I have really vivid dreams, especially if I awake early and then go back to sleep, as I did this morning. In the wee hours before dawn, I dreamed a succession of brief scenes in which I performed on a college stage, gave a talk in church and then moved my young family into a residence shared with a rough-looking man and his girlfriend. Strange stories…fodder for fiction…yet, the subject matter was not as revealing about my state of mind as were the feelings with which I awoke from my adventures.
As the new day’s light crept through the blinds at my window, I felt fully relaxed, in a state of utter contentment. In my dreams I had been whole, a healthy, active, non-ill person, going about life with confidence and pleasure. As I continued to awaken, I realized it was all a dream. Yet, it was not just a fantasy. It was real because I really had been like that once, and I could remember the past with fondness. Memories can sometimes stir up feelings of regret or loss, but in this case they only stirred up feelings of confidence and reassurance. I once had a normal life (well, more normal than now anyway) in which I interacted with other people, went out in public and could live anywhere, and I can appreciate what I had, even though things have changed. That was then, and this is now.
Several years before my mother died she had a series of small strokes that left her unable to do many simple tasks, like holding a pair of scissors or mending a torn hem with needle and thread. For years she had loved to do needlepoint, so I was somewhat dismayed when I visited her shortly after the strokes and found that she had several unfinished projects in a bag to be given away. She thought perhaps my mother-in-law Fern would like them. “But Mom,” I asked plaintively, “don’t you think you might be able to do this again eventually?” She calmly replied that she had done needlepoint for many years, and now she would just do something else. Maybe she would read more or just sit and enjoy the company of others. That was then, this was now.
For Christmas the following year, my mother-in-law gave me a beautiful needlepoint pillow. It was one of the projects my mother had started and Fern had finished. Mom is gone now and Fern is no longer able to do any handwork due to a fall. But that pillow sits on the little sofa in my office, a gentle reminder of both their pasts. Like my dreams, it’s a brings back memories of a time when things were different, when bodies were whole. But, as Mom would say, life changes and we have to keep on going with it. That was then, this is now.