It’s been two weeks since your 38th birthday now. I’ve been needing to write since then but haven’t given myself the time – maybe subconsciously because I know how hard this has been. I have honestly been starting and stopping this process since before your birthday even happened. I have been busy writing though, but a lot of it hasn’t been focused on the present.
I dreamt about you last night – it’s been a while. In fact when I do dream of you, my awareness now is that you’re no longer here. I do dream about the loss, I dream of intense sadness, but I’m no longer searching for you in dreams or nightmares, but rather sitting in silence wondering what to do now. Last night though, I dreamt of you alive again. I dreamt that I was out of town for work, but when I would be coming home, you would be leaving. So we decided to meet in a town that was between us – passing each other by. My alarm woke me up – I hit snooze wanting to go back to sleep to finish this dream and for a short moment forgot you were dead. I sat up back into this reality – angry again. I sat up and just stayed up angry. I knew that even if I wanted to go back to sleep and finish that dream, it was only a dream.
I wrote down a dream I had four months ago and found that note last week in a notebook. I don’t remember this dream – but I wrote down that I dreamt I was living in an apartment and looking out into a street where I felt intense sorrow and grief. In this dream I told myself – “I have never felt this sad in my life and I want it to go away.” I stood out on the balcony of this apartment and watched the sunset trying to remember a time in my life when I felt anything like I was feeling then. I guess I woke up after this. The next thing I wrote was, “Turned around in bed and tried to let it sink in that he will never lie there again.” I don’t know why I don’t remember this happening four months ago – but it must have. But I guess since then I have noticed that in day-to-day moments I have sporadic scenes of sadness that I try to sit with and just feel what is happening.
We are getting close to closing two years without you and I’m still wondering what the hell just happened? I don’t know if that will ever go away. But I find myself in really intense conversations with someone or a thought on my own trying to piece together what happened and get my brain to catch up and realize that I really am living a life without you now. Sometimes I feel like I’m a bystander watching my life happen and play out and I struggle to accept that I really am living without you – that our family really went through something so traumatic and damaging that after two years we still cannot accept that you are gone. I still feel anxious around 6 o’clock on a weekday because my mind and my body are still waiting for you to walk through the door. I will say that I have more of a grip on reality than I did a year ago – so that has to count for something, right?
A few months ago I googled, “Can grief make you crazy?” I only found one article that made me feel better and it was titled, “Most widows see or hear their dead loved ones….for years”. I shut my laptop and quietly whispered, “Thank God!” I felt so much validation from this title I didn’t even need to read the article. I have come to find out though that this phenomenon is known as “Post Bereavement Hallucinatory Experiences” and 6 out of 10 widows experience it…apparently for years. There is very little research on this so I’m just going to say that it’s phantom loss (like losing a limb) and I don’t need antipsychotics. I remember writing shortly after you died that I could hear the alarm for the door ring around the time you would get home from work. I would see your face in Johnathan’s G.I. Joe’s and would stop to take second glances. In strangers faces. I would wake up looking for you because I thought I heard your voice across the house. I would smell your cologne. Jump up feeling your touch. It’s less now. It’s more quiet, less intense. I feel your presence vs. I feel your touch; I think of your voice vs. I hear it out loud; I admire familiar faces of you vs. I see you everywhere. But just having that little bit of validation that I’m not really crazy made me feel relieved. That’s when all this phantom-like symptoms started to diminish – I think anyway.
I will never accept that you didn’t make it to 38 and that you only got 36. I will never accept that our daughter will never remember you and that she will only learn about you. I will never accept that our son is forever changed by your loss and that he will have to learn how to heal. He is an old soul now, considerate, caring, wise beyond any other kid I know his age. He is most patient with me. He is proud of you. He is determined. But he is also sad, so sad all the damn time. Today he described himself as a sad boy. He talked about being able to feel happy many times throughout the day and most days, but that he is forever sad. He said is also afraid, he is always afraid. No matter how much we have all reassured his safety out loud, he still feels very afraid. We talked about imagining a safe place today – he came up with a basement. An impenetrable basement with diamonds and crystals with lots of light and doors that had padlocks to keep all the people he loved safe – including you. Just when I thought he had accomplished creating this safe little place he could imagine in his mind, it was tarnished. He said, “But someone could find us…they would hear us laughing and playing. They would want to take my dad anyway.” I tried again tonight at home in our bed to guide him to imagine another safe place. “Pick another one” I said. He closed his eyes and said, “There is no place in the world I could ever be safe, mom. I could never keep us safe”. I felt my heart break into a million pieces, I silently let tears out and whispered to him to pick something magical then, something that doesn’t exist on this earth. He described a new planet, way up near heaven. The colors are purple, pink, and blue. Only happiness exists, there are no evil people who wanted to kill dad in war. There is no need for officers. Every one is kind to one another. And no one would stop visiting us because they don’t know what to say. I held his hand and told him that sounded beautiful. He looked at me and said, “I feel like we are aliens in this world. None of our friends talk to us anymore” – not true of course, but he has come to realize that grief and death is awkward for a lot of people. Some feel guilty for not keeping in touch and so they just stop. He knows it and feels it. Johnathan just wants those people to know that he still loves them too, misses them and doesn’t want to be an alien in their life. Sometimes it’s ok to let people go when the hardest things in life happen. We have had so many family and friends come closer into our circle. I’m so thankful for those people who aren’t afraid to jump into the fire with us. Who still text me and ask how we are doing – randomly. Who call on a Tuesday on the way home for work just to say, “Hi”. Who get on Johnathan’s eye level and say, “I bet your dad is proud”. Thank you to those who have stuck by us, I know Josh has kept you close for the most important reasons. Even though we sometimes feel like aliens, those who have kept us close have also made us feel human again. If we ever find this new planet, we are taking you all with us!
Josh, I love you, I miss you, I want you home.