Living with grief: dreams of my mother

Living with grief: dreams of my mother
© 2008 Rex Sorgatz, Flickr. Used with permission. "I believe in fairytales and dreamers' dreams / like bed-sheet-sails / And I believe in Peter Pan / And miracles and anything I can to get by.....and fireflies." Lori McKenna photo

My mom died on October 14, 1992, five months after my husband and I got married. She has missed two thirds of my adulthood, including the birth of my daughter, our lives in Alaska, and my cancer diagnosis. Some people are so important in your life that it’s hard to create memories without writing them into the story, even if they weren’t there.

We lived in Ohio before my daughter was born and before I was pregnant with her. But when I remember Ohio, I begin first with trying to picture her there. Who babysat her? What were her favorite parks? I feel silly when I do this, but I realize that her birth changed me so profoundly that it feels like she must have always been there.

As I write my daughter into the past before she was born, I write my mom into the future she never saw. It’s almost impossible for me to understand that my daughter and mother never met, that my mother never held my daughter.

Perhaps because of this struggle, I’ve written my mother and daughter together in my dreams.

When my daughter was about six months old, I had a dream that we had a huge celebration for her birth. It was an “Introduction to the World” party. People came from far and wide to see this little girl. At one point in the dream, my mother walked out of a crowd of people and held her arms out for the baby. She held my daughter.

When I woke up I felt somehow that my mom had met her, that an important link had been made between the two of them.

Don’t let me lead you into a sentimental mist. My mom and I, my mom and the world, had a difficult relationship. Sometimes my grief for her has been more about what I never had than about what I lost. I grieve for the lost opportunities she and I might have had to find some connection and peace.

I’ve had a dozen or so dreams about my mom over the years, most of them within the first ten years or so after her death. In almost all of those dreams, my mother doesn’t speak. She is present but silent.

But last night I dreamed about her again. We talked a lot. We mostly argued. I don’t remember what we argued about, but it was a meandering sort of conversation, irritating to both of us. She left in a huff.

I was at  a party and I was enjoying everyone who was there. My brother came to me and said, “Mom died.” I kept saying, “No, no, no. I just want to talk with her again. One more time.”

When I woke up this morning, I felt grief in that palpable, specific way that grief sometimes comes. I wasn’t mourning the general loss, the big picture loss, the concept of my mom. I was mourning the ability to talk to my mom.

There’s really no such thing as “getting over” the death of someone you love. You learn to live with it. You learn to move on. But the loss is always there.

Oddly enough, I find that comforting. I wish my mom knew before she died that her loss would be this profound, that she would never be forgotten. Some days I think I’d give up a year of my life to just talk with her again, or to argue with her again.

But then I catch a glimpse of my daughter and I know that I wouldn’t.

So today, I’m grateful for dreams and grateful that I see my mom occasionally in my dreams.

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