I don't know if it was a sign of some sort of emotional distress, but for a long time after my mother died when I was 14 years old, I would have dreams she was still alive.
Her death was traumatic for the whole family. She was 49 years old, 5 foot 2 inches tall, about 135 pounds (she would kill me for telling but these days that's not so bad), efficiently ran a home for a husband and three irresponsible sons, and told Bible stories to children on Sunday morning. She had two older sisters and both of her parents had lived to a ripe old age.
Then one spring her skin turned a shade of yellow. Jaundice, she supposed, and easily remedied. My father mumbled, "Well, that's going to cost me $50."
I remember the day she had her doctor's appointment. I came into the clinic with news I had received an invitation to join DeMolay, the youth organization of the Masons. She had a big smile on her face.
"The only thing," I added hesitantly, "it's going to cost $30."
"I'm sure we can pay it off $15 a month," she said.
She went into the hospital for gallbladder surgery on March 15 — the Ides of March. I was a history buff even back then and I knew the Ides of March was not a good sign. In science class that day we were studying the digestive system. I asked a question about gallstones causing jaundice. The teacher said yes and drew an outline on the blackboard about how the stones block certain tubes. As the bell rang and the students stood to leave, the teacher added as an afterthought, "Oh yes, and one other thing can cause jaundice: cancer."
When I got home one of my brothers was there and told me mother had cancer. I told him not to joke about things like that, and he replied he wasn't joking. She would be home the next day, and he said Father had ordered no one was to say anything about cancer. Mother always said she didn't want to know if she had cancer, and we weren't going to tell her.
By the end of June, 48 years ago, my mother died of pancreatic cancer. This was the same kind of cancer that killed Michael Landon and Patrick Swayze, who got to live at least a year after being diagnosed. That showed some progress, I suppose. (About 20 years ago I wrote a column about the priorities of America concerning the advancement of cancer research. Life and death seem to go their own way no matter what we write about them.)
Anyway, some time after that I started having dreams that Mother was still alive. She sat in the living room with a bunch of people around her. She was laughing and, as was her custom, she tucked her legs up on the sofa under her skirt.
I asked someone, "Isn't she dead?"
"Yes, but she's having such a good time. Why ruin it for her with such a minor inconsequence as death?"
I'm now more than a decade older than my mother was when she died. I don't dream about her death and happy return any more. I'm just enjoying my own life as much as I can.
After all, why ruin it with thoughts about such a minor inconsequence as death?
Jerry Cowling is a freelance writer and storyteller living in Brooksville.