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(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

Though I have the occasional nightmare, what I have more frequently are what I call stress dreams—dreams that are more like nighttime anxieties on daytime themes. Mostly I dream of not getting to places on time or of misplacing important items or not being able to find where I’m supposed to go—you know, things like missing flights or not being able to find my classroom or misplacing whatever it is I need to do what comes next. I’ve always made my flights and found my classrooms, and even though I have misplaced things from time to time, still my days are not nearly as stressful as these dreams. I’ve never thought of these dreams as anything more than an over amplification of my desires to be responsible—until today.

Last night’s dream was slightly different because it involved experiencing these sorts of anxieties while visiting a dementia care center. As I shared the dream with my friend Lenny who, like me, lost her mother to Alzheimer’s, and who, unlike me, is also guiding a father with dementia, she said, “Oh my gosh—you just got an insight into what people with dementia must be thinking and feeling.”

Talk about raising the stress level on my lifelong stress dreams. But really, with that insight, no wonder I found last night’s dream particularly upsetting—and it wasn’t even about my having dementia.

What the dream did do was bring me back to those days when my mother was trapped in her increasingly unreliable mind—and essentially trapped in her care facility. Now mind you, this was the place where the well-designed purpose-built setting and the wonderful caregivers helped her to relax into where she was and make it her home. She loved being around the people who provided her care and, unlike so many, did not need to be coaxed into eating the well-cooked meals. Though I can’t speak for how she felt about the betrayal of her own mind, I can say that she seemed much calmer and lost much of her agitation in that safe space. This, however, was not true of everyone.

When you visit your loved ones in those settings, you begin to know and reach out to the other residents. Often you thank God that it isn’t your mother who knows her name but who has no idea how to find her room—every time you visit. Or that it isn’t your mother who worries out loud about “being naughty” and who begs for forgiveness in one breath and then tells you you are going to hell in the next. Thank goodness there are others who have more good moments than bad.

When your mother’s music is silenced, you sing hymns with someone else’s mother. You listen to another woman describe how the Vienna of her youth is the only place where you can find the best schnitzel. You know to be thankful when the woman who has not been very nice to your mother all of a sudden relaxes and smiles—because your teenaged son has such nice hair. You do your best to meet these people in their realities—unless, of course, that involves agreeing that there can be no redemption for you or the other residents.

The amazing thing is that after awhile you start to lose much of your fear of visiting your mother in this condition in that place where everyone is lost or has lost something. You are in awe of the love and kindness shown by those who work with the lost day in and day out. And, if your mother only sleeps while you hold her hand, you chat with the other residents and the staff who also have social needs.

So my dream didn’t exactly start out stressful. I talked to residents and provided help, if needed. Staff members came out and said, “I haven’t seen you in awhile.” Then my mom found me—she was wearing that pink shirt of hers—not that pink was her color, but no doubt she had bought it because it was on sale. We sat together, me with my arms around her, as if she were a child, and rested into one another. Then she left to take dinner with the other residents.

That’s when the stress began. Where was the bathroom? Did they change the colors on each residential section or had they also remodeled them? I had to leave, but first needed to put away all the supplies I had pulled out. Plus, where did they all belong? And then where was the bag I brought with me? Where did I leave it and did one of the “shoppers” (what people with dementia are called when they tend to take off with things that don’t belong to them) find it? And if I didn’t find the bag, how was I going to get to where I was supposed to be? With so much to worry about, I just couldn’t find my way to the door even though it was way past time to leave.

Oh, Lenny was right—those must be the sorts of thoughts that run through the minds of those with dementia. What a nightmare for them.

Thank goodness I was only dreaming—let this be a wake-up call to live well now and to quit stressing out over minor details.

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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Maybe I’ve always had mixed feelings about nighttime—or maybe those feelings didn’t begin until after my brother Scott and I saw a man in our bedroom when we were two and four.

As far as I know, that’s as scary as this story gets, but I don’t think that memory is ever very far from my consciousness. There’s not much to tell, really, except we both agree that it happened. One night, in the brief period when we lived in a rental house before moving to our own home, my brother stage-whispered to me from his twin bed, “Trina, there’s a man in the room. Hide under the covers.”

I hid and eventually fell back asleep. The next morning we both told the story to our mother, who doubted it until she discovered the cellar door unlocked. Though we had just moved to a town of no bigger than 600, apparently a man who was losing his battle with mental illness had a habit of entering peoples’ homes in the middle of the night. One resident woke to see a lit cigarette glowing in the kitchen and discovered the man relaxing at the table.

My brother Scott and I in 1964.

Put my early experience together with a vivid imagination and my quicksilver ADD mind, and you can guess that I didn’t really grow up falling asleep too well. My increasing levels of nearsightedness probably didn’t help either. Even though I lived in two more homes before I left for college and then again to strike out on my own for good, my insomnia never abated in my family’s homes.

Luckily, the worst of my insomnia ended with that final move. No idea why—I’ve lived in six places since—all different as far as I can tell.

Which is not to say I’ve made complete peace with the night.

First of all, let me say that I love staying up at night—it’s not just about avoiding falling asleep. I am the queen of getting a second wind around bedtime. However, I don’t really like mornings and I do “get” that if I stay up late all the time, then those mornings will feel even more unpleasant than they normally do.

Second of all, I know that sleeping with my husband makes a big difference. I’m lucky that I haven’t had to sleep alone much in past couple decades. Plus, he got me Lasik surgery which means I can see if any bad guys are in the house—haven’t seen any, thank you very much! Still, he’ll tell you that everyone in my family of origin—including my father, mother, and yes, my brother Scott, as well as our own two children—has or had some problems with sleep.

He likes to say something such as, “What do you people have against going to sleep? I like going to sleep—why don’t you?”

Good question. You see, I like sleep a lot—I just don’t like going to sleep.

After you go through all that sleeplessness when your kids are young—and then again when they’re teenagers and young adults—you really learn to like that sleep. Not waiting for someone to come home and/or living with someone on a vastly different time clock was one of the greatest benefits of our short empty nest period. Doesn’t it seem so ironic, though, that the time when my body slept best happened when I couldn’t sleep much because of my kids?

Let’s just say that lately we’ve been working on improving our sleep setting and our habits since these days it doesn’t seem to take much of a distraction to interrupt our sleep. First we had to deal with old dogs that had to go out in the middle of the night and who played musical dog beds all night—without the music, of course. Then we had to deal with a puppy—at the same time my back began hurting. Well, the puppy got older but then Sherman’s back started hurting, too.

(c) 2012 Trina Lambert

So our latest step in the quest for a good night’s sleep was saying goodbye to our waterbed (with much regret!) and hello to a new mattress, box springs, and bed-frame. The almost eight-week transitional process started when we put the mattress in the waterbed frame (can’t we ever pick anything not on back order??!!), then continued when we set up the new frame and added the box springs, and ended when I also got fitted sheets (never needed those before) and a new comforter.

Even if I’ll never quite forget my early experience, we are finally enjoying sweeter dreams.

Crescent moon on high.
Handful of stars in the sky.
Night—sweet guard of dreams.

by Trina (Lange) Lambert, Age 10

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