August 18, 2023

Last night I dreamt that my cousin, Nancy, and her husband, Greg, were marrying after years together. First of all, in typical dream-like-suspension-of-reality, this is absurd. Nancy and Greg are married, and have been for years. They have three children, as well as grandchildren. Secondly, my conscious self knew this was absurd even as I was dreaming it, but the dream persisted in vibrant detail and intensity. Third, and perhaps most interesting, I began to notice the guests. My Aunt Betty sat down next to me across from Becki*, her daughter, who was charged with the ring warming. My Uncle Bobby was taking pictures. To my left sat my maternal Grandmother, who, in turn, was sitting next to my Mom. My Uncle Jack, Nancy’s Dad, was at the front of the parlor with Nancy as the proud father of the bride. 

In real life, Aunt Betty, Uncle Bobby, Uncle Jack, my Grandmother, and my Mom are all deceased.

I play a funny game around my Mom’s birthday, August 18th. You see, I never deleted the birthday alarm on my phone. So, about a week prior to my Mom’s birthday, I start getting reminders of her impending birthday and her age (as if I’d forget). I know this is not terribly unusual, and many folks have similar notifications on their calendars. The game, though? The game I play concerns her age. This year, my Mom would be eighty-three. That’s a feasible age. You see, in my mind, my Mom should still be alive. I know eighty-three year old people. I know quite a few, actually. I know folks older than that! So, in my mind, my Mom should still be alive. And that’s the game. Or part of it.

In 2005, Joan Didion wrote a beautiful, poignant book on grief titled “The Year of Magical Thinking.” When I first read it, I enjoyed the literary journey of it. But I didn’t get it because I’d not lost anyone in my closest circle yet. I read it later, after my mother died, and that time, it was like reading an entirely new book. It hit so differently. In it, Didion grapples with a similar suspension of time around her husband’s untimely death. “I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.” At eighty-three, my Mom could still be alive. After all, her mother lived until she was ninety-four . . . and was sharp as a tack and mobile until the very, very end. My Mom, by all my mind’s accounting, should still be alive. 

But, there comes a point in this game. I know the rules will change. One day, that number will become a number too large to hold life. One day,  I will enter the realm of “no matter what, you would be dead.” I will hate that day. The game will be over. No longer will I be able to suspend my thinking in such a way that I can say, “She could be alive. She should be alive.” And that day will be its own day of grief.

My family will tell you that I rarely have vivid dreams. I am a boring dreamer. Or I don’t remember my dreams. But from time to time, I do have these sorts of vivid dreams. And today, three days before my Mom’s 83rd birthday, I am thinking a lot about last night’s dream. It was a wedding. A joyous event. And full of beautiful details: scrapbooks being passed around documenting Nancy and Greg’s long courtship, gifts given to the bride (Nancy, take note! – bangles of silver, gold and amethyst!). There was a lot of purple, including a purple floral dress on the bride. All sorts of family gathered together to celebrate.

My family will also tell you that I rarely (and with regret) feel my mother’s presence since her death. And while she sat away from me in this dream, she was there. I didn’t talk to her, or touch her, or interact with her in any way, but she was there. And that is some comfort as I continue to miss her. 

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you free**.

*I especially love this little vignette because Nancy and I were “rice girls” in Becki’s real-life wedding eons ago.

** Five for Fighting, “The Riddle”