I dreamed about Mom and Dad last night. I do that quite a bit lately. I guess it’s my subconscious working through the grief of Dad’s death and the nagging guilt that caregivers feel about this decision or that situation that could have been resolved differently or handled better. When I woke up at 4:30, the dream was clear, and I mentally composed a brilliant blog post around it. I should have gotten up and written it then or at least jotted down a few ideas on a note pad. After a few hours and a little more sleep, the details have faded into the foggy confusion that makes up foreign art films. The only thing that remains clear is that Mom and Dad were, once again, coming to live with me. No, it won’t make my Top Ten Favorite Dreams list.
I visited Mom last weekend. That’s probably where the dream came from. She celebrated her 90th birthday on Saturday, and a small group of family and friends gathered to celebrate with her. I was skeptical about the idea at first, envisioning a lot of work and no small amount of chaos. I worry too much. My sister-in-law Jo Lynn used her Creative Memory talents to create a nostalgic invitation, and Southridge Village where Mom lives took care of the party details. Two of Mom’s remaining three sisters came, along with a niece, her husband, and a nephew. A local grandson came with his two children, and two couples from my brother Jim’s church showed up. It was a small but lively group, large enough to show the respect merited by 90 years but not so large as to overwhelm Mom’s already confused mind.
Jo Lynn and I bought Mom a new pantsuit and a corsage of red roses for the occasion. After a visit to the on-site beauty salon, I applied a little blusher, eye shadow, and lipstick. I always enjoyed our girl times when she was with me, and she loved being pampered. Once preparations were finished, she was ready to party. She made her grand entrance with a huge smile that never left her face. She had no idea what was going on, but she knew she was the center of a lot of attention, and she loved every minute of it. In spite of a “No Gifts” note on the invitation, there were a few packages to open. Her favorite was a stuffed cat from her great-granddaughter EmmaLeigh. In quiet moments, she held it in her lap and absently stroked its soft fur.
There were lots of cameras, and picture time was hilarious. Aunt Grace also has Alzheimer’s, and while Mom’s personality has subsided into smiling compliance, Aunt Grace is still a live wire. She talks constantly, sometimes apparently speaking in tongues, gestures emphatically with her hands, and is rarely still for more than a few seconds at a time. Posing the sisters was like trying to hold three corks underwater at the same time with one hand. We started out with the birthday girl in the middle, but that didn’t work out very well. Aunt Fay, the youngest and only sound mind in the group, moved to the middle and tried to corral the other two. The results were endearing if not of portrait quality.
The party was a rousing success, and I was glad Jim and Jo Lynn’s optimism won out over my doubt. But there was another aspect to the weekend – the caregiver part. Friday night, Jim and Jo Lynn hosted a dinner at their home for those of us who had come to town early. While they got everything ready, David and I went to get Mom. I easily fell back into my familiar role. I walked her to the car, offering my arm for support, eased her into the front seat of our two-door Grand Prix, and fastened her seat belt. During the evening, I enjoyed sitting by her, holding her hand, and interacting with her in her limited way. But I also took her to the bathroom, helped her with her dinner, and put her to bed when we took her back to Southridge. By the time we got back to our motel, I was exhausted. I was also feeling some guilty twinges about the relief I felt at turning her back over to her professional caregivers.
Maybe that’s where the dream came from. There’s a fear that at some point the resources may run out or for some other reason Mom may no longer be able to stay at Southridge. Considering how I felt after the weekend, I’m not sure I’m physically or emotionally up to the task of caring for her. There’s also the guilty realization that I don’t want to resume my role as her primary caregiver. As much as I cherish the years I was able to care for her and Dad, that time has passed, and I now cherish the time David and I have together. In the bright sunshine of a Texas morning, as the night visions fade, I think about the many Bible verses that say “Do not fear,” I remember the caregiver support group discussions about false guilt, and I try to put it behind me. It was, after all, only a dream.