Tag Archives: remembering a parent

Dreams of My Mother

suitcase

Photo by Jed Owen on Unsplash

I had a vivid dream the other night. I was preparing to teach a class, but I couldn’t find my notes. As the time for the class drew nearer, I got increasingly stressed that I’d lost my window to prepare.

The Interpretation of dreams

In and of itself, that dream isn’t all that unusual. I constantly have dreams that I’m taking tests I’ve not studied for, or have been cast in plays for which I haven’t learned the lines.

But in this particular dream, my notes were buried in a large suitcase filled with my late mother’s belongings. And every time I tossed out one item – her old raincoat, a set of sheets, a painting – another item would appear.

As the class I was meant to be teaching got closer and closer, more and more things from my mother’s past appeared. It got to the point where I couldn’t empty the suitcase quickly enough. I never found my notes, I missed my teaching deadline, and I had to cancel the class.

Avoiding Sadness

I’m a big believer that bad dreams can be good for you. So I knew that this dream was trying to tell me something. After my mother passed away in June, I went back home to the States and emptied her apartment. But why was I dreaming about that now?

When I described the dream to my husband, he said, “It’s obvious. You’ve been working really hard lately. And you’re using work to stave off sadness about your mother’s death.”

He had a point. No sooner had I managed to achieve a modicum of balance in my work-life this summer, a tsunami of work hit in early September that has yet to abate. I’ve long used busyness as a tool for staving off all sorts of negative feelings and anxieties, so why not sadness over my mother’s passing?

You can’t box grief

But I think there’s something else going on in this dream as well. As we edge towards the six month mark of my mother’s death, I’ve begun to worry: Will I forget her? A lot of this has to do with the fact that – because of the pandemic – we’ve still not managed to have a proper memorial service to celebrate her life.

Back in June when she died, my siblings and I optimistically thought we might manage a service by Christmas. Then, Easter. But with the latest news reports around vaccines, I’m now thinking it will realistically be next summer, earliest.

And because of this delay, I’ve found myself wondering lately if maybe we shouldn’t opt for an online memorial service, as so many others have done. I raised this with one of my brothers the other day, who instantly killed the idea. He’d like to do it in person. And in talking it through with him, I realized that I would too.

What I came to realize was that planning the Zoom funeral was my way of ensuring that I didn’t forget her. But as my dream reminds me: I don’t need a funeral to remember my mother. She’s already here. Pictures of her are strewn across my house. I wear her jewelry and read her books. And if I ever get so busy that I stop processing those reminders, she will come back to me in my dreams, to remind me that she’s still here.

So perhaps the dream was a reminder that you can’t box grief. You can try to set it aside, but it will always pop back up – Mary Poppins like.

Thank Goodness.

This post originally appeared on Sixty and Me.

How I Remember My Mother

funky bracelet
Happy funky jewelry by SilverLines Jewelry via Flickr

When my mother died earlier this summer, my siblings and I decided to postpone her memorial service. At the time, the maximum amount of people allowed at an outdoor funeral in New Jersey, where she lived, was 30 (due to Covid). Just our family alone – with all of my nieces and nephews – would nearly hit that target, without even beginning to move into other family and friends. And once we factored in that her four closest surviving friends are all in their 80’s, and thus at high risk, we decided to wait.

I’m not sure that was the right decision. I’ve watched at least three other friends bury their parents this summer, and all of them opted for the small – but immediate – funeral. I have this gnawing fear that by the time a vaccine is developed and travel is safe again, it will be too late. We will have forgotten her.

That is, of course, an irrational fear. I was blessed with two parents with very strong personalities. It is literally impossible to forget them. I’ve also realized that without even intending to, I am now actively engaging with my mother on a daily basis in ways that bring her strongly to mind.

Books

I’ve mentioned before that my mother was an avid reader. That’s putting it mildly. One of the last things I did before vacating her apartment was to carefully parse out her books amongst my siblings. I chose non-fiction for my oldest brother, fiction for my sister and a blend of fiction and poetry for my own family.

All summer, I’ve been reading those books. I started with a John Le Carre thriller, Our Kind of Traitor. It isn’t even one of his most celebrated spy novels, but I enjoyed it thoroughly nonetheless. Then I moved on to a beautiful novel about music by Vikram Seth (of A Suitable Boy fame), called An Unequal Music. Right now, I’m reading a collection of short stories by Alice Munro.

As I make my way through these books – but particularly the Alice Munro, because she was one of my mother’s favorite authors – I feel very connected to my mom. I imagine what she might think about the characters, or how a particular reference to the Great Depression or World War II might resonate for her. I have this odd sensation that I am actually reading the book with her. And that is a beautiful thing.

Jewelry

A second way I am connecting to my mother is through her jewelry – (which, in his inimitable Jersey accent, my dad pronounced as “JEW-luh-ree.”) Because I gave all of my mother’s paintings to my siblings, I took her jewelry, which felt like a fair trade.

The funny thing about my mother’s jewelry is how out of keeping it was with the rest of her look. My mother’s style was exceedingly down-to-earth. She didn’t spend a lot of money on clothing and almost never wore make-up, save the odd dot of eye shadow or lipstick.

How odd, then, that her jewelry collection would be so eclectic and playful. She wore large, ceramic bangles…long, colorful beads…and silly, irreverent pins that poked out from her shirts. Underneath the practical, organized self she presented to the world, my mother’s inner actress beamed through in her accessories.

I wear that jewelry every day now. Some of it suits me and some of it doesn’t. But it doesn’t matter. It makes me feel close to her.

Sayings

The final way I invoke my mother on a daily basis is through her speech. Like many of us, my mother evolved an odd collection of sayings over the years, some of which she surely inherited from her own mother and some of which she invented.

She liked to describe rainy days as “soggy,” as in “It’s soggy out today.” She loved the Yiddish word “farmisht” (also pronounced “fermished”). This word literally means “crazy or messed up,” but my mother extended it to mean “broken” or “not working,” as in “These batteries are fermished.” She also dutifully “wogged” her back every morning – her term for exercising and stretching. (At least two of my friends have written to me since her death telling me that they have appropriated this term from her. Love.)

If you lost something, and it was visible to the naked eye, she’d say “If it were a snake, it would bite you!” But if you looked for the item, and no one could find it, she’d joke: “I saw seven guys running down Heights Road with it!” (Heights Road was the street I grew up on).

I find myself using these expressions regularly now. Each time I do so, my face brightens with her memory.

If you’ve lost someone close to you, how do you invoke their presence in your daily life? Please share in the comments section.