I lost my Mom almost 11 years ago. I have missed her throughout that time but more so since becoming a mother (the first time I got pregnant in 2010 which led to my first loss in 2011).
I started this post two mornings ago after I awoke from a nightmare in which I watched my Mom dying.
The dream was not a replay of how she actually died. In reality her heart gave out after her cancer returned and she refused any further surgeries or radiation. She was not eligible for chemotherapy due to the damage to her heart from the first round of cancer, surgery in which her heart stopped, and 6 weeks of daily radiation treatments.
In the dream her heart gave out too. But for different reasons. She had suffered a devastating fall that broke her neck and paralyzed her from the neck down. She was naked and terrified. The paramedics were there first and wouldn’t let me near her.
Finally I got in her line of sight and I didn’t do any of the things I wished I had. I didn’t do anything right. I cried. I was scared. I was too welled up in my own grief and fear to be her anchor and help her find peace before she left.
When I woke up I was so upset. I couldn’t stop crying and didn’t even understand – don’t fully understand now – what this dream was supposed to teach me. I just sobbed and begged my Mom not to come back to me like this and asked her why, why come back to me this way? Why now?
I could not stop replaying the scene in my head. I catalogued everything I could have done better. I felt crushed by my helplessness and the sense I had let my Mom down in her moment of deepest vulnerability and need.
There was a time when my mother was alive – before the cancer – and she had fallen after her fist hip replacement surgery (which the lead surgeon botched, resulting in my Mom being limited to only non weight bearing activity, which means no standing indepedently even for transfers to a toilet or bed). I was staying with her to take care of her but had been at work for a few hours.
When I returned I heard whimpering and ran to look for her. I found her on the bathroom floor, crying. I had never seen her cry before. Even when her closest family members had died. She may have cried then. But not in my presence.
She said “I don’t want to live anymore” in an almost inaudible whisper, her voice hoarse with tears and shame. I held her in my arms and rubbed her back.
I felt myself stop breathing. My Mom needed me to see her and honour all she had lost in that moment. It hurt with all my being to hear her, see her as she felt then. But I knew what to do. And I did it.
“I know you don’t” I said. “I know.”
All I wanted then was the power to draw every ounce of shame from her and replace it with the dignity that the disastrous hip surgery had stolen from her. I wanted to make her whole again. To give back her sense of self worth and independence.
I wanted that in my dream too. When I saw my Mom naked – wild eyed and immobilized on the ground – snd surrounded by strangers I wanted that. I longed to be her truth, her anchor, the sense of humanity and dignity she clearly feared she had lost. I wanted to help her tame that mounting fear.
In my shock and grief I could not act upon those desires. I was unable to summon the compassion and quiet calm she needed. I could not restore her dignity, chase away her shame or bring her the peace I so longed for her to have before she left us. Before I had to say goodbye. Again.
And my heart shattered anew. I don’t have words for how painful that dream was and still is. I even find it hard to type this for the tears burning my eyes and cheeks. I have taken many breaks to wipe them away and ride out the shuddering sobs. It feels like grieving my mother’s departure all over again. Or maybe it is her absence I am grieving now?
I have persisted with this post because I want to document the dream and my memories somehow. I need to write it out to help me make peace with myself and in the hope of someday making sense of it all.
I wish I knew what that dream was supposed to teach me. I only remember dreams that are either meant (in my belief) to teach me something or to illustrate a deep seated fear with which I have not come to terms (e.g., my kids drowning).
I awoke feeling and continue to feel that there is something I am to grasp about myself, my life or my parenting in all of this. I don’t yet know what that something is.
I do not know many mothers of young children who have lost their own mothers. I can only think of one. And we don’t talk anymore. I wonder if all of us struggle after our mothers’ deaths like this. I wonder if this is simply how I process grief.
I wonder what I am supposed to take away from all of this. Perhaps most fundamentally an awareness that I am not done grieving the loss of my mother 11 years later?
I suppose I’ve also learned that I may never be done grieving the loss of my Mom. There are other losses I likely will never stop grieving. Contrary to the platitude, time does not heal. Yet it does soften the edges of grief. Most – clearly not all – of the time.
If you were close to and have lost your mother, do you have dreams about her? Do they ever challenge you and, if so, in what way?