The Deal with Dreams

By: Lauren Thaler  |  Date: September 27th, 2011  |  Category: Discoveries  |  Comments: 3 comments »

I never paid much attention to my dreams. From what I can tell, my dreams were always as random as the next guy’s. I’ve had the adventure dreams, the anxiety dreams, the scary dreams, the birthday suit dreams, etc. They’ve bounced around from one topic to the next, seemingly without purpose or pattern.

But after my mom died, something kind of strange happened. Actually, screw it. It wasn’t strange — It was downright cruel.

My dreams became chronological, starting with my mom’s diagnosis. I had to go through the initial shock, heartache and pain all over again. So, basically, right when I was ready to start the healing process, my subconscious turned on and said, no way you’re getting out of this that easily. It was miserable.

So, for a couple months my dreams were revelations about my mom’s diagnosis. Once, I was at soccer practice, and then – BAM! – I learned Mom had cancer. Another time, I was at school in the middle of class and then – BAM! – Mom walked in to tell me she had cancer. I felt like Bill Murray in a really mean version of Groundhog Day.

The next morning I’d wake up exhausted from crying in my sleep, and I’d walk around like a zombie all day. I mean, really – Hadn’t I been through enough? I wanted to punch my subconscious in the face.

Finally, a couple months went by, and then I started dreaming about her being sick, getting weak from chemotherapy and losing her hair. (Those were obviously a ton of fun too.)

I couldn’t find any purpose those dreams were serving other than to remind me my mom died. Yeah, thanks. Message received, Subconscious. Leave me alone.

But as time moved on, so did the chronology of my dreams. A couple months later, it was time for my mom to die (again). And so she did.

But death didn’t follow traditional rules in my dreams. I remember a very vivid dream in which my mom sat next to me at her own funeral. Before this dream, I had been upset that I didn’t share her eulogy with her before she died. This had been one big lingering regret for me after her funeral. But in my dream, as we sat next to each other at her funeral, she told me not to worry because she really didn’t need to hear it. When I woke up that morning, I felt comforted.

Today, when I dream about her, she’s back to looking the way she did when she was cancer-free. She offers advice in some and is merely along for the ride in others. But the main point is that her presence in my dreams is no longer painful. My subconscious and I have called a truce.

I don’t try to draw meaning from every single time my mom shows up in a dream, but every once and awhile, it behooves me to pay attention.

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Cancer, She Said

By: Lauren Thaler  |  Date: September 20th, 2011  |  Category: (New)clear family, Cancer Chaos  |  Comments: 4 comments »

Like breaking up with a boyfriend, there is no easy way to tell your daughter you have cancer. At first, my mom hid the news from me because we were apart. She hadn’t been feeling well for several weeks, so I wasn’t surprised when she finally went to the doctor and called me to say that yes, something in fact was going on. “It’s gallstones,” she said.

“Can you come home?” she continued. That surprised me.

My mom rarely asked me to do things for her. Sure, she asked me to help with this or that around the apartment or maybe drop off dry cleaning, stop for gas or run an errand while I was out. But typically her requests were never much of a burden. She was the type of mother who was simply more comfortable going out of her way to make me comfortable.

So, when she asked me to take the first train from Philadelphia to DC the following morning and skip all fun business school social events that upcoming weekend, I had a hunch that something more than gallstones was up. At first, I decided that she was just nervous about the gallstones surgery. She probably wanted me there for support, that’s all. And that’s what I told myself for the rest of the day and the following morning when I boarded the train at 6am.

However, when I arrived in DC and got off the metro a couple blocks away from my mom’s apartment, something in my stomach flipped upside down. It was as if Mom had a homing device, sending a cancer signal reaching a ¼ mile radius. Or maybe it was just daughter intuition. But whatever it was, a wave of doom swept over me.

I called my friend, Rachel, and burst into tears. I circled a square slab of sidewalk cement with my cell phone pressed tightly against my ear as I told Rachel that I could feel something, worse than gallstones, happening. She calmed me down and stayed on the phone as I walked the ¼ mile to the apartment building, took the elevator up to the ninth floor, walked to the end of the hall and knocked on #934.

Rachel and I said goodbye. And when my mom answered, we didn’t say hello.

“What is going on?” I demanded, tears streaming down my face. My mom didn’t seem surprised that I knew gallstones was a cover, and she immediately reached out and drew me close to her.

“Do you have cancer or something?” I blurted out.

“Yes, it’s cancer,” she said. As if telling me was worse than the diagnosis itself.

“What kind?”

“Pancreatic. It’s in my pancreas,” her eyes filled with tears.

“That’s not the good kind, right?” I managed to get out between sobs. I started sinking to the floor, but she caught me and held me closer.

“No, honey, it’s not the good kind.”

And then she led me into the living room where we sat on the couch, side by side, holding each other’s hands, knuckles white. After a couple minutes, I remembered to ask how she was doing. I’m not surprised that I don’t remember the answer—I was still in complete shock.

And soon after that, I called Debbie, one of my mom’s closest friends. It was too much to absorb the gravity of my mom’s diagnosis in a household of only two people. I needed Debbie there. I needed a third person, someone important to me, who would help diffuse the magnitude of pancreatic cancer.

And from that moment on, with an army of friends and family, we fought my mom’s disease with courage, love and even laughter. There is no easy way to tell your daughter you have cancer, but I hope, that for my mom, opening our twosome to strengthen our unit with friends and family was not only easy but was one of her last most rewarding experiences.




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When Fear Disappears

By: Lauren Thaler  |  Date: September 15th, 2011  |  Category: On Being Parentless  |  Comments: 7 comments »

When I was a kid, I remember falling asleep to the sound of my mom doing the dishes in the kitchen just down the hall from my bedroom in our apartment. It was just the two of us, and my cat, Popcorn, whose 15 lbs of cat fat and feline fur I’d hold tightly as I fell asleep. My nighttime thoughts as I drifted to sleep were mostly unmemorable childhood contemplations of friends and after-school activities; however, every now and then my mind would linger on a single thought – a childhood fear – that I returned to occasionally before I fell asleep: parentlessness.

My mother’s mortality always frightened me, but I became quite skilled at successfully pushing this dark thought into a small compartment deep in the precipices of my mind at night. And the comforting sound of my mother moving around the kitchen doing the dishes always helped.

Then of course, last year, my greatest fear was realized. The thing that had always frightened me the most in life – the potential of being parentless – happened.

And while I experienced acute grief and loneliness after my mom died, my greatest fear is now gone. My most fearful thought, the occasional nightmare, the small twinge of panic when Mom didn’t pick up the phone right away at night when I called from school – vanished. When she died, my greatest fear died too.

It’s an odd feeling to have your greatest fear disappear. I think right now I fill the space worrying about my endless to do list. But I imagine, at some point, something more important, more central to my existence, will replace it.

If your greatest fears haven’t already bubbled to the top of your mind while reading this, think hard for a second. I bet you have them. Maybe there’s something you’ve never told anyone or have been pushing aside trying not to admit even to yourself. But I bet they’re in there somewhere – in your consciousness, in your subconscious self or maybe in your dreams. And I bet the majority of them have to do with loss.

I think it’s important that we have these deepest, darkest fears of loss. Not only do they force us to take stock of what we have and what we’re thankful for, but they remind us to live in the present. To not put off an I Love You. To release the anxiety of little things weighing us down. To focus on what makes us happy and fulfilled. And to make ourselves fulfilled and not depend on anyone or anything to do the job for us.

Because think about it: You really can’t have a true fear of loss unless you have something so valuable, so sacred that it would be devastating to have to go without. In some ways, true fear of loss is the purest form of gratefulness.

And this is perhaps why I occasionally think of the sound of my mom doing the dishes before I fall asleep at night. I no longer have to push a fear to the back of my mind. Instead, I am grateful. I am grateful for being able to hear that sound for so many years.

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