Grief Lessons You Are Never Taught: The Prelude & Aftermath of Special Occasions

Lee Hayword

Few things in life are more personal than grief. The only one-size-fits-all premise is that everyone encounters, digests, and processes it uniquely. Since the progression of that process is in a perpetual flux, I find myself commonly exhibiting three different modes of grief. (Although I am sure there are others lurking.) The personalities in the trio take their turns coming and going, sometimes intertwining with one another and at other intervals completely overshadowing a counterpart. They are predictable in their unpredictability. My current triad includes:

  • The Neon Sign: This is time I want everyone to take notice of my widowhood. I yearn to have my grief heralded by the town crier with exclamations of “Sympathy for the suffering!” and “Alms for the widow!”
  • The Grace Kelly: Like a favorite pair of classically-styled earrings, my grief during these moments is subtle and demure, never ostentatious. It’s the pièce de résistance that you can’t quite put your finger on, but you know it’s there.
  • The Influenza: This is the ailment you try to ignore – attempt to maintain the stiff upper lip. The problem is, the more you try to stifle this type of grief, the harder it is to breathe and the increasingly nauseous you become.

All these types are prowling about, waiting to crash the party, when you are about to confront a significant occasion. Birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries will forever be altered once you have lost the person you primarily celebrated them with. My struggle dealing with the date of my 25th wedding anniversary was recently discussed in a post on Medium and subsequently featured in the Huffington Post.

What I didn’t disclose, and what nobody prepares you for, is the before and after of such monumental events. The prelude and the aftermath are the most grueling of days – and the ones when you feel the most isolated.  

The days, often weeks, before are a gradual crescendo. You become increasingly anxious, making sleep problematic. You’re apprehensive about facing the day. You fret about whether or not you should even get dressed or answer the phone. If it’s an event that you have to attend – want to attend – such as a child’s graduation, you are fearful that you might collapse into a puddle of tears at an inopportune moment.

When the date arrives, it is rarely as troubling or as uplifting as forecasted. You feel guilty and grateful simultaneously. The sorrow is a deep, throbbing ache. The loss is palatable. Yet, the compassionate comments of friends and family are consoling. The cards, flowers, and other reminders of their affection boost your disposition and fortify your resolve to make it through the day. Soon, you experience a delirium of grief that is both euphoric and melancholy.

But, the day after can be the cruelest for the uninitiated. Calls, emails, or presents don’t materialize to celebrate, soothe, or mourn this day. Beguiled with sentiment just 24 hours earlier, you feel forgotten – bereft of comfort and understanding. Like a burn victim, you need to debride the dead tissue: expose the uncontaminated and living flesh existing underneath the defunct scabs of yesterday. Most of the time, this is a solitary and nerve-wracking assignment. No one else recognizes the necessity.

For those who are grieving, give yourself the time you need to contend with a celebratory challenge. Allot at least 72 hours to endure and not be your customary, post-loss self. If you need more – take it! Don’t berate yourself if you can’t “get over it” in an arbitrary “timely” manner. Sorrow’s schedule is subjective. To the friends and family members of such individuals, please be wary; be conscious of your loved one’s struggles.  Grief never leaves. It is never concluded. It simply evolves.

Photo credit: Alone by Lee Hayword

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What About Meredith?

Once upon a time, she was me…

ellen-pompeo-meredith-grey

I’m not even going to bother with the spoiler alert. If you are interested in reading this, you know what happened. McDreamy was killed through a series of unfortunate events. 1. Foolishly stopped his car in the middle of road. 2. T-boned by a semi. 3. Transported to a level 2 hospital. 4. Suffered the ramifications of either the chauvinistic medical system or an egomaniac on-duty attending, depending on your viewpoint.

Many posts have been written about the way Derek’s departure was handled. Was the episode a 41-minute middle finger gesture by Shondra Rhimes to Patrick Dempsey? Was it a commentary on the unavailability of top-tier medical facilities? Or was it an accurate depiction that people can be careless, needless mistakes can happen, and people die for stupid reasons? I’ll leave that debate up to other blogs, the Twittersphere, and Change.org petitions.

No, my focus is going to be on Meredith, the unsuspecting wife, doctor, and ultimately, the woman who held Derek’s last breath in her hands. You see, years before, that character making that gut-wrenching decision to sign the ominous papers was me.

On August 23rd, 2008, my husband went into cardiac arrest while coaching our son’s football game. We waited over 18 minutes for emergency services to arrive, while two dear friends – an EMT and a paramedic, worked valiantly to keep him alive. A third, a NICU head nurse, dictated events to the 911 dispatcher. Terms like “agonal breathing” and “unresponsive” stabbed their way into my now muddled consciousness. We could hear the sirens circling, but they were having trouble locating an entrance. Each circumnavigation lulled me further into a hypnotic panic.

Finally, fresh, unexhausted paramedics arrived on the scene and joined in the resuscitation efforts. Our two sons (ages 13 and 15) and I watched hopelessly as he was hooked up to electrodes, shocked and jolted repeatedly. I lost count after three. At some point, he was deemed stable enough to transport and was loaded into the awaiting ambulance. I wasn’t allowed to accompany him. That was the first hint of permanent calamity.

I pride myself on being somewhat medically savvy. Back at home, I know that our local hospital is ill-equipped to handle major traumas and it’s best to travel to the one in the next valley. I knew the mega Children’s Hospital in the city had the elite doctors we desired to monitor our son’s diabetes. When my husband was first diagnosed with leukemia, we researched which cancer center had the finest treatment options. But we were out of town at the moment. I had no idea what hospital we were going to or its reputation. Just like the path of Derek, I simply had no choice in the matter.

As we arrived right behind the ambulance, I noticed my husband was having seizures. (The second clue) I was deftly whisked to an administration counter — not to the emergency room where he was being treated. (Third omen) Asked to fill out simple paperwork, I was dumbfounded by my inability to sign my own name. The signature I had practiced countless number of times across notebooks and napkins before legally scribing it for 18 years would not flow from my shaking fingers. My brain and my body were disengaged.

Soon, a priest emerged to speak with me. (Fourth indication) Our family and a few select friends were provided a small, private waiting room. (Fifth warning) Still, I held on tightly to hope. I need to be strong for our children, for my husband. There was not the time to break down. I do fairly well under pressure. Periods of extreme stress seem to short out my emotions. I’m left in what I have dubbed my robot mode: capable of handling traumatic situations without the encumbrance of sentiment. Much like the soon-to-be widowed Meredith who reaches her husband’s bedside and immediately demands his chart to assess the situation, I knew the moment I saw Matt what was to be the outcome. What the signs had be indicating. I understood I needed to stay in control.

As a devoted wife about to lose the love of my life, my personal sense of time seemed to slow down. Medical personnel frantically moved about, but I felt as if I was floating through a cloud of uncertainty and disconnection. I was informed there was very, very little chance of survival. Did I want to continue heroic efforts? “Yes,” I replied. I didn’t want our children to ever have any doubt that all chances were exhausted.

Soon, the discussion about the infamous papers transpired. Just like Mrs. McDreamy, I knew they were coming, I knew what they meant, and I realized they would take my (and my husband’s) breath away. This time, miraculously, I was able to script my autograph. Each of us was given the opportunity to say goodbye. When Meredith told Derek it was OK to leave, I heard my own voice emanating from the television.

Movies and TV never seem to depict what happens to family members after a loved one’s life support is discontinued. You’re at a loss as what to do next. What is expected? Another room is arranged for you to spend time with the deceased. To say I was uncomfortable with this was putting it mildly. It wasn’t him. It looked like a deflated and vacated body, not my Matt. He was gone. The next dilemma is when to leave. How long do you remain in the hospital where your spouse has just died? What is the proper waiting period before you have to leave him or her behind?

I was particularly struck by the scene where Meredith emphatically instructs the young ER doctor to make Derek’s death count. After which, she vomits in the bushes. I’ve displayed that facade of authority. Donned the same stoic pout. Being a new widow didn’t nullify her position as a doctor, a teacher. Much like losing my husband didn’t abolish my role as a mother or a wife for that matter. In fact, it increased its importance tenfold.

The next few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy (conveniently shown during the sweeps period) promise to depict the aftermath of Dr. Derek Shepherd’s departure. I am curious to see how accurately Ms. Rhimes crafted the scenes. Will Derek’s sister be pissed she wasn’t given the opportunity to say goodbye? (A glaring misstep I noticed on Meredith’s part.) Will the loss of his presence resonate in episodes and seasons to come or will his memory fade from future mention? Previous episodes did justice when the news of a prior misfortune made its way to fresh ears. Case in point: When the current batch of residents learn about the plane crash that took the lives of many characters and cost Arizona her leg. Hopefully, this honest portrayal of tragedy – one of life’s everyday occurrences — will continue.

My sister and I were texting while the now famous episode was airing. Numerous “OMG”s and “Can you believe this?!” were traveling the messaging airwaves. Finally, I had to cease all communication. Whether it was helpful to me or not, my eyes were transfixed on the screen. My ears were honed to detect any subtle dialog. I had to see if they got things right. I still do.

10 Reasons I’m Thankful for My Hysterectomy

Exam - Clinical notes on uterine surgery  with special reference to the management of the sterile condition (1886)

Disclaimer: This is neither a medical endorsement nor a recommendation. It is merely a personal account of why I am grateful to have discarded the center of my wombiverse.

We are expected to speak about it in hushed tones, especially among mixed company. Uttering the simple statement of “I’m menstruating”—or the detailed, “I am currently shedding the bloody lining of my womb through my vagina”—may summon the full wrath of the curse. All females are conditioned from prepubescence to speak in code when talking about the monthly sloughing of excess uterine baggage. My favorites include:

Bitchy witchy week
Code red
Crimson tide
On the rag
Red badge of courage
Shark week
Taking Carrie to the prom

To appease the sensitivities of readers who have a hard time discussing such delicate feminine matters, I will use the vernacular adopted by my friends and I when we joined the hematic sisterhood: Aunt Flo. The following are the 10 reasons I chose to renounce my membership in the menstrual sorority.

1. Barren economics: No supply = no demand: Aunt Flo insisted on luxurious accouterments when she visited: super cotton plushness delivered in a pearl case plus a scented, winged pillow on which to rest her head. Not to mention the numerous pharmaceuticals required to keep her from descending into a hysterical rage. Estimated yearly savings: $1200.

2. Embracing the whiter shade of pale: It is now possible to don white attire without apprehension. No more incidents of “exploding ketchup bottles” or “leaky pens.” The peace of mind of sitting on pallid furniture without a prior crotch check is exhilarating.

3. Be gone you tipsy temptress! My uterus preferred a more relaxed or “tipped” posture — directly resting upon my spine. Perhaps she fancied herself as Cleopatra seductively reclining on her chaise. Succumbing to her allure always came with a price. Any visit to her lair, be it for pleasure or medical exam, felt like a blunt sword repeatedly ramming my vertebrae.

Cleopatra

4. Less is more: I can now carry petite evening bags without lamenting the fact they are unsuitable for concealing bulky cotton sausages.

5. I love N.A.! I am free from the perplexity of trying to remember the exact date of my last period when completing medical paperwork.

6. Back to our regularly scheduled program: Aunt Flo was a huge fan of frequent surprises. She couldn’t wait to see me each month and often didn’t wait more than three weeks. I felt so appreciated! (And bitchy and bloated and sore.)

7. More room in my closet: When my womb was engorged, the rest of my lady parts followed suit. The girls inflated like buoys as if to keep me afloat during the tsunami that was to come. My wardrobe consisted of looking-fine apparel, lay-off-the-cheesecake clothes, and period frocks. (Afterthought: My period pieces just moved in with my chubby garments. Maybe I don’t have as much room as I thought.)

8. Endometrial deprogramming: At seemingly random intervals, chunks of endometrial tissue would venture out of the uterine temple in their quest to evangelize the rest of my abdominal cavity. Pelvic ligaments, my bladder, and bowel were targeted converts. Each month, the devoted cult followers shared in the monthly elixir offered to their provocative leader. As they intensified in their drunken fervor, they distended and twisted, causing me to writhe in torment. A fellow endosister describes the misery perfectly.

9. Ending of nocturnal terrors: The inability to accurately predict Aunt Flo’s timing often subjected me to the horror of waking up in blood-soaked sheets. Godfather — sans the equine.

10. It’s not a tumor — Oh, wait! Yes it was: The final straw was the invasion of the uterus snatchers, aka fibroid tumors. For years, I was subjugated to their aggressive infiltration. Some would make camp for a while, then steal away as fast as they came. Others burrowed in and voraciously guzzled my monthly hormonal surge.

According to my pathology report, the largest had begun to rot from the inside. Like a piece of fruit that has been left on a tree too long, it most likely would have soon burst from the heat of decay. I threw up a little in my mouth when I heard that.

———

For decades, I bowed to the assumption that I was less of a woman because of my malfunctioning reproductive organs. Yes, I have been blessed with two wonderful children, but getting pregnant was clinical and far from romantic. Months of testing were initiated by the humiliating post-coital exam to determine if my vaginal canal was a “hostile environment.” (It was quite welcoming, actually.) Music and candles were replaced by the whir of a sperm washer and the glow of a lighted speculum. My husband joked frequently that he would like to be in the room when I conceived. (He wasn’t.) Eventually, fifteen months of carting his dutiful contributions to the doctor for repeated IUI treatments produced our first pregnancy.

Even after our family was complete, I bought into the stigma that I would abandon my femininity if I had a hysterectomy. Why do we feel pressured to continue to harbor an organ that has betrayed us? Much like an inflamed appendix that served no purpose except to produce debilitating pain, it had to go. It only took me 17 years to accept the notion that I was more than the sum of my procreative parts.

Fertility Statue

I am by no means a physician or medically trained. I am an ordinary woman who chose to do away with the malfunctioning menses dispenser that shackled me with agony every month. Gone are warily counting the days until the next gut-wrenching onslaught. My body, my calendar, my life has been emancipated from the commands of an estrogen-fueled, traitorous goddess. At long last, I am free.


Originally published in @HumanParts @Medium.com

Photo credit: Clinical notes on uterine surgery with special reference to the management of the sterile condition -1886 (Flikr Commons)

Fairy Tale Restoration: Pondering my Compulsion to Write

She waited a little longer than usual to ask the question:

“Are you… OK?”

The question was laden with parental concern. She desperately wanted to understand, to help. But the hurts were not for a mother’s hug and kiss to fix.

It happens each time I publish a story. The first time it was almost immediate, accusatory. How could I leave her out of my recovery process? Why couldn’t I confide in her? I recognized the maternal urgency to enact a quick remedy.

Garnering the courage to publish was excruciating, but the words played through my thoughts on an endless loop. Like relentless children pestering their mother for attention, they wouldn’t cease until I acknowledged them.

The night before I posted my first story, I tossed and turned with apprehension and nausea. What if it was received with disdain? Thought of as hackneyed? What if no one read it at all?

The expected troupe of friends and family gave their accolades. When it comes to my writing, they view me through a thick lens of empathy and thus their assessment is skewed. But then there were the recommendations of strangers, known only by their avatars. Each one is intensely validating and rehabilitative. I wonder if they recognize their curative powers.

I find it easier to reveal my troubles through the written word, rather than face-to-face. The blank page reflects what I tell it and nothing more. People, on the other hand, are compassionate; their faces exhibit the emotional nerve ignited when you disclose your troubles. I end up comforting their distress and stifling my own. Every countenance is permanently lithographed into my memory.

I’m selfish and spent. I can’t take those faces anymore.

And so I made the leap. My first two pieces did fairly well, but the third burst through thanks to a tweet from Medium. Still in twitter infancy, I was enthralled by the endless streams of alerts in my inbox. It was the closest I’ve come to viral and I was burning with fever. I checked and rechecked the Referrers page to investigate where my readers (MY READERS!) were coming from: Sweden, Zimbabwe, Australia, Greece. I was punch drunk by the global locales. To be honest, I keep a list of every country on my desk. It’s becoming dogeared and smudged, but to me it’s the Stanley Cup.

I’ve now become dually addicted to self-expression and avatar validation. The necessity to quench both has made me manic. It’s a fair trade for lament, I suppose. But there are colorful strands of addiction and mental illness in my family pattern that have me worried. Like snags in a delicate fabric, will tugging at my threads smooth out the imperfection? Or cause the entire cloth to unravel? Perhaps I should just snip it away. Or will that enlarge the defect?

Are my words simply letting off steam or producing a tidal wave of angst that will eventually drag me back to the abyss? I only know that the gratification of writing is a soothing balm for the aches in my persona. Personal transcription has become my cerebral masseuse—easing the tensions of turmoil.

Is the euphoria of writing only a temporary placation? Should I really care? Putting pen to paper (or text to screen) has given me a separate identity. I’m not regarded as a mother, a daughter, a friend—a widow. To the avatar collective, I am a writer. Nothing more. Nothing less.

At the risk of being repetitive, I have referred to my rediscovered enthusiasm in prior posts. I’m like a new convert, attempting to explain an indescribable fervor. Can you comprehend the magnitude of release? Can you feel its vibration? Some will never truly understand unless they experience the turbulence of a life-altering upheaval. I hope no one will reach that level of chaos — or the resulting compulsion to expel their clusterfuck of emotions. A few are already there.

Sometimes, I feel my collection of essays resemble an episode of Concentration. I choose which fragments of my personality to expose, and contestants (Readers? Family? Friends? Me?) unlock the secrets of my identity by deciphering the revealed rebus puzzle. Other times, I liken them to squares on a Rubik’s Cube – continually manipulating the segments of my life in search of a pattern. As a teen, I became frustrated with the length of time it took to unscramble the toy. Impatient for perfection, I removed the jumbled stickers, replacing them back in their “proper” location. It initially looked appealing, but soon the colors began to peel and drop off. My cheating had only led to temporary symmetry.

With each written piece, I leach out a bit of the distress that grieves my soul. It is the paint for my self-portraits. Some still life — some abstract — an occasional cartoon. Many have been benevolently curated and displayed alongside other personal canvases in an internet gallery of human emotion. I feel unworthy to be included among such masterpieces and fear the moment when I might be discovered and discarded.

I wonder if I will ever be able to honestly answer my mother’s question. She wanted the happily ever after for her daughter. She still does. It’s just different now. The magic mirror reflecting an unspoiled fairy tale has shattered, but the shards are slowly coming back into place. The emerging mosaic is creating its own rhyme, a new reason. Some of the pieces still shimmer and sparkle. Others are clouded and chipped. A few are gone forever, leaving a hypnotically black void that I must be careful not to gaze into for too long.

My story is still unfinished; the so-called perfect ending may or may not be composed. For now, my writing grants me permission to wail, bitch, laugh, ponder, and cry through my heart’s discontent. It coerces me to chronicle the chapters of my spirit — the episodes of my humanity.

Staying silent just doesn’t work anymore.


Originally published @Medium.com

To My Son on His 21st Birthday: Lessons on Manhood

gastaldos 2014 100

Dear Son,

In my first letter, I related to you and your brother what I had learned about manhood from your father. On this, your 21st birthday, I want to acknowledge the lessons you have taught me:

BE AN INDIVIDUAL: Don’t conform to what other people think you should be.

HAVE A STRONG WORK ETHIC: Go the extra mile. Don’t rest until the task is completed.

ADAPT: Don’t bang your head against a wall that is impossible to move. Acknowledgement and assimilation of a difficulty is sometimes your best option.

BE A FIERCE DEFENDER: God help anyone who harms a loved one.

LIGHT UP A ROOM: Have a contagious smile and infectious personality.

DEMONSTRATE GENEROSITY: Even the smallest gesture can have meaningful impact.

HONOR YOUR HERITAGE: Cultural roots are strong and deep.

BE TRUSTWORTHY: No one should doubt your dependability.

OWN UP TO MISTAKES: Excuses are the tools of cowards.

TACKLE TREPIDATION: Conquering a fear is euphoric.

BE A MENTOR: Teaching the next generation is a gift to eternity.

CELEBRATE JUBILANTLY: Life is meant to be embraced.

HAVE A GOAL: Resolve and determination will keep you on your path.

DISAPPOINTMENTS WILL HAPPEN: Picking yourself back up strengthens character.

BE NOTABLE: A little infamy can be a good thing.

TRAGEDIES MAY BEFALL: Allow your soul to grieve.

POSSESS COMPASSION: Empathy is a scarce necessity.

BE PROMPT: Consider another person’s time as important as yours.

PLAY NICE WITH OTHERS: You won’t always get your way. Deal with it.

CULTIVATE AN ATHLETIC DRIVE: Dedicate yourself to improvement. Strive for excellence.

TAKE PRIDE IN YOUR LEGACY: It’s your most cherished inheritance.

LAUGH until you cry.

LOVE to the heavens.

LIVE to make a mother (and father) proud.

Love,
Mom


Originally published in @HumanParts @Medium.com

Beware the Locksmith: A Tale from Home Security

shutterstock_2937511

I opened the door for the locksmith. Possibly mid-sixties. Lint-colored spirals protruding out from under his snapped-brimmed cap. Trach tube in his neck. He inhaled deeply and put a finger to his esophagus. “I’m here to open your safe,” he garbled. Self-satisfied with benevolence, I allowed him into my home.

Graciously, I introduced to him my twenty-year-old son on the couch. We approached the staircase and the locksmith remarked, “You don’t look old enough to have a son that age.” The ease of which the comment slipped from his throat led me to believe this was his customary compliment, burnished to a glassy slipperiness from years of smooth talking. My kindheartedness was now mixed with a marginal depression over my apparent elderly allure. Arm candy at the senior center was not how I pictured my reentry into the dating realm.

The locksmith and I continued up the stairs, through my bedroom, and into the closet to my safe. He assessed my vain attempt at security and slowly revealed his tools. They were wrapped in a leather pouch, similar to a set of chef’s knives. “Why don’t you sit down beside me?” he asked. I obliged, anticipating the innocuous gestures of a man penetrating senile territory. He took another copious breath and plugged the medicinal hole in his gullet.“Are you single?” he inquired. His lack of conventionality was unexpected. Men customarily demonstrate their exceptional endowments and household worth as a prelude to the courtship dance: “See how virile I am? I just fixed your dishwasher, painted your bathroom, laid a floor! Any pipes needing unclogging?” His presentation of implements reminded me of the dentist in “Marathon Man.

“Is this the safe?” he rasped, startling me. I said yes and explained I had lost the key and needed it opened. The locksmith probed about my marital status once more and I announced I was widowed. He mumbled with mock empathy that I was too young to be alone and needed to enjoy the companionship of men. The tone of his guttural cajoling unnerved me and episodes hoarded in the alcoves of my memory flooded in: The trip when I was twelve, alone on a Greyhound bus and the oily man sat beside me, trapping me by the window. He left his hand on my thigh for the entire ninety-minute ride as he queried me with calm eeriness. The incident that happened in my early twenties as I strolled alone down a residential side street. A gentleman in a parked car asked for directions and I naively strode over to answer. He was midway through his jack off.

Treading through my rip current of alarm, I informed the locksmith I wasn’t ready to date and the conversation was making me uncomfortable. He put forth a counterfeit apology. The safe had yet to be inspected.

When he finally displayed his expertise and cracked the safe, I requested a pair of keys. He went outside to get the supplementary mechanisms needed to craft the small devices. “I could take him,” I calculated. He’s slighter than me and obviously unwell. Plus, my college athlete son was just in the next room. Weapons, however, would alter the dynamic. Channeling my finest Olivia Benson, I peered out my door to commit his van to memory: boxy, white, plain, no markings. Archetypal abduction vehicle.

I contemplated the consequences of ending the service at that moment, weighing the acceptable balance of necessity to trepidation. The imprudent desire to have my valuables secure tipped the scales. We proceeded upstairs once more, taking my son with us.

My unsuspecting child and I reviewed the contents of the safe while the locksmith crafted the keys. My son later confessed he thought I requested his company to protect our family fortune: birth certificates, jewelry, spare cash and his father’s most precious baseball cards. He still viewed me with elementary innocence and wasn’t accustomed to observing his mother fend off suitors. The keys were completed without further incident and we escorted the locksmith down the stairs.

He went out to his utility van to get the invoice. “What was the price I was willing to pay to secure his departure?” I wondered. He reentered, presented the bill for his indecorous service, and asked to see me again. I marveled that he could completely disregard the stench of anxiety spewing from my every pore. Or maybe he perceived it as a pheromone? “Ballsy,” I silently diagnosed and then expounded once more that I wasn’t inclined to begin dating. He continued the inquisition undaunted, requesting a favorable Yelp review. “Absolutely no f’n’ way,” I pronounced privately. I informed the locksmith I would. The gentleman relentlessly advanced his offensive surge as I compensated him for my afternoon of apprehension: “Can I call you in a couple weeks? Will you be ready then?”

The trembling surfaced as I secured the door.


Originally published in @HumanParts @Medium.com

Beyond Her Wildest Dreams

She’s been having weird dreams. Not like the type she used to endure. The ones where she’d wake up in a cold sweat, weeping with grief, with loss — bereft. Unlike the other ones, either. Those she described as “whackadoodle.” A variety similar to nightmares that would occur when she was a child, sick with fever — apocalyptic tales of zombies and morphing faces. A quick Internet search revealed taking Tamoxifen in the evening could be the culprit. Switching to a morning routine solved that problem.

No, these were of a different sort. Not exactly disturbing, but when she awoke she was encompassed by a sense of unsettling curiosity as to their meaning. The premise was consistent. She’s with someone — an unknown acquaintance, an old high school friend — never an individual in her current sphere. They are always about to go out — to the movies, dinner — the destination is never the point. The problem lies in that they are unable to leave until someone joins them. That person is always the same:

Her deceased husband.

“This puts a new twist on the term, ‘late,’” she thought to herself after her last encounter with the dream. She knew her husband would have appreciated the pun. The dreams had been going on for months. In each of them, her dream partners and she are in a state of perpetual expectancy. Her husband is always on the verge of arrival, but never shows. In some dreams, his tardiness makes her anxious. Not worried, just a “Come on! Get here already!” temperament. In others, she is lackadaisical. He’ll get there eventually. She’s enjoying her present company. All of the dreams were underlined with uneasiness.

She rarely remembered her dreams before her personal day of infamy. Deep down, she had always known it was coming, but she had envisioned warning. Like a hurricane, she expected it to start slowly and then build. Forecasters would make their predictions, state that things were looking ominous. At some point they would realize the storm was indeed coming — better secure the household and prepare. It would hit them with full force and bombard their entire existence, but they’d be ready to accept the inevitable. Instead, it arrived like an earthquake, without notice. It shook her suddenly and violently; she felt her brain rattle and bruise. Her foundation cracked, leaving an abyss. It took her quite some time to regain her bearings.

She’s a native Californian. She should have known.

Still contemplating, she realized her morning had a mental soundtrack. Alex Clare’s “Too Close”.

…At the end of it all, you’re still my best friend,
But there’s something inside that I need to release.
Which way is right, which way is wrong,
How do I say that I need to move on?
You know we’re heading separate ways.

She was disturbed by the lyrics echoing in her head. It felt like the dream was remaining, intruding on her waking hours. Was it playing in her actual dream? She couldn’t remember.

You’ve given me more than I can return,
Yet there’s also much that you deserve.
There’s nothing to say, nothing to do.
I’ve nothing to give,
I must live without you.
You know we’re heading separate ways.

Still perplexed and getting annoyed, she went to the Internet to visit her modern day swami on a hill — Google. She entered several variations of “waiting for dead husband to arrive in dream.” The results were more numerous than she had supposed, but none had the answers she needed. All of them went completely off-track by the second or third page. By the tenth page they included “How to get pregnant faster with Bible promises,” and passages from The Iliad. She wondered what babies, faith, and Homer had to do with it before clicking back to the first page. The common theme there was how and do loved ones communicate with those “left behind?”

She had a friend, more than one, actually, who asked her if she talked to her husband. The friends claimed they talked to their dead relatives regularly. Every light flicker, every floor creak, was a sign. A “Hello!” from their departed loved ones. She, however, never participated in such communications. Nor did she believe in them. Heaven, to her, was perfection. Her husband was finally at peace, whole — free from the physical pain and discomfort that haunted him on earth. What good would it do him to witness one of their children suffering an injury? Or to observe her own tussle with cancer? How could he watch the anguish they all felt after losing him? He loved them with his entire soul and being. That wouldn’t be Heaven for him. That would be Hell.

And it feels like I am just too close to love you,
There’s nothing I can really say.
I can lie no more, I can hide no more,
Got to be true to myself.
And it feels like I am just too close to love you,
So I’ll be on my way.

She was sick of the daybreak disturbances that were now customary. She wanted to awake rejuvenated, refreshed. Instead, she felt pensive and agitated. Where was the promised ending of time healing all wounds? She’d made progress, done all the things they had discussed when they contemplated the “what ifs.” The house was paid off. She was going back to work full-time. Her social calendar was full. Intellectually, she knew that she was doing what was necessary. He would approve, applaud even. Her friends touted her “strength” and “courage.” But her heart (dreams?) would send in sneak attacks attempting to halt her advancement: “Fraud” “Betrayal” “Dishonor” were lobbed like grenades into her consciousness. Occasionally they would be duds. Often they would explode.

“Enough of this shit!” she declared as she shut down the computer.

And it feels like I am just too close to love you,
So I’ll be on my way.

So I’ll be on my way.

She’ll be on her way.


Originally published in @HumanParts @Medium.com