Last night, I dreamed that Mom was still alive. It was not one of those wish-dreams where she was healthy and cancer free, but it was a very real replay of a scenario that we lived through a few times. She was in a period of relative good health, having beaten the cancer down to almost nothing again. She had energy to leave the house and move about almost normally. But even in my dream, it was apparent that this was the top of a cycle, and there was a palpable feeling of foreboding. Though we all tried, as in real life, to place as much positive energy into our efforts as possible, we always knew that these upswings were likely temporary, to be followed by a crash. In my dream, I remember wondering how many times we would go up and down like this.
As so often happens with dreams like these, it took me several moments after I awoke to realize that Mom really isn’t here anymore. These transition periods after waking are so cruel. As sad as it is for me, having had the normal human experience of losing a parent, I wonder how horrible it must be for people who have lost a child to experience these blissful moments of forgetting, only to have the weight of the truth crush them again and again.
Shortly after we arrived in Colorado to live with Mom, she pulled me aside to talk with me. At this time, she had begun aggressive chemotherapy, but was still feeling pretty good. She told me that she wanted me to know that she wasn’t afraid of dying, and that she would be happy to talk with my children about why she wasn’t afraid. In particular, she knew that my older son, Hayden, was scared. I am sure she also knew that I was scared, and was skillfully talking me through my fears by pretending it was about my kids. But she also wanted me to know that, even though she wasn’t afraid, she had no intention of dying from this disease.
My mom was not a very religious woman, so her comfort did not necessarily come from a faith place. But she was very spiritual, and she had had experiences in her life that had assured her that death was nothing to fear. One powerful story she had told me again and again as a child was of the night her own mother passed away, and how she was awakened from a deep sleep by an electric pain shooting down her arm at the moment of her mother’s death. My grandmother had lived her life in frail health from childhood, and had had close brushes with death on more than one occasion. Her matter-of-fact account of a near death experience as a child is part of our family lore, and I know it brought Mom much peace around her own grief after her mother passed. It brings me some peace to know that it brought Mom peace.
Dreams like the one I had last night sort of put the events of these past few years into a surreal light. Even now, many waking hours since, there is a strange other-worldly fog clouding the reality of what transpired, and I find it necessary on some level to keep reminding myself, “Yes, it all happened.”
Someone told me that about six months after a death, the shock begins to wear off, and a new, strong wave of grief comes. I wonder if this may be true, as the dreams become more frequent. My kids have begun to speak of their grandma more, of things they miss about her. They have begun to display some new avoidance behaviors of grief triggers, and perhaps, some new anger, but mostly soft sadness and, maybe, the beginning of acceptance.
Perhaps this is when we all begin to realize that our waking dream has been real all this time.