Eight little words my mom always said to us three kids every night as she tucked us into bed. Words I figure I’ll never hear again, even though I’m a grown woman, and so is she.
“Happy dreams, I love you, God bless you,” she’d say.
I won’t hear them again, not because she doesn’t want to say them. It’s because she can’t remember to say them. She’s 63 and has dementia.
A year and three months ago she was an autonomous woman, avid runner 5 and 10K’s mostly, had her own job of 19 years at a non-profit organization, rented an old house on an island called Alameda, and had a cat she loathed, mostly because of the hair she’d shed. She even drove her own car, a Nissan I helped her pick out at a dealership in Antioch.
Every now and then she’d send an email with those eight little words, after talking about her day at work or detailing a weekend adventure with her Kiwi boyfriend, yes, from New Zealand.
The doctors, all of them, psychologist, psychiatrist, general physicians – all labeled her as ‘dementia syndrome of depression,’ but I never got the depression part.
Sure, depressed like everyone else I know, she had the occasional down feeling, the blues here and there, but it wasn’t nothin’ a glass of red wine couldn’t cure.
“Joy comes in the morning.” It’s a song we’d sing in church, only ‘morning’ was ‘mourning.’ The rest of the words went – the darkest hour, means dawn is just in time.
I’m still waiting for dawn.
My mom’s darkest hour wasn’t an on-going thing. She had some pretty dark hours in her past, but certainly none in her present. She was generally a content woman.
I miss her so much, even though she’s present in body, she’s absent in mind.
She barely speaks now, but if you scoot up to her real close, every once in awhile she’ll utter a sentence related to nothing at all. Sort of like those who talk in their sleep, you can’t quite make it out, no matter how hard you try.
“What’s that mom?”
She gives no repeat performance.
The hardest part about it all is that she doesn’t recognize me, her middle child with syndrome (as I always say). I want to believe she knows I’m there, feeding her soup or rubbing her boney back, but she gives no outward signs. Her big brown eyes hold a blank stare. I could be anyone.
So I just take in her beauty with my eyes. She practically looks like my sister. Her petite frame, her light brown skin, hardly any wrinkles, and her white hair taking over the pitch black she’d been dying all these years.
I always wished I had black hair like hers, because I had this silly notion that it would make me look more Mexican like her. Instead I felt my dark brown hair was neon for mixed race. Nothing against my half-Mexican, half-whiteness, just wanted to be 100% something.
For now, I’m only 100% sure that my mom is gone – mentally. February last year marked her decline. Month-by-month, everyday routines failed her. She’d drive to work at night and would go back home, “because no one was there.” She’d pay for gas and go home, still on empty.
Her ability to tell time was next to go. Anxiety found a home in her in a big way, so prescribed drugs from her doctors became protocol. Her sister, just three years her junior, had to administer them each night from three cities away. She had to make sure she didn’t take the wrong amount or forget to take them at all.
She loves to laugh. And I’m so thrilled this part of her brain remains intact, because making her laugh comes easy for me. It’s a gift I got from her first husband, my bio-dad, a man I never lived with, but somehow got his genes. He was her first true love.
Mother’s Day was difficult this year. I wanted to cancel it. Commercialism hyped it up everywhere. I felt mocked. Can’t count how many times I’ve cried, “I’m not ready to lose her yet. She’s too young. Please, I want my mother back.”
It’s selfish of me, I know. But as a child, a 43-year-old one, I wish it anyway. If I say goodbye to hope, I say goodbye to my mother, and I couldn’t live with that.
I’m glad I spent the day with her. She was a joy and I didn’t break down in front of her as usual.
Her spirit is serene and peaceful, even though she shakes. She’ll say “yah” to just about any question you ask her. “Are you comfortable?” “Are you cold?” “Are you warm?”
She can’t say it anymore, so I say it for her and to her as often as I can … “Happy dreams, I love you, God bless you.”
Postscript: This piece was written 17-years-ago. My mom passed away several months after I wrote this. I think of her every day, dream of her often and smile while reflecting on all the beautiful memories. Her passing feels like it was only yesterday.
Charleen Earley is a freelance writer, community college journalism professor and Editor-in-
Chief of The Orinda News. She’s also a part-time stand-up comedienne and “Grammy” to three
Charleen Earley can be reached at email@example.com .