Night Moves: How my mom tricked Alzheimer’s by visiting me in my dreams.
My mother is probably a lot like your mother: older, loving, and not her younger self. I know when you look at your mother you see the eyes from your childhood, the wrinkles created by her familiar smile. When I look at my mother, I see her high cheekbones and the crooked incisor that reminds me her parents didn’t have money for braces. But, her Alzheimer’s disease is like an overlay of thick fog she can’t emerge from and we can’t see through. She’s there, I know she is, but she can’t get out.
Yesterday, my daughter said my mom came to her, whole and well, in a dream. She said my mom held her and they spoke about how they miss each other.
At least once a week, I dream about my healthy mom too.
In my dreams, we are deep in conversation before I realize that she is entirely well. We stand in the living room and she is the woman from 2008 when we visited New York together. The last time I saw her whole.
I do not say, “How is this happening?” Nor will I proclaim, “You are better!! YAY!” I am too afraid that her skittish mind will go back to playing hide and seek and I will go on having a mother, but also not having one. That’s how dementia is: you get to keep your loved ones but the person you loved is nowhere in sight.
My dreams are an exercise in the game: Don’t ask don’t tell. My mom isn’t aware that she yanked a handful of my hair while I helped my dad change her bed and I certainly don’t mention bring it up. I also don’t mention that my dream-mom is the mom of ten years ago. Twenty years if you count the ten years of slow decline; the dissolving 7,300 days before she forgot everything. Even me. (I did a Listen To Your Mother performance on that here).
You might think being yelled at and forgotten is the hardest thing about having a mother with Alzheimer’s. But, It’s not. The hardest thing is to see the woman who was a professor of nursing, who spoke in Washington DC for the rights of Nurses, who I called for help with parenting, can no longer do even one thing from her past.
No, wait, I am wrong. She has kept one thing from her past. Her ability to fold towels.
I wonder if my dreams are my mother reaching out across the fog. I don’t think so though. Not because I don’t believe in that sort of thing but because she would not be happy like she is when we speak in the middle of the night. She would be furious about this towel-folding.
“Towel folding,” she’d say with pointed disgust. “Why not ironing, grocery shopping, or even sweeping?” If you’re going to put me in hell why not put me all the way in? Give me all your domestic chores.”
My daughter and I both want to believe my mom is coming to us in our dreams. We want it because otherwise what is the point? She must be in there holding on to her life, folding towels for a reason.
So, here’s what I’ve decided. My mom has figured out how to trick Alzheimer’s. Every day in effect, she says, “Sure, I’ll fold your towels, I’ll undergo the indignities of having a full-time caregiver, of losing memory and choice and self. I’ll play your Alzheimer’s game but when everyone, even the disease sleeps, I will make my midnight visits.
I will use the fact that my body won’t give up. I will transcend the boundaries of understanding. I’m going show my people I love them even if it’s only in their dreams.
“So,” she says, “You horses-ass of a disease. I am going to sit here and fold towels until I can’t. When that skill goes away, it won’t matter one bit because you can’t take away my night moves ”
And, off she will go to visit another love.
I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around is a funny and sad story about the people we love even when disease makes it hard.