Get real. Get your head out of the clouds. Stop daydreaming and get to work.
How many times in your life have you heard or said those words? I’ve heard them a lot. I loved lying on my back in a field of sweet smelling grass as fluffy summer clouds turned into magical beings right before my eyes. Sometimes I’d spot or horse or an elephant. Once I saw an image of my math teacher reaching for a hot dog. I laughed so hard my sides hurt. As a writer, I know the value of pushing reality aside to explore a world of possibilities. As a caregiver, I found that letting go of reality sometimes opened a rare portal to communication.
One of my favorite memories of my mother is when she and I took an amazing trip far from the real world and connected in a way I will always treasure.
I’d come from Virginia, lugging my suitcase and my fears about caring for her. She was finally resting after a 24-hour marathon conversation with the universe. Rambling on incoherently at times, speaking clearly at others, she took me on an unforgettable adventure of fantasy and memory.
“Wow, look at that!” she said, her eyes wide with wonder.
“I see,” I told her.
“What is it?”
Uh oh. What do I say now?
“What is it?” she asked again, this time a fearful note in her voice.
“I don’t know, what do you think it is?” I answered.
“I think it’s a bee. I hope it doesn’t sting me.”
“I won’t let it get you. I’ll swat it if it comes close again.”
“Okay,” she sighed, relieved to know that she was no longer in danger.
“Do you have to go on tonight?”
Go on? Go on what? I thought.
“I don’t think so,” I told her. “I’ll have to check my schedule.”
“I never knew you could sing. When did you learn to sing like that?”
Sing? Me? No way, I laughed to myself. I’m the one they couldn’t decide where to place in the second grade choir because the director couldn’t figure out if I was an alto or a soprano. My voice is that bad. I was pleased that she gave me a talent I always wanted. I wondered if she could also make me a real blonde. Fix it so I no longer have to spend hours at the hairdresser to look more like my beautiful sister.
“Sing to me. Sing me a song so I can rest.”
So I sang.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey…”
The visiting nurse raised her eyebrows and covered her ears. I shrugged my shoulders in a, “What’re ya gonna do,” gesture and continued singing. Mom relaxed in my arms.
“Sleep tight,” I whispered, only to see her eyes pop open once again.
“Look, look over there,” she pointed. “I see angels. Three of them, right over there. They have light all around them, but I don’t see any wings.”
“Yes I see them,” I placated her. “They’ve come to watch over you as you sleep. Get some rest now. I began again. “You are my sunshine…”
“Oh please.” She rolled her eyes. “Stop that racket if you expect me to get any sleep. Who do you think you are; some lounge singer?”
Smiling, I watched as she drifted into sleep, thankful for the gift of song, even if we shared it only for a little while.
We were up and down all night long; I saw her chasing shooting stars, crying over a ruined party dress, livid with rage for some unknown man from her past. I saw the wonder in her eyes as she held her firstborn child. She laughed as she went skinny dipping with my dad in the creek behind their first house. For a time, she spoke a language no one else could define, growing frustrated with my lack of understanding until she looked at me and said, “I love you.” I can recognize that in any language. Finally, seeing I understood, she drifted into a deep peaceful sleep that lasted for hours. When she awoke, she was back to reality, an old woman weakened by non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and chemotherapy. Gone were the angels and the memories of a life full of possibilities. Tears filled my eyes as I bathed her and prepared for the day ahead. “Reality, who needs it?” I said softly, and looked forward to the evening to come.
Unless your loved ones are combative or a danger to themselves or others, it’s best to go with them wherever their memories take them. Their sense of time and place is as real to them as yours is to you, and trying to convince them otherwise just adds to your stress and theirs. And who knows, you may end up with a talent you always wish you had.
Sadly, Bobbi’s mother passed away shortly after the events depicted in this article occurred. During that time, her father-in-law Rodger had come to live with Bobbi after losing his wife of over 40 years. Bobbi was his caregiver for seven years until his death in 2010. Her blog, The Imperfect Caregiver, is written to support women and men caring for loved ones at home.