Friday, October 30, 2009

The Stuff of Dreams

I don't dream often.  I mean, I'm sure that I dream, I just don't remember them.  They say everyone dreams after all.  But I really, really don't remember them much.

For a long time, my memories of Henry have been relegated to those which I conjured on purpose or by simple association.  I'll see mandarin oranges and remember how much he loved them.  A UPS truck would go by and I recall how, for each one we saw, he'd point out and call them a 'present truck'.  Sometimes I would try to draw the lines of his face in my mind's eye, remembering how his hair felt or how his weight felt good on my lap while watching TV.

I woke up crying this morning.  I was dreaming he was there and somehow - in my dream - realized it wasn't real.  My dream-self began crying and woke my sleeping-self into the same state.  This was only the second time I've dreamed of Henry.  Only twice in the eight months since he's been gone.  Just two times.  It's painfully rare - and completely and utterly jarring.

The very first time was only a few weeks ago.  I woke up peacefully in the middle of the night, but then was unable to sleep and very suddenly couldn't contain myself.  The middle of the night was so surreal, dark and confusing and what I had dreamt felt so tangible.  I was possessed with grief.  Usually there is a voice in my head that can reason with my emotional self to calm down.  It takes time, but it's rational.  This was uncontrollable, a physical force shaking me from inside, punching me, not letting me go.    I'm normally I'd rather break down privately, this time I was grateful Tara was around.

Mercifully, last night's dream was not as powerful.  Merciful, yes, but regrettable too.  One of the hardest parts of Henry's absence is the lack of new memories.  There are no more of the cute moments that surprise you with cleverness, no more quiet times between us, no more hugs or I-love-you's.  Dreams give me something new about Henry.  I remember the dreams like I remember him being here.  I want them now.  But like everything when it comes to Henry, it's not simple.  The wonderful is wrapped with the sorrowful.  There are no clean lines, only a mix of happy and sad.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

...but Henry died.

For some time now, I have felt like life is mostly a series of distractions interrupted by thoughts of Henry. My time alone or with Tara and the girls feels like I'm 'backstage', an intermission separating the prior act and the next act, where we can acknowledge the pain, where I know we all think of Henry, and where we can recuperate in order to go on again.

The 'act' is not about being fake or pretending. It's just that there is rarely any recognition of what happened. Henry's life and death sit with me constantly and it takes energy and concentration and determination to make normal things happen. The conversation in my head goes something like...
  • "time to shower...but Henry died"
  • "time to get up...but Henry died"
  • "isn't this a nice day?...but Henry died"
  • "I'm so glad that Anna and Sophie are doing well in school...but Henry died."
It's not so discrete as that, but the sentiment is the same. The thoughts are nebulous and emotional impulses, less than conversations. Momentarily distracted, happy and content, appreciative of life, then somber and pensive, mournful, sometimes devastated all over again.

We've been going to a bereavement group at Johns Hopkins for families of deceased children. Like so many things right now, the impulse to participate was coupled with a strong desire to stay away. Can we really be emotionally supportive of others? Do we want to be drawn into others suffering. Do we want to dredge up memories that come when we travel to Hopkins, pass the Children's House, see the window he stood at and looked out of?

Our second session was last night. The girls have separate groups attended by social workers and other age-similar friends. They really enjoy it. They don't anxiously anticipate the negative things like we do, but really embrace the activity and specialness of it. I'm sure they feel a similar yet even more nebulous relief.

I'm not sure how to explain it but these sessions are like dedications. They provide concentrated time in which we can all look at each other, understand the pain and devastation in each others eyes and empathize with the daily plight of working through the day. The difficult thing is that although some of the group have been going for years, there are still persistent tears and the pain doesn't seem so much different. That is at the same time hopeful and depressing. Honestly, in some ways, I hope that never goes away. Somehow the pain feels like the only thing that keeps me connected.

And there is the contradiction that I cannot seem to get past. Henry's memory is so intimately tied up with the pain and suffering that trying to avoid one is avoiding the other. This is not only undesirable, but impossible. So these families that sit around our table on these nights all have the same thing in common. Life is good, we appreciate it. We are grateful for our health and our children in ways that some cannot...but our children our dead and that will never change.

Friday, October 9, 2009


I haven't felt much like writing lately. I feel obligated after my last post to let those who've inquired about us know that we're doing okay. Like most we've been dealing with busy fall activities and a bout of flu with the girls.

Emotions lately have been dampened. I'm thankful to a degree. The downs were harsh and painful, the ups too brief to be relieving. Now its less of the same. Waking to our reality each day is again becoming more routine, but I'm finding that I feel more vulnerable than I ever have.

October brings with it the beginning of the season in which we discovered Henry's cancer. Early signs that were only recognizable in retrospect. A child with incredible stamina, drifting off to sleep in the midst of a 10 minute car ride. An 'illness' that persisted far too long. October brings with it a multitude of dates which are reminders & anniversaries. Diagnosis, surgery, relapse, Disney.

We walk forward carefully, keeping these in our peripheral vision and hoping to acknowledge them without being bowled over by them. Wanting to remember because those memories include him, but knowing that in remembering we must conjure up painful details as well. This is the tough part to navigate - getting close enough to feel the heat but not so close to get burned.