By Tzivia Gover
Looking back I can’t help marvel at the symbolism in the fact that this story begins with bedsheets. After all, I’m a dreamworker, and bedsheets offer the perfect symbol for a story about dreams. But at the time, when I was just starting to face the fact that my mother’s memory loss was more than just a byproduct of normal aging, the situation was no mere metaphor. I was suffering, and my pain felt concrete – as in hard, cold, and impenetrable.
On this day, I had traveled from my home in Massachusetts to my mother’s in Manhattan as I’d done so many times before. But now the visits weren’t just occasions for us to catch up, shop, eat, and see a movie. Now, I was checking up on her, too, because each time I visited I was finding more evidence that her memory was challenged and her thinking was muddled.
Even still, we had our routine: When I arrived she’d have treats from the neighborhood bakery arrayed on a plate, and when I climbed the stairs to the guest room, she’d have already made up the sofa bed for me. But recently, things had begun to change. The pastries might still be sitting in a paper bag on the counter, and she’d wait until I got there so we could make the bed together.
On this visit there were no baked treats, the bed was still folded into the couch, and when I went to make it up I couldn’t find the sheets or pillowcases anywhere. I asked my mother what had happened to them, but she said she didn’t know. I searched the shelves and hamper. No sheets. Maybe she’d forgotten them at the laundry down the street, as she was now forgetting appointments, what she’d gone to the corner deli for, and even the word for thumb. Whatever had happened to the linens would remain a mystery. It was late, I was tired, and there was no choice but to sleep on the bare mattress.
I wanted to burst into tears, as I would have done decades ago as a cranky toddler in this same woman’s presence. Instead, I looked at my mother’s helpless expression, assured her it was fine, and tried to sleep. I knew that with the disappearance of the sheets, any possibility that my beautiful, intelligent, cultured mother might ever take care of me again, was gone, too.
The next morning, I woke with a dream that was as bare as that bed. All I recalled was a voice: “Nothing matters,” it said.
The things I thought were important – whether my mother remembered my birthday or my name, the names of things in general, the layers of her identity that slipped away one-by-one (educator, educated, feminist, mother) – all mattered terribly, and they didn’t matter at all.
What’s eternal – love, empathy, healing, joy – is what really matters.
Turns out it was never about the sheets or having a mother who made the bed for me. It was something else that truly mattered.
Tzivia Gover MFA, CDP, director of the Institute for Dream Studies, is the author of The Mindful Way to a Good Night’s Sleep and Forgotten Dreams: Tapping into the Power of Sleep and Dreams for Caregivers of People with Alzheimer’s. She offers dreamwork consultations and courses online and in person. More at www.tziviagover.com
Tzivia Gover MFA, CDP, director of the Institute for Dream Studies, is the author of The Mindful Way to a Good Night’s Sleep and Forgotten Dreams: Tapping into the Power of Sleep and Dreams for Caregivers of People with Alzheimer’s. She offers dreamwork consultations and courses online and in person. More at http://www.tziviagover.com