The dreams are back.
At first, I wished for him to be in my dreams. I wanted to sleep forever and just dream about him, to live in the parallel universe a small part of me believed existed where he was still alive, my life was still the same, and we still had each other.
Ironically during those times I had insomnia and would lay awake for hours each night.
Then the dreams came that were more like flashbacks. I think my brain was trying to process the trauma I had compartmentalized far away in the depths of my consciousness while Jason was sick. I remember in particular that I would often dream of our last 4th of July, when I watched fireworks from his hospital room. That day, I was cool, calm, and collected as I drove him to the emergency room in my Mini Cooper. He was throwing up because spinal fluid was leaking from an internal incision from his brain surgery a month earlier that wouldn’t completely heal. I remember calling his parents and telling them we wouldn’t be able to make it to the family picnic that night. I am calm in my memory of that day. But the dream was always a nightmare, where I felt terrified and unsure of what to do. There was a time when I would have a dream like that every night, when I didn’t want to shut my eyes for fear of what I might be confronted with.
As time passed, those dreams did too. It helped that I talked about those flashbacks with other widows, my therapist, other people experiencing grief. I processed them during the day so my brain wouldn’t have to do that wrestling with itself at night.
It’s been a few years since I consistently had dreams of Jason. He would pop in every once in awhile, but in a welcome and comforting way. Lately the dreams have been different.
One recurring dream starts with him coming ‘home’. I find out the truth is he never actually died, he was taken to a special hospital in Kenya where they treat people who have terrible illnesses like his, and put them in comas until their bodies have time to heal. The healing process is very slow, and takes a long time, and for some reason it has to be done in Africa. Now, after 6 years he is better and ready to restart our life. I’ve woken up from this dream, in varying editions, several times in the past two weeks.
The second one also involved him coming ‘back’. This time he is essentially taking me out on a date, trying to woo me again. I think we went to dinner, but the part I remember clearly is him taking me back to his parents house after. Neither of us ever says this, but in my dream I know this is the point: his parents and his family have been struggling since he died, and now that he’s back, we need everything to go back to the way it was to help them start living again, too.
Both dreams end with me needing to make a heart wrenching choice, the choice between my old life and my new one.
This is a new type of dream in my grief journey, and I’m shaken by it. I do think there is a reason for this turn, and I need to understand it in the same way I needed to understand those flashbacks.
Fear still sits in the back of my brain. Grief has made me acutely aware of being grateful and helped me let go of worries that don’t seem worth the energy any more. But sometimes fear still creeps in. I am afraid of feeling too happy. I worry that if I am too happy that means something bad is bound to happen. I guess I can’t let go of the evidence in my life that bad things do happen to good people.
Guilt is the second reason those dark thoughts creep into my brain. I shouldn’t be too happy with my life now, because in some way that’s being a traitor what was before, and maybe even to Jason.
I think my brain is using these dreams to remind me that I can’t just tuck that fear, or that guilt, far away into my subconscious and try to keep it there. I need to process the feelings that come with being so incredibly grateful and satisfied with my current life while also always sad for the life and love I lost.
In some ways as time passes it gets harder and harder to let myself do that work. I want to be present for my family, and not bogged down by events in the past. But no matter how much time passes my life is still framed by this loss, I must live differently because of that experience.
I suppose this is just another bend in the road in my grief journey. The scenery is changing, and the road isn’t as smooth as it has been for awhile. But I’m still moving, the horizon is still beckoning me forward, I just might let myself go a little slower for the next few miles.