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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

Nope, I don’t want to return to finals week insanity ever again. Got my fill during my secondary school, college, and graduate school years. Lived through my husband’s graduate school and my kids’ high school ends-of-semesters and didn’t really enjoy them that much more even when someone else got to do the work.

Which is why it’s a blessing to have our kids away at college right now during this high-pressure week. Except . . . our daughter had to come home smack dab in the middle of (well, really at the beginning of) finals week to have a medical exam, too. Yes, timing is everything, but nothing we could say could convince the doctors’ practice that their scheduling was about as bad as it could get for a college student.

So instead of waiting another month to get on the road to healing, Christiana agreed to ramp up her stress during finals week. The university worked to coordinate a new exam schedule for her—not like the original plan for finals at 11:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. the first day followed by exams the next day at 7:30 a.m., 9:40 a.m., and 2:00 p.m. made any sense in the first place. Yikes.

On the last day of the semester she put to bed one final and has already received the good news that all went well—no given considering how badly the professor’s teaching and testing styles mismatched with Christiana’s learning and testing styles. This afternoon she takes one test and tomorrow morning she finishes with two others.

But first she had to turn in and be critiqued on her final art project today. Yes, she’s an incredibly talented artist, but not only does she set very high standards for herself, but also she has a teensy bit of a problem with jumping into a project before she’s absorbed all of the instructions.

Combine those approaches with her having a cold while coming home for 42 hours for a very ill-timed trip to do an uncomfortable test and you have a very stressed-out cranky art student—who is likely not going to find my observations very funny right now, but maybe she will change her mind after she recovers from this week. Maybe . . .

To complete studies in any areas of academic concentration often requires most of us to take a few courses that do not reflect our passions. Christiana can draw realistically, but she prefers a freer rein for her imagination. Usually, you can’t ride that particular horse in figure drawing class. She was just excited that this final project, for once, allowed a little fantasy: drawing an animal’s head on top of a human’s body.

The problem? The human body needed to be unclothed, just as in all the other assignments. She had a couple choices: she could either go to an optional class session where a model would be provided or she could find her own model. Snicker, right? But would our artist take the easy out? No, because then her work would be too similar to the other classmates’ work. Yes, sometimes her pursuit for artistic uniqueness puts her in challenging situations.

Let’s just say she got a certain nameless person to pose partially clad—and figured she’d just imagine the rest since she’d been drawing nudes all semester—except a lot depends on the angle you’re observing.

After staring at her reference textbook and only coming up with one realistic-looking side for the animal/woman, she was about to give up. No, she wasn’t ready to allow any more real-life models to help out, especially a certain (cringe-worthy) close relative. So I ran back and forth to the mirror several times, observed what I could, and then came back to describe and/or critique her version. Good thing I am a wordsmith!

Yes, I think she may have pulled it off, or at least as well as she could at that point. Oh, this kind of stress did not add to her pre-procedure mood, but thank goodness the procedure meds improved her attitude considerably, at least for an hour or so post-op.

Several hours after her medical procedure, she finished the other details for the project, applied the fixative, and put away the animal/woman.

That’s all the finals-related stress I needed. Thank goodness the doctors got the medical pictures they needed and she finished her drawing in time to rest overnight—before heading back to the insanity that is finals week.

When it comes down to semester’s end preparations, sometimes you just have to throw out a few educated guesses and hope that the details you fill in yourself are close enough to picture-perfect.

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