It's a wonder I haven't had these sorts of dreams sooner, when one thinks about it. I started volunteering with hospice in July, and I've had three patients that I volunteered with die in that time. I also call about a dozen different grieving families every week to check on them. I've been to more visitations and funerals in the last six months than I have in the last decade. I will, as a volunteer for hospice, deal with death regularly. And yet I know that I will still be insulated; the full-time staff of nurses, aides, chaplains, and social workers deal with it constantly. It is their livelihood to help people have a dignified and comfortable last few months (or even days).
Despite this increasing familiarity with loss, my dreams have been free of this. Despite the reality that my mother deals with Addison's and is at risk, despite Rick and Bobby's blood clotting disorder, somehow dreams of loss have not darkened many of my nights.
Last night, though, I was not so lucky, and the remnants of the keening sense of loss still wash over me. Objectively I know that it was just a dream, but emotionally, I still feel it, still relive in my mind the gut-wrenching pain of loss that had me on my knees in the dream, screaming out, reeling from the loss. In the dream, I wondered how people could lose someone and not be reduced to that all-out wailing, that incoherent, blubbering mess.
I know that hospice care, terminal illness, often affords families the chance to prepare for loss, to find the end of a horrible illness a blessing and a relief (although not all do). I also know that people often put on a stiff-upper lip, compartmentalize, and additionally may medicate themselves so as to avoid the messy embarrassment of losing emotional control. I know that I do not witness those most private moments of grief.
In my dream, I felt the totality of the loss, the reality of the absence of my loved one. I knew it viscerally and I was undone. I woke up from the dream with an ache in chest, a knot in my gut, and the fear of loss without the chance for goodbyes, for a last hug, kiss, eye contact.
There's nothing we can do about the reality that life is short, that bad things happen without warning, that we can lose everyone we love, lose it all in a moment.
When that happens, when the loss occurs, as it inevitably will, I don't know if I will be so undone as I was in my dream last night, if I will hide that overwhelming loss and pain from others, if I will wear a mask and continue about my daily life with no pause. I don't. None of us do. None of us knows how we will react, how it will impact us, whether our belief systems will offer us comfort and peace or the stark reminder of the permanence of loss.
None of us knows, but it pays, I believe, to make sure that our foundations are sturdy, that we do the soul work ahead of time, that we take the time to show our love to those we care about, that we make our time with our loved ones well-used time. It pays to not leave things unsaid or undone.
Being there for families who are both in the midst of going through loss and for families who have suffered loss is a blessing. Being allowed to share some of that journey, to offer care, concern, acceptance brings a measure of grace not just to those families hopefully, but to me as well. We are all on the same journey; we're just taking different routes to get there. Remembering that truth is important. Learning it, truly getting that, makes it impossible not to feel compassion for others, no matter what road they take.
My dream resonates with me; its message is not lost on me. Today, my loved ones are still with me, still here, and for as long as they are, I will try to not waste a moment. I will lose. We all will. But if we build a network of support and open our lives to others, we do not need to face the loss alone.