She was driving our '96 Toyota 4Runner, and I was in the passenger seat. Her luscious hair fell just below her shoulders as she drove slowly and patiently answered my questions.
"Will Daddy get to work from home again with his new job?" "Yes, he will. He'll be fine."
Then I asked the hard questions.
"Do you have to go through chemo again?"
"Will you lose your hair again?"
I reached over from the passenger seat and hugged her as tightly as I could. Through tears and a broken voice, I whispered in her ear, "I love you so so much, Mommy." The only response was my alarm going off at 6:15 am.
For the last two and a half years, this is the only contact I've been able to have with my mom: through vivid dreams that end too soon.
She was diagnosed with lung cancer just over three years ago, on May 4, 2012.
Cancer didn’t run in the family, and my mom didn’t even smoke. Needless to say, this disease never even came close to creeping into our lives.
While the odds were in her favor, she immediately recognized the reality of death and the uncertainty of life.
“I am not afraid of dying, I am afraid of leaving you,” she uttered through tears during our drive home from the hospital the day she was diagnosed.
I couldn’t articulate words at that moment, but the thought of not holding her hand one day made me pull her hand closer to my heart.
She would go through chemotherapy, and by Thanksgiving of that year, she would go into remission.
Her hair fell out immediately after starting chemo, but her high cheekbones and bright smile made bald look even more beautiful than I ever imagined.
We Skyped the day she officially went bald. My sister flew from California to Connecticut to be with her and my dad; they were at the salon when the remaining strands of my mother's hair were shaved off.
I lived in Dallas at the time and was unable to be there.
We texted and called every day, and I managed to make it back in early July to visit. Her health had faded quickly, but my dad didn’t have the heart to indicate how quickly.
The calendar month rapidly changed to August, and I was on the first flight out to Connecticut to surprise my mom in the hospital.
Her heart had failed, and my sister and brother-in-law would arrive a day after me.
Knowing my mom endured so much pain during the final round of her battle made it hard for me to breathe at times. After being placed on a respirator to help stabilize her, I dreamt she came home.
Her hair flowed with every step as she made her way to my bed. While gently touching my face, she whispered, “I’m okay.”
She passed away peacefully two days after that dream. It was only 107 days after her original diagnosis.
A few months passed before I saw my mom in a dream again. Maybe my subconscious knew I wasn’t ready to see her again.
She was in the waiting room with thick, full hair, dressed in her hospital gown. My mom caressed my face and said, “They said I can go now. I get to go home.”
We approached a bright, white light at the end of the hallway, hand in hand before I woke up.
This will be my third Mother's Day without my mom. She still tells me in my dreams, “I’m okay. I’m home,” only to have my alarm clock wake me up to the uncertainty of life.
Waking up to tears rolling down my cheeks with an odd feeling of comfort, I try to force myself to go back to my dream world. I just want to hug her one more time, to tell her, "I love you, more" once again.
With little luck, I slowly get out of bed and start my day. It is then I realize my mom's fear didn't quite manifest the way she expected.
She is okay now. She may have left me in this physical life, but she is now the reality of my wildest dreams.