Dreams, Memory, Dementia

kitchen in house in 1995

I’ve been wondering lately if there is some correlation between vivid dreaming and memory loss or dementia.

My mother has Alzheimer’s, and she’s at the stage now where she imagines (?) that she is making art projects with her mother (dead since 1965), that she is in the thick of raising my sisters and me, that her father (dead for more than 20 years) is a regular part of her life. Her life these days is peopled with historical figures and constructed from historical events, as if some kind of solid wall between her past and her present has dissolved and allowed the two to co-mingle.

What is the nature of that wall, I wonder? How solid is it, really? Is “dementia” another word for “nirvana,” for living in the moment without delusion, if only we weren’t so tied to the convention of time? (Except that in the state of nirvana, desire and aversion are said to be extinguished, and that’s not so for my mother. Yet.)

Sometimes when I wake up from dreaming, I feel quite sure that the past is present, that I have been interacting with people, places, and events from 10 or 20 or 30 or more years ago. And sometimes, that feeling doesn’t disappear after a few seconds but follows me throughout the day. It feels almost real, that I was just having a conversation with my ex-husband, that I was just wandering through a house I last lived in in 2002, that I was hugging my dad or calling out in a panic for a bulldog who is lost (and who died in 2003).

It seems that there is a fine line separating me from my mom:  I feel a bit disoriented and bewildered when I wake up feeling that the past is clashing with the present, because it both feels real and yet external cues tell me it can’t be real; whereas my mother accepts this intersection or collision as fully real, and external cues don’t persuade her otherwise.

(Photo: 1995; kitchen in a house I dream about frequently)

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