I dreamt about my mother last week. It was a year ago that she died, and I guess that experiencing this first anniversary has put her clearly in my mind. Her death seems like it just happened in some ways – and in other ways I feel she has missed so much. Strange that after a year, I still look for the blinking light on the phone beside my bed every single time I wake up.
It was there so often. All through the day, particularly at ‘sundowning’ time – around 6:00 p.m. at night – when the bad behaviour among several patients would escalate. Far worse though, were the episodes at night. I would wake up several times in the night to check the machine and if there was a message it was never good news.
My mother was calling for me. To be more exact, my mother was screaming for me and someone in her care facility was calling me to have me come in and try to calm her. I always could, luckily. The hysterical screaming, paranoid delusions and seething rage would completely overcome her and last until I got there. I would be holding her and telling her “It’s okay, I’m here Mom. You’re safe. I’ve got you.” But the saddest part wasn’t when she was in the middle of these horrible occurrences.
No, the saddest part was when the episode ended. She would suddenly get quiet, and start looking around at her surroundings, and at me. Then she would slump her shoulders and shake her head sadly. She always put her hands on my face and said the exact same thing: “Oh my God Kid – I am so sorry.” It was excruciating. Much harder than her attacks on the staff and other patients. In the aftermath, she was embarrassed and afraid – two things she had spent her whole life overcoming.
She was desperately unhappy and told everyone that would listen that she couldn’t stand to live this way. She could not believe the things she had done – scratched a woman in a wheelchair, thrown dishes at a non-verbal elderly man when he didn’t respond to her, or knocked the computer and everything else off the Manager’s desk. When she physically attacked a young volunteer with Down’s Syndrome, they had to call the police. She would have been devastated if she had believed she had done it. She couldn’t believe it. It was too painful for someone who had lived a life of extraordinary kindness and grace.
I was lucky though, I know. The place where she lived the last part of her life was only 15 minutes away from my home. It was also top of the line. It cost more than a suite at the Plaza Hotel but that was because it allowed us to still pretend. All of us.
We would pretend that she choose to live there, behind the beautiful doors that were kept locked all the time. We would pretend that she choose to wear the horrible shoes with the velcro closures and the endless array of stretchy polyester clothing that could withstand the constant washing that her sloppiness and incontinence demanded.
We would also pretend to care much more than we did. The staff would feign a sweet attentiveness that I imagined did not exist when I was not in attendance. I would play the dutiful daughter that was never frustrated, or embarrassed, or almost paralyzed by the grief for the loss of the mother that once had been so wonderful.
We would pretend that the end wasn’t a blessing for everyone.
And yet in my dream last week, it wasn’t the mother of the last few years that I was with. Not the shrieking harridan who was hallucinating, nor the terrified, despondent, woman who didn’t want to see her closest friends. The mother in my dreams was the fabulous, funny, unique mother from 10 or 15 years ago. What a pleasure to spend some time with her. I woke up laughing.