Are dreams our final visits with the dead?

Within a few days of my mother’s death, I dreamt she was was puttering about in the room where my children slept. We stayed with my father for almost a month after her passing.

“Shh… Mom!” I told her, “the kids are sleeping. Don’t wake them up.”

I was fussing helplessly, impotently, about the orbit of her flurry of productive activity, unable to deter her from her appointed rounds.

And though she finished putting away their laundry—in this dream, so keenly reflecting the fastidious, caring life my mother lived—those sleeping cherubs did not wake up… until one did.

But the sleep-confused boy, even in the dream, could not see my mother there. He reacted only to me, and with mild confusion.

“What’s the matter, Mommy?” asked my baby-almost-grown-to-manhood, before drifting back to sleep, unaware that Grandma was calmly finishing her work within an arm’s reach.

Even in my dream, the truth remained evident. My mother was gone from this mortal coil. No matter how high the heaps of unwashed clothes, nor the number of days that beds remained un-made, Grandma would not be back to re-affirm the self-defined borders of appropriateness within her last home.

We were on our own with our mess, and the loss of her. My mother was dead and gone, and I knew that…

And yet!

My Mom saw me at least once in her last living days, her sight clearing for a moment while she looked straight at me, telling me, “I love you!” She said my name. She saw me.

The fog of cancer lifted for a minute; her gaze was clear. She seemed purely coherent then, contrary to recent history. My mother said good-bye when she got the chance.

I believe that was her last full day drawing breath, but I don’t really trust my memory for the time. In my recollection, I was the little girl, the smallest in her class, headed off to Kindergarten with her Snoopy lunchbox in the white dress Mom had picked out, red-tipped, with red leather shoes to match.

That’s what I thought Mom saw.

One moment took me back that far.

She’d been mostly not-quite-present for awhile, by that point, but I knew she was fully aware when she said farewell. I believe she was knew it was time to say a final goodbye, though I resisted that knowledge in the moment.

A few days ago, my mother again visited my dreams. It’s been about two years and eight months since she died.

In the dream, Mom was driving a large SUV.

While not her favorite vehicle—that would be a powder blue, late model Chrysler New Yorker sedan dubbed Gwendolyn, by me with navy blue leather upholstery, of course!—going somewhere by automobile suits my mother perfectly. In this, she was like other Baby Boomers.

Cars were a symbol of freedom and status for her generation!

In my recent dream, Mom had her head out the window as she navigated much too closely up to the window of an imaginary fast food restaurant. The part where Mom leaned out the window is wildly out of character, while the rest fits.

Though never explicitly stated, it was pretty evident she was there for ice cream. I don’t for the life of me believe she’d venture back for a burger, but for vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, and maybe a few sliced bananas?

“Watch your head, Mom!” I called. I was sure she’d knock herself senseless against the window boxes—standing like escarpments—surrounding the drive-up window of my dreams.

As in real life, Mom barely seemed to register my concern, carrying on according to her own plan. I’m not really joking when I describe my mother as a force of nature in her polite, petite way.

I woke up in the morning reassured by this “visit” with my mother.

A few days—maybe a week—onward, all I can say is, “my mother came to visit. She was checking in on me.”

It was probably just a dream.

There’s likely nothing more to it.

And yet…

And yet.

If you’ve lost someone, I pray that you find them again, if only in your dreams.

Wish You Were Here in a You Are Here demitasse

Starbucks packaging describes this little demitasse cup as an ornament, but it is food- and dishwasher- safe in addition to being tiny and adorable. Starbucks wish you were here ornament demitasse - 1

Part of the You Are Here collection, the box is dated 2016. It was a gift from my mom a few years ago, from one of her last Christmases.

Mom died in July 2019.

Being something of a sentimentalist, a pack rat, and terrible at imposing order on objects in general, I’d stuck the Starbucks ornament in the back of a kitchen cupboard that includes coffee stuff I use only for parties.

Unlike my mother, I never developed a proper holiday stashing system, nor do I tend to decorate seasonally. Unless we consider the accumulation of Amazon shipping boxes on the landing before a gift-giving holiday a form of décor?

For my autumnal birthday this year, my dear husband finally gave in to enabling my caffeine addiction and bought me an espresso machine of my very own. Due to the pandemic, I hadn’t enjoyed my favorite beverage since March 12.

Starbucks wish you were here ornament demitasse - 3That’s more than six months without tasting espresso!

A week or two later, I happened upon my You Are Here Oregon demitasse while putting away my thermal cooker. Since then, I’ve enjoyed my daily espresso or two—okay, yes, now that the machine is in my home, I’m drinking three single shots per day!—from Mom’s gift.

A year and a third since her death, that only brings me to tears once or twice a week.

Starbucks wish you were here ornament demitasse - 4Mom loved Starbucks, though my own espresso preferences are a bit more locally roasted and single origin.

Mom knew how much I miss the state of my birth, and the part of the United States that I still, deep down, consider Home.

Mom would’ve noticed this cup boasts lots of my favorite color.

Of course, to Mom, it was an ornament. To me, it’s a cup. We saw a lot of things differently, but, luckily, mostly we saw eye to eye on the things that really matter.

I can’t bring myself to recycle the little box where Mom hastily scratched through the price tag. She gave so many gifts, just wrapping them was a herculean task. She had to work fast to get it all done. Mom was a perky little dynamo. A half-obscured price tag feels like another spider silk thread from the ghost of her hand to mine when I hold it.

The collection is called You Are Here, but, for me, it’s a Wish You Were Here cup.

Books by her bedside: a novel unfinished though the reader’s life is done

The smallest tragedies keep haunting one after a loss.

Mom was not quite halfway through a novel when she died. I found it in her nightstand today as I began the process of sorting through her closet to donate what my sisters-in-law and I don’t want to keep.Paperback novel with bookmark in the middle

Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast is a wonderful read, too, though a surprisingly gritty choice for Mom. She tended to prefer a comedic or cozy murder mystery. If it had been a Mary Daheim or Elizabeth Peters caper, I bet she would’ve finished it.

In memoriam: I am at sea without her soundings

My child-heart cries out, selfishly, as I sob:

“Mommy! Mommy? I want my mommy!”

Who will help me? Who else will love me so selflessly and endlessly, and do anything for me, simply because she can?

“My heart is broken, Mommy. Who can help me now, when it is your loss I mourn?”

I feel so shockingly alone without my mother’s presence in the background, always so capable, energetic, and willing.

How is grief different from self-pity?

 Memorial display: teddy bear, eyeglasses, cross, photoBut there’s a wiser voice offering a tempering perspective.

I really need my mother! I’m hurt because I’m broken. I ache where there’s something lost.

She’s a node in the network of friends and family; connections may have been severed. All the work she did there must be taken up by another; the strings of the web must be gathered and tied back in. I am at sea without her soundings.

Vaguely humanoid stack of stones on a promontory in the North Atlantic Ocean

Mom is an intricately delicate moving part at the center of the machinery of my life. Part of the heart, part of the soul, part of the mechanism of how I function. This must be mended for life to be whole, happy, workable.

Something has broken in me, and that’s what grief is.

Repairs may be rough or patchy; some bits may never be the same.

This, then, is the work of the motherless child: to set her scarred vessel on its course again. Whenever, however, that may be.

Viking style long boat beached alongside Irish lake

And, someday, I’ll go on.

Not quite as before, perhaps, but on the same headings my mother’s guidance helped me choose so long ago. My journey hasn’t changed, but I’ve lost a dear companion.

Mom died on July 11, 2019, at home with her husband and children. She will be sorely missed.

Sometime, soon, the ironed sheets will be gone & so will my mother

Could anything be more trivial?

Someday soon, the ironed sheets will be gone from the linen cupboard, and I will know that my mother is really gone.Neatly ironed sheets in linen closet

Mom’s tidy stack of pillowcases topped by my less elegant effort

She sick now. She is dying now. But is she still here?

Maybe she’s alive so long as crisply ironed sheets grace the linen cupboard? I’m tempted to guard them with my life and body, throwing myself between thoughtless users and pristine lengths of percale. As if bed linens can define the contours of a human life!

There’s stratification where the line between Mom and not-Mom exists in history, but I’m pretty darn aware that the line is not actually important in the grand scheme of things.

Sloppy folded sheets on linen closet shelf

When grandfather and teenaged grandson put linens away

Mom is dying. The sheets are irrelevant except when we sleep on them. And, yet, they seem to signify…