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Slices of Life: Mom comes back to me in a dream

Last night my mom appeared in one of my dreams. 

She passed away nine years ago — from Alzheimer’s. I haven’t been able to think about her — not really — since. It’s an ugly disease. 

I’m weak to say so, but my last memories of her are haunting. I’m only speaking my truth. Watching someone you love — your mom for goodness sakes — forget who you are, how the world works, which pronouns to use, how to take care of themself — is devastating. 

When I’d visit, she’d ask (innocently), “Who are you? Do I know you?”

What do you do in that moment but make light of it and try to be positive, even when it is breaking your heart into a million pieces?

I wasn’t the only one. She forgot my dad, too. She remembered being married to a much younger man and thought the guy who lived with her needed a place to live. So she let him stay. 

“He doesn’t have anywhere else to go,” she said. They’d been married 49 years.

It hurt greatly — losing her, piece by piece, bit by bit. But I’ve done my best to move on. The moments have gotten better. There are days when I don’t even think about Alzheimer’s. When I don’t remember what it did to her. When I don’t fear it might do the same to me, and my kids will have to deal with the reality that their mom doesn’t recognize who they are. There’s no preparing for that. On either end. 

I still haven’t been able to return to the good memories of her, and there are many. The happy ones. When I attempt to access them, the ugly ones attempt to roll through and I have to shut my brain off to any memories of her at all lest those really bad ones return. 

Until last night.

Perhaps I’ve turned a corner. 

Last night she returned to me. In a dream. And — here’s the best part — she was lucid and she was giving me advice. I was sharing information with her that I haven’t shared with many and she was advising me on how to proceed.

My mom is back. Maybe she is back. Maybe I’m ready for her to be back. Maybe I’m done being sad. If so, I am glad.

I have missed her so. Missed her without having the strength to remember her. It’s been terrible. A girl needs her mom. 

But perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps she and I can have a relationship again. She can give me advice and listen and do all the things she always did when she was my mom before Alzheimer’s disease. 

If dreams are all we have, I will take it. Holy heck, I’ll embrace it. Seeing her again last night in my sleep, like I hadn’t seen her in more than a decade was healing. So much more healing than nine years of waiting for the pain to abate. 

Thank you, Mom, for coming back to me. I know you’ve been trying and I know I’ve been a tough nut to crack. You never gave up on me during your time here on earth and I know now that you still haven’t given up on being my mom. 

Some good things never end. I don’t have to explain to anyone why I’m glad for that. Thanks mom. Until we meet again — in dreams or in heaven. I look forward to every moment we can find a way to connect and be together.

— Jill Pertler’s column Slices of Life appears regularly in the Times. She can be reached at