This is a happy story, but I’m afraid I have to give a little background, so bear with me. 

My relationship with my mother was difficult. She was a master of passive aggression and guilt-mongering—a woman full of fears and anxieties that she freely radiated into the atmosphere around her. I spent most of my life struggling to not be like her. 

We loved each other deeply but the love was buried in a quicksand bog of knee-jerk reactions and triggering. For most of my adult years I could not feel the love. I knew it was there, somewhere, but it would only come to consciousness in isolated moments of surprise, suddenly taken unawares like a duck flushed by a hunter. Like when I’d first see her after a separation and experience the shocking recognition of how old and frail she looked. Or when she was visiting me and slipped in my kitchen, sitting down hard, and couldn’t get up—the love was overwhelming as I rushed to help her. Within a few minutes, or usually as soon as she began to speak, the bog would close over and all affection would be lost to fending off the onslaught of her neurotic personality.

My husband once said that after talking with my mother he sometimes felt like he needed a shower. He was exquisitely gracious with her, but nothing made much difference. Every time I went to visit her, in her last years, I’d promise myself that I would be kind and loving, that I would overlook what she said or did, and I would not get triggered. And every time I’d fail within minutes.

I was alone with her in the hospital the night she died, and I had a crazy fear that her demons, the ones she’d hosted forever, would come streaming out of her lifeless body, looking for a new haunt. I was afraid they would choose me. 

For two years after her death, I experienced vertigo—the world kept spinning. I felt as though so much of my energy had gone into pushing against my mother, that when she died the force of that resistance, no longer having anything to push against, unhinged my world and sent it spiraling through space. 

I couldn’t grieve. I felt only a strange combination of relief and anxiety. A feeling that even though she was dead, the relationship wasn’t over. I wanted it to be over.

We didn’t have a funeral. I had kept her ashes, and after that two years of vertigo, decided that maybe it was time to say a proper goodbye. We scattered some of her ashes in Lake Superior and my husband helped me bury the rest under a crab apple tree in our back yard. We dug a hole and I put in some photos and some of her small, personal possessions. We marked the grave with a stone and I began to cry.

The grief I finally experienced was as much for her life, her painful, sad life, and our messed-up relationship, as it was for her death. 

That was when the dreams began. In the first dream I recall, my mother’s closest friend handed me a doll—like a Barbie Doll. I was very happy to get this doll. I cradled it in my arms and felt such love for it. Then she told me that this doll was my mother. Somehow, this made sense. 

I could handle feeling the love if it was projected into a small inanimate plaything—something that couldn’t speak and couldn’t make the earth turn to quicksand beneath my feet.

As the dreams progressed, my mother became human and I was always her caretaker. Even though in dreams she was an old woman, I loved her as though I were her mother and she my beloved child. I felt an infinitely gentle and caring love for her. I held nothing back, was completely undivided. Every time she shows up in a dream I am thrilled, the way I’m thrilled when my son surprises me by unexpectedly showing up at my studio for a visit or a chat.

We don’t talk much. I’m usually helping her do something. She’s got a happy spirit in my dreams and the love I feel for her is simple and powerful. There is no hesitation in it. There are no blocks. And it’s always like the love of a mother for her child.

Am I, in some other lifetime, her mother? I don’t know! I don’t think it’s necessary to interpret these dreams. I feel as though our relationship is being healed. In a recent dream, she reverted to being a mother-figure and we had a disagreement of some sort. But we seemed to deal with it in a healthy way, as though we’d both learned how to disagree without letting our egos get in the mix.

I still don’t necessarily feel her love for me. That hasn’t come through strongly yet. Or I haven’t allowed it to come through, perhaps, because in life I’d lost confidence in her love. But I experience my love for her and that adds a recognizable constellation to my internal heavens. Something I can navigate by.

So, I didn’t know that this could happen—that a relationship could heal itself in this way, after one person dies. I also didn’t know that it was possible to have a truly demented relationship with someone here in human life, and for it to turn out to be, once all is said and done, so profoundly loving.

I don’t know what any of this means in terms of whether what I am experiencing in my dreams is actually “her.” Or maybe this is my inner self trying to restore balance, heal my emotions in relation to her in a gentle way. I don’t know what it is. But it’s been very effective.