During one of those restless nights, which I’ve unfortunately had a lot of recently, I woke from a very weird dream. We’ve all had those from time to time. But this one was so strange I had to immediately write it all down, because I knew it had a meaning, and I knew after I’d written it down the meaning would become clear.
In my dream I had put a pan of cinnamon buns in to bake. Nothing unusual about that, but instead of an oven, I used a wooden chest of drawers my father had made for me one Christmas. I recognized it immediately in my dream, with its white and blue paint and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” decals on the sides. I guess it sort of could have looked like an oven, if I were still a kid playing make believe. But I was an adult, even in the dream.
I even set an imaginary dial for the temperature and a timer to set the cooking time. And even stranger, the chest/oven was in the middle of a bedroom! A very messy bedroom. There were clothes all over the floor that I’d never seen. Who they belonged to, I have no idea, nor did I know why any of this was where it was. At the time it seemed normal.
Suddenly I went downstairs (from somewhere upstairs in whatever house I was in) and started telling a bunch of people I don’t think I even knew, about the special treat I’d prepared for a meeting we were all getting ready to attend. Then I realized I wasn’t ready for the meeting, so I started looking for my briefcase which had my meeting notes and laptop, and it was gone! I searched everywhere for it. I even told some of the people I had to find it because all of my memories were on there, and I hadn’t backed them up yet. (“Memories” was the word I used…keep reading)
Still looking for my laptop, I went outside to look in my friend’s car (why I didn’t have my own car I have no idea, and I’m not sure I even knew this “friend”) and her car was gone. I ran inside and asked her about it, and she said she had no idea what had happened to it. She didn’t act concerned at all, and said my stuff wasn’t in there anyway. I was beside myself by that point, so I ran upstairs to check my oven, and that was gone, too. The only thing left was an indentation in the carpet where it had been.
By that time I was frantic. I kept saying over and over again, “I’ve lost my mind. What’s going on?” I ran back downstairs and tried to turn on the lights, and none of the light switches would work…I was in a panic, and didn’t know what to do. I was running in circles….
And then….I woke up, almost shaking. I had the strangest feeling, and I knew this dream meant something, but I didn’t know what.
As I wrote all of it down, the Lord spoke to me and said, “This is what it’s like as dementia and Alzheimer’s start to set in.”
We’ve all had strange dreams from time to time. But this particular one struck me, especially because of the familiarity of some of the components. Now I knew why.
Daily everyday tasks or just day-to-day living can become jumbled and difficult. Routine activities such as cooking can become complex, and sometimes even dangerous. One of my aunts slowly ventured into the world of dementia after her husband passed away. At the beginning of her adventures in this strange new world, her actions, although a bit bizarre at times, were harmless, and the caregivers hired to stay with her during the day were able to easily prevent her from situations in which she could harm herself.
Unfortunately this strange new world became the norm for my aunt, rather than the exception and some of her new activities combined previously normal activities with some rather interesting twists. Her caregivers had to remove the burner knobs on her stove before they left in the evening, because several times they had come to the house in the morning and found her “cooking” her good jewelry in a saucepan on the stove, stirring her rings and brooches with a wooden spoon, just like she used to do when making sauces. A few times they even found food that had been prepared and placed in a drawer to bake, similar to the dream I described above.
I wonder, was what I was experiencing in my dream what my aunt was experiencing in her mind? How awful that must have been for her. Or worse, did she even know at that point what reality was?
We all forget where we park our cars at times; even our 27 year old daughter does that! And we know that brief scary feeling when we think our car’s been stolen, until we find it in the next row of parked vehicles. Dreams of being unprepared for meetings or tests in school (even if we’ve been out for years) are also commonplace for many of us, especially under stressful conditions.
But the reality of losing control of our memory is totally different, because we cannot control it. And as frightening as it is to watch our loved ones going through this, think how frightening it is for them, as they begin to realize what’s going on, while they still can. We can escape our dreams of being out of control; they cannot. They’re forced to repeat different variations of the same dreams until they cannot reason reality from the captivity of dementia.
What can we do in this situation when a loved one is beginning this journey? Aside from making sure they are protected and cared for, all we can do is continue to love them, be patient with them (which is sometimes tough), and go along with some of the things they say, because they don’t know what they’re saying, and correcting them won’t help. It’s never something we’re prepared for, but unfortunately for many of us it’s something we have to go through. And eventually we’re forced to make decisions about their care that we’d never ever imagined we’d have to do.
Think about this the next time you have one of those crazy, mixed up dreams. I know I will. Because I’ve been through it with my aunt and my mother, and over the next several months, I will take you through some of the storms we went through, as detailed in my upcoming book, “Memories in a Daughter’s Heart”.
But be encouraged. There are better days ahead for all of us.