Thursday, May 23, 2013

I dream of the dead

I dream of the dead.

Seven years ago, after my parents died, I would find them in my dreams, healthy and mobile, visiting us in the house where we had lived so many years and where they had shared Thanksgivings and other special occasions with us. They were mobile and lively, not confused, sedentary and uncommunicative as I had seen them in their last months and years. I found their visits to my dreams comforting as my somnolent brain saw them as they had been, as I wanted to remember them.

A couple of nights ago, my older brother came into my dream. I was sitting in a meeting somewhere with a crowd of people when I heard someone behind me speak into his smartphone, "Call Bill Tarleton." I looked around and recognized the man as someone from our hometown, someone about my brother's age, a friend of his. In my dream, I knew him, but I have no idea who he was. I looked at the man holding the phone and said, "Tell him I said hello."

It was at that point that I remembered. My brother died last November. We could not call him. Not ever.

My grief that seemed dream-like at the time, consumed me once more, six months after Bill had died unexpectedly following surgery. We had traveled a thousand miles for the funeral, a whirlwind trip that contributed to the feeling of unreality, of something that is not really happening. When we were back home, nothing seemed to have changed. I was not accustomed to seeing my brother often, separated as we were by so many miles, so thoughts of his death disappeared from my mind. Denial. We just won't think about it.

I was reminded of the dream I had 51 years ago, the first instance I can recall of dreaming of the dead. My sister, four years my senior, had been killed in a car crash. My dream that night, so vivid I still can feel it, had me happening upon her in a disguise. She explained to me that she and her best friend had decided to trade identities for the weekend, and it was her friend, not my sister, who had died in that tragic accident. I awoke that morning relieved that our nightmare was over, explained away by a schoolgirl prank. But my relief was short-lived as I emerged from the bedroom to a household gasping with grief and numbed by mourning.

I put no faith in dreams.

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