Dreams and memories

My husband told me this morning about a dream he had of a parakeet and a myna bird. I won’t go into the details, they weren’t important to what I’m writing here. Just the fact that those two birds were in his dream. It didn’t carry meaning for me until later. Some interesting facts that stand out now regarding his dream: My mom used to raise parakeets. His mom used to have a pet myna bird. Both species can be trained to talk, at least to repeat words and phrases (the myna bird is able to replicate a specific human voice).

A couple of hours after he mentioned that dream to me, I was researching my current novel. I needed a quick refresher about the kinds of things people record in business planners. For an example, I took three months worth of planner pages of mine from two years ago, when I worked fulltime in a busy office as a manager. I chose a random three month period. Perhaps my subconscious was at work, and still influenced by the Reagan funeral coverage on TV, because the three months I chose happened to be from the time of my mother’s death. I chose March through June of 2002 for my planner sample. She died in April of 2002.

Mom In Orange Dress 1925
Mom in Orange Dress 1925

As I realized what event in my life the pages covered, I began actually reading rather than just skimming for the purpose of research. I re-lived many of my feelings and conflicts over my mother’s illness and death, which I hadn’t bothered to go back over in the two years since her death, until today.

Eventually, in the midst of tears over a particular entry, I began to think I was wasting my time. But just then I came across a note about Mom having thought she heard a myna bird one day in the hospice. My husband’s dream came back to me, as I read it, so the entry stood out. Suddenly I knew that I was doing exactly what I should. This is how I sometimes seem to live my life, in a flow of synchronous or serendipitous events. If I go with the flow, let these things wash over me with a kind of loose, observant awareness, I learn interesting things about myself, and about life.

There have been times in my life when I’ve been afraid to spend time with me. Times when I escape from myself, from my own deepest thoughts and feelings, as if my life depended on it. For instance, while my mom was dying and my sister and I took turns caring for her during her home hospice care, I was also worrying about my job from which I had taken a lot of time, I was traveling 70 or so miles every few days between my home and Mom’s, and I was exhausted, unable to sleep more than three or four hours a night. During that time I also spent hours playing Solitaire on my Palm Pilot. I knitted. I ate more than I should. These were a more absolute escape from life and myself than books or television, because I didn’t even have to think about anything vaguely human. I completely numbed myself to feeling. I had to. Those were days when I took care of Mom’s most basic needs, feeding her, coaxing her to take pills she didn’t want to take, keeping track of the drugs she was getting through a subcutaneous dispenser, changing her diapers, cleaning up messes, watching disease ravage her body and, toward the end, her mind.

I spent the night with Mom in the hospice the night she died. She hadn’t been fully conscious in more than twenty-four hours. That day sometimes when we would speak to her she would raise her eyebrows, but never opened her eyes or attempted to speak. Her breath had become a loose rattle, constant and discordant, a continuous sign that she was still alive, though she didn’t seem to really be with us anymore.

A couple of times that evening while I sat knitting and listening to audio books on the sofa in her hospice room, I thought I saw her move, out of the corner of my eye. In my peripheral vision I was sure I saw her actually sit up in bed. Both times I turned to see what was happening, and saw that she still lay there with her eyes closed, her breath a continuous rattle. She hadn’t moved. At least her body hadn’t. I have wondered, many times since, whether what I witnessed was her spirit tentatively beginning its journey away from her body.

Later, after I’d turned out the light to go to sleep, and lay awake listening to the rattle of her breath, suddenly it stopped.

The most difficult thing for me about remembering those days is this: That sick woman was not my mother. It’s the last thing I remember about her, that long illness, the helplessness, the rapid physical decline. But those memories are not what I want to keep close of my mother. My mother is a young, beautiful woman smiling and squinting her eyes for the camera on a beach. My mom is the woman whose coworkers snapped her watching a handsome man trim down to his swimming trunks, when she thought no one was looking. She’s a dark-haired beauty with her hair up, smiling demurely in profile. She’s a warm lap, a soft, encouraging voice, and a particular way she had of squeezing my arm as she walked past. She’s the one who put up with my complaints at four that she was getting shampoo in my eyes. She’s the whole family sitting down to dinner, she’s a glass measuring pitcher of sourdough pancake batter, overflowing as it rises on a kitchen counter. She’s an artist who told us stories about her paintings. She’s the woman who, one month before her death, worried whether Dad had eaten, and talked about making a kaleidoscope quilt. She’s so many things that are not that fragile, sick woman I cared for in those last days.

Two years later, almost weekly I think of something I want to phone and tell her.

I still miss you, Mom.

I dreamed last night, too, that I went to a psychologist, whom I expected to chastise me about not getting more writing done on my book. Instead he treated me gently and with encouragement, on my most unproductive day, while he treated another woman in the dream, who wrote a perfect paper and handed it to him already formatted and bound, as if she were nuts.

So, according to my dream “shrink,” it’s fine that I got lost in memories of Mom today. It’s fine to let the book sit for a day, to sit and wander at will through my own mind, my own feelings, my own life. Remembering is good. Sometimes just being with me is good.

Mom 1940s

Mom at Beach
Mom at Beach 1942?

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