In trying to help me deal with the difficulty of the six month mark, I again turned to self-help books on grief. Back in February or March, I bought a whole stack of books about loss, grief, widowhood, coping with tragedy, and a few with the "everything happens for a reason" theme. I've been reading these, along with books others have given to me, at my own pace. Sometimes I'll be a voracious reader, sometimes a month or more will pass without me turning a page. I do what I feel I can handle or that will benefit me, but I know I want to get through all the books. Even if I only glean one or two "takeaway" lessons from each book, it will be well worth the time and money invested. I need to arm myself with whatever lessons and advice that rings true; I need anything and everything to get through this, and books usually offer some sort of good concrete advice, or at least put my feelings and thoughts into words in such a way that I know I am not alone in what I'm going through, which gives me hope to think, "Yes, I will get through this."
Over the course of two days this week, I read Lynn Caine's 1987 book, Being a Widow. Although there were some aspects of the book that were dated or that don't ring as true for a young woman twenty-plus years later, there certainly was a lot that spoke to me loud and clear. In fact, I am going to recommend this group to the widows in a grief support group I just started attended (which I'm sure I'll blog about after I've been to a couple more sessions). I did a lot of highlighting, underlining, and writing in the margins as I read.
One of the chapters of the book dealt with dreams of the departed. Now, I've only had a couple of dreams about Brian. One was early on, in January, and I've had a couple more pop up over the past 6 months. With the exception of the first one, they've been pretty vague. The author recounted her own dreams of her deceased husband and posited that her dreams (which changed over the course of time) signified where she was in the grieving process -- first, she was "searching" for something that she could never find; she believes this represents a searching for her late husband, and the fact that she was not really fully grasping that he was gone from her life forever. In her next series of dreams, she found him, but he was leaving her for another woman -- she figured this to mean that she knew she couldn't have him, but that the reason was either temporary or could be changed. Finally, the dreams reflected her acceptance that he was in another place. Stories of other widows' dreams were in the book, and they also frequently fell into one of these patterns.
I thought about why I hadn't dreamed of Brian much. Come to think of it, I really haven't had many dreams at all in the last 6 months. I wasn't used to dreaming every night (or, at least, remembering my dream every morning), but I know the incidence of dreams has gone way down since Brian died. I thought maybe I wasn't ready to dream about him, and that's why it wasn't happening. I believe the departed can communicate to us and help us heal in dreams, so I put down my book and, through tears, said, "Brian, I'm ready to dream about you again. Please come see me." That night, I didn't dream about Brian, but I did have a dream. I was trying to make a purchase and I had all my money laid out in a stack -- I recall it was around $200 -- and I had looked down or turned to close my purse, and the money disappeared. The whole rest of the dream was spent looking through my purse and all around the place where the dream occurred, searching the countertops, drawers, etc. for the money. I never did find it. I have to wonder if that wasn't my version of the "searching and not finding" dream. I do feel that is where I am -- that I still don't realize/understand/appreciate/accept that Brian is dead and gone forever. He was such a part of my life and my future plans that the core of my being still expects him to be there in the future, even though I understand mentally that he has not been here since January 17, is not here now, and will not be in the future.
Last night, I finally had a dream with Brian in it, plain as day. We were at a mall and were buying video games. We wanted a new version of Rock Band or Guitar Hero. Some of you might know that on our last Friday night together, we stayed up all night playing those games with Hart and Joy, and I'm sure there's a connection there. I know my sister, Laura, and Brian's brother, Jeremy, were there, and it seems like our parents were too. I remember that Laura found what she wanted (though I don't remember what that was) and was talking to some of her friends at the mall, Jeremy got his picture taken and put on a fake magazine cover (oddly enough, it was a golf magazine), and it seems Brian found the video game he wanted. I couldn't find the game I wanted -- the store didn't have it -- so I was looking at video game guitars. I found one I really liked, and was talking to Brian about how the store should give it to me because they didn't have the game in stock. We also talked about how we didn't need any more guitars; we already had enough. I think I left the store empty-handed, and we got on an escalator. We were still talking on the escalator, and found our families at the bottom. I don't remember seeing Brian after we were off the escalator and talking to our families, but I had the sense that he was there. That's it -- that's the dream.
I had a separate dream in which I was talking to someone about how "we" got "our" cat, Ellie. I remember realizing in the dream that I was using those words and that they referred to me and Brian as a couple. There he was again, in the same room as me! I remember realizing that he was back, knowing that I had thought him to be dead, but that that must have been a dream, because now we were together again! That's really all there was to the second dream.
I woke up in a state of confusion. For one, when you get so happy in your dream and when it seems so real to see the person you miss, it is incredibly sad and disappointing to realize it was just a dream. You awake hopeful because it seemed so real -- that Brian was actually physically with me again -- and you realize it was not, and you are alone. Then, of course, I started to think about what the dream meant.
I'm not sure that I'm able to analyze this and glean some sort of meaning after only one night of seeing Brian in my dreams, but I do find it interesting that the dream (again) involved looking for something and not being able to find it. Perhaps there is significance in the fact that I wasn't happy with my available alternatives, either. Maybe this means that I'm not truly satisfied with the things I'm doing to fill the hole in my life. Well, I can tell you for a fact that I'm not. Yes, trips are marvelous, concerts are great, boat rides are enjoyable -- but they aren't what I want. I want my old life back. I want to be back in Iowa, sharing a bed with Brian, watching TV with Brian, planning weekends with Brian, planning for the fantasy football draft as the first lady and hostess of the league, not as the Commissioner (a role for which he was so uniquely suited). I was shopping for that, and I can't find it to buy anywhere. It just doesn't exist as an option anymore. The stores simply don't have it. I can find no currency that allows me to purchase that. I think that is what my dreams mean. I think this reality is starting to slowly sink in for me.
Some of the literature I've read, as well as the feedback from the other widows in my grief support group, suggest that it's still too fresh for me to really comprehend my loss at this point in time. The book I just finished stated that it typically takes even longer to understand loss when the death in question was sudden and/or unexpected. In such cases, the author indicated, it is not uncommon for a widow to take 18 to 24 months to fully appreciate what has happened. Much literature and advice also suggests that the second six months, or the second year, will be harder than the first six months to a year. Sometimes I feel I'm getting to that more difficult point. I know others who were very close to Brian and who are still grieving acutely have said, "It doesn't get any easier. It just gets harder." I think I know what they are saying now. However, I have hope from speaking with others that the "harder" part is also a step in the process and that this stage, too, like the denial and shock that initially came, will pass. Yes, it does get harder, but then it will get easier. I just have to believe that and when the going gets tough, I just have to go back to my mantra: "One day at a time." When that is too much, it becomes: "One hour at a time." Somehow, I always make it through the hour, and the day.
I don't know if I dreamed of Brian because I told him I was ready for him to visit my dreams, or because I'm now further along in the grief process and my dreams reflect that. It could be both. I know it is hard to sleep well, hard to wake up, hard to accept and process things, after such dreams. But I also think it's part of the grieving process. The road to healing may be rough and winding right now, but I know (or at least, have to believe) that it will get smoother, wider and straighter ahead. I just have to focus on taking one step at a time.