Dreaming of the dead: a griever’s unexpected gift

The ones we have lost sometimes visit us in dreams.

Fifteen years ago today I lost my beautiful boy. The dream visits used to be more frequent, but this morning just before I woke up, my son Corey appeared in a dream as his 9 or 10 year-old self. His visit was a brief, yet sweet reminder of the child whose absence I feel every day.

I looked out my current living room window to see Corey standing on the corner of the street.  I asked him what he was doing.

He walked up to the open front door and whispered loudly, “Mom, I’m waiting for the mailman.”

“You know he won’t be here for hours.”

“Yeah, that’s okay,” he said and walked back to the street corner, and he turned and smiled back at me.

Maybe it was more of a grin – that wonderful, beautiful kind of boy grin that signals some kind of mischief.

Corey had an out-of-the-box way of thinking. I miss that. I miss his optimism. I truly think he had learned, or somehow innately knew, how to be himself, even though he was only 13 and a half (he would want me to specify that half a year).  He seemed to be completely able to do silly things when he had to wait for something; he had innovative ways to avoid boredom. One afternoon when driving past the bus stop my dad observed Corey lying flat on the ground looking up at the sky seemingly oblivious to people around him. I remember often walking into his room as he was pretending to conduct an orchestra. He always had a book with him, and he liked to create, and write, and draw.  He liked to take things apart to see how they work. We listened to audio books on car trips longer than 30 minutes, and he loved tracking our trips on a map. He was a huge Star Trek fan, and he eagerly awaited the finale Star Trek: Voyager episode that was broadcast the week after he died.  I think he would have cheered when Captain Janeway got her crew home.

And now I wonder whether he would have gone to college, how he would have chosen a career, and whether he would have married or not.  As my only child he was my only opportunity at grand-motherhood.   Fifteen years ago some well-intentioned people said, ‘You can have more children.’ Really? That wasn’t what a newly bereaved mother needed to hear. It still isn’t. I’ve accepted that I will never be a grandmother, and that I am a displaced, bereaved mother. I can’t imagine myself as a grandmother anyway. It helps me think I’m still young enough to make discoveries and take chances, not that grandmothers can’t do those things. They absolutely can.

Often in these fifteen years Corey has come to me in dreams: once he appeared as a 19 year-old bearded young man wearing an army jacket. That dream made me laugh out loud. He enjoyed life and he made discoveries, and he definitely took risks. He was adventurous from birth: I was in active labor for only two or three hours.  He learned to crawl out of his crib at 10 months old, and at three years old he climbed to the highest point of the domed playground structure (about 20 feet high).  Sometimes in a dream visit from him it’s just a brief hello, and other times he is the main character in the dream. A close friend had a dream about Corey a couple of years ago, and when she described her dream, I clearly imagined Corey doing what she described. I don’t remember the details of her dream, but I do remember feeling that he would have done what she described. I didn’t meet that friend until about four years after Corey died. I don’t see that as some psychic thing, but as a gift my friend shared with me: she has allowed me to talk about him often enough to have a subconscious awareness of his personality and his behavior.

He was an adventurous risk-taking young man; he took a risk without anticipating the consequences and that took his life.  Some days I feel his absence more keenly than other days, and today has been one of the days I feel his absence deeply. I know he would want me to enjoy life, to laugh at what I find humorous, and to go on adventures. He was a big fan of classic rock and roll, Sherlock Holmes, Mozart, Kid Cuisine meals,  Harry Potter books, Reading Rainbow, Monty Python, and the Magic School Bus PBS series; he hand-made a Magic School Bus membership card for me. He came to me with the hand-written card and asked me to sign it. I signed it, and after his death I found it in my desk. Now, I keep it under the glass on my desktop.  I recently stopped to think about my promise to make discoveries and take chances, and for the last year or two, I have neglected that. That my blog has been dormant for nearly a year is evidence.

Corey had an engaging smile, an enthusiastic curiosity, and a gentle heart. In the intervening years since his death, I have taken some chances and made some discoveries, and I have learned some painful truths as well: this journey of grief is a journey I will take until I draw my last breath.  That doesn’t mean I’m always sad, in fact, if it means anything, it means I feel emotions more deeply than I did before Corey died. On the anniversary of his death (and on his birthday in December), I allow myself to feel sad and to miss him more than other days; and truthfully, I have not lived a day when he is far from my thoughts. I remember special moments of his childhood with gratitude and joy – and I am thankful for having been Corey’s mother.

Fifteen years ago today, I thought I would die from the weight of grief from having lost my only child. People expressed amazement that I did not curl up and die. A part of me did die with Corey: the part that believed that I was somehow impervious to tragedy. Yet, another part of me emerged with more intensity than before: my ability to wonder at the simplest joys in life. Common, ordinary events inspire me: the awaking sound of birdsong in the early morning, the glistening sparkle of a freshly spun spider web, the comforting patter of rain, the glowing hues of sunrise and sunset, and the vibrating beat of music. And I know I can move forward and enjoy all the years ahead because every once in a while, I will see Corey in my dreams – and he is always in my heart.




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