Early the other morning as I was monotonously chugging away at my morning work out on an elliptical machine at the gym I took note of how inflamed and painful my body felt. I slowed my pace and made a decision. I would spend this May Day on the sea shore, which is exactly what I did on this dark and stormy May Day.
Lately I have taken to popping a couple of Tylenol PM’s before bed to dull the pain in my neck and shoulders; pain that is exacerbated by nights of fitful, restless sleep, which in turn are brought on by vivid and upsetting dreams. Nearly always it is the same dream, one that I have had for nearly four years. In it I am always running, always crying and always frantic. I’m in a place that looks somewhat like mix between the Spokane city central bus station and this odd part of downtown Spokane that doesn’t exist anymore since they built a mall. I am running to meet my dad, late and incredibly frustrated. I am meeting him in an ice cream shop of sorts to apologize for burying him alive. In my dream he never speaks, he sits quietly not looking at me directly as I try to choke out between sobs that I am so sorry for what happened to him, for not believing he was still alive. There are other jumbled scenes that come and go on any given night. A scene with a doctor explaining the he will die soon anyway. In another scene set in my dad’s house where I am completely upset about trying to get my dad to sit down and rest. In this scene I can see his heart through his chest, as if it’s open to the world. I am desperate to get him close so I can cover it up. There is another scene in a park near the house I grew up in where my brother is with me and says he has seen our dad. We frantically look for him but no matter what, whenever we spot him we can’t run fast enough to reach him.
Throughout every incarnation of this dream my dad never looks at me or speaks. At times in my fear and hysteria I scream at him to talk to me. To hear that I am sorry and that we should talk about it. But he is always looking, calmly at some spot on the floor or a wall, always sipping a small cup of coffee. This image is familiar; a pose I frequently saw my father take while living – at a table in a coffee shop, on the couch or at the dinning room table. The dream is terrifying in its ability to make me feel both frustrated and hopeful. In the dream my dad is alive, though unreachable. When I wake he is neither alive nor reachable.
This dream exhausts me. I sit with it throughout my days and think about it before bed. I never know if I’ll dream it or some new version on any given night.
After leaving the gym and getting to work I was chatting over the computer with a good friend. I said I needed him to tell me it was ok to bow out of political observances of May Day in favor of heading north to Annisquam and to my Aunts house on the shore. My thinking was that sea air, a warm fire; some napping, quiet and thoughtful reflection would help to clear my head. I wanted some space devoid of the everyday to think about my father. The month of May marks not just his birthday but the anniversary of his passing.
My friend, being a good friend, said of course it was alright for me to do what I needed to do. He then imparted upon me some useful wisdom. As a Unitarian minister he knows a lot about many different faiths. He told me that in Jewish traditions there are times set for grieving, and that grieving for parents is the longest. Generally speaking we’re not taught to grieve parents. Instead we are supposed to believe it is okay for them to pass on, that it is inevitable. But in the Jewish traditions, it is understood that with parents there is complex and important grieving to do. So I should take all the time and ways I need to grieve for my dad.
This got me thinking about how little I talk about my grief to myself or anyone else. Parents do grow old, sometimes they do get sick and then they pass away. In between there is a sort of passing of the torch as the kids become grown up and take on the role of care giver to the parent. This is all natural and normal. Even in sudden instances. Parents just die before kids, this is a normal progression of the life span…except, it is completely not normal to have a parent suddenly be gone from your life.
I have written before about my regrets surrounding my dads passing. How I regret not having come home sooner to be there with my family in his last few months. I think these feelings are tied up in my dream and the dream is a part of these feelings struggling to come out and be heard and acknowledged. I am all for processing emotions. I may not be the best at it for myself, but I full in support of processing. But this dream has got to stop. I am putting time limits on it and what ever processing I have to do to move beyond it, well I’m game. I need a new dream, where I hear my dad’s voice and whatever barrier keeps us from seeing each other is gone. I imagine it’s a process that means I need to be more honest with myself and everyone else that four years into this I am very much still grieving for my dad.