel - Monterey 1994

The guilt crept back that morning.  When did mom die, exactly?  How do I not remember the exact date?  It was in September.  It was after Caty’s birthday. 

Was it really September 21?  Is that why I had this dream?  Did I jumble the World Alzheimer’s Day and the day she died into a gigantic, confused ball of emotion? 

I frantically searched my files for the date she died.  My files are still not quite completely organized since we moved so I was becoming quite exasperated.  Even without confirmation, I knew September 21 was the day she died.  I finally did find my files and confirmed September 21 was indeed the day she died.  The entire period of her illness has not been forgotten but the exact date she died was tucked too far away for some reason.  Diagnosed in July 1999 and gone two months later.

Much too quickly.  Much too soon.

Grief is an unpredictable, wild ride.  Grief will rear up from the background completely unexpectedly but memories of Mom, Bib and others will always have a place safely kept in my heart and surrounded by love. 

Details may fade, guilt lessons, grief will soften but love will always remain strong.

Thank you for the visit, Mom.  

Tara, Rich, Trish, Robert, Mom - 1973(?)

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