It’s been a year. Things feel normal now. Those moments of realization come still, but it’s now, “Mom’s dead. Oh.” Hard to believe, but I’m tethered to Earth again. It’s not dissimilar to those mornings I’d wake up in Kiel and realize I was thousands of miles away from home. Hard to believe, yes, but nothing revolutionary. The worst is over, though I’d being lying if I said there hasn’t been a wave building the past few weeks, spikes in anxiety and homesickness, old memories coming back to life.
Mom rescuing me from St. Andrews pre-school. The smell of the cleaning agent. The cheaply tiled floor. The relief.
It’s hard to believe how much of grieving is self-centered. How much of Mom I always carried with me, how she was always a part of my reality. “I can’t wait to think tell Mom about this,” I thought multiple times last summer, hiking in the barren Icelandic wilderness. Oops. But it’s hard when one of the few chains holding you to earth snaps. For the first few weeks, my sense of self was spinning away, in a tornado. I tried and tried to grasp the ground. The Buddhists are right. Reality, sense of self—it’s all an illusion.
Things are ok now.
Everything is different.
In the first months I’d have dreams about Mom, but I’d always know it was a dream. Sometimes I’d weep in my dream, like the time she showed up to the imagined refurbished Rantowles house. Sometimes I’d tell her she wasn’t real like when we were in the back of the Volvo together. One time Martin’s parents asked to be introduced. “I can if you want, but that’s not her. She’s dead,” I said. His dad didn’t mind, so we said hello.
But there was the one dream…
I was in an open-air bar on the side of a mountain. I’d just reached the icy summit and had come halfway down. I saw a door on the side of the mountain, away from the bar, that went into a room. A living room. There Mom was sitting high, larger than I, glowing gold, healthy and young. Young and tall like when I still called her “Momma.” I sat down in front of her. “Hi, Ned,” she said.
It was great to see her, but I just asked, “How’s being dead?”
“I’m fine,” she said, calmly, with the cadence she always had, “things are good here.”
“Will you visit like this again?”
“Well, I’m really busy, but I will send signs every now again. Like the ghost I sent. But it won’t be me.” Despite the weird answer, the careful way she spoke was the way she always did when delivering possibly uncomfortable news. Like the way she prefaced her cancer recurrence two years ago, the news she gave me moments after returning to Folly Beach, excited for a week off work. “I have some bad news, and I hope it doesn’t ruin your Spring Break*,” she calmly started…
I told a lot of people about the dream. Some asked if I thought it was real or not. “I don’t care,” I always reply. It gave me closure. It doesn’t matter one way or the other. Still, on some days, I enjoy the belief. And I have seen dream characters of her since, but they’ve never been her. Obvious projections of my subconscious, though now I don’t immediately dismiss them. “This is a miracle,” dream Dad told me one night when she was “living” again.
“Yes, but now we have to go through everything all over again,” I thought somberly from the staircase, watching dream-character-lowercase-mom gliding around, scarf wrapped around her head.
Tragedy isn’t over for me yet. There’s always more to go. And sure I’ve lost that youthful optimism, that romanticism, that illusion. That day I spent in Tirana with Martin is just a memory now. But so is watching the Romanian children huffing glue. Everything, good and bad, is transient. And I’ve gotten something in return. I am stronger now, knowing I can survive tragedy, feelings of despair. I mean, it’s been over two years since that afternoon I started weeping on the toilet. There’s nothing left to fear.
And let’s face it, you can’t crown yourself “King of Nowhere” without some curiosity about nowhere. I still can’t say I know it, of course, but I’ve heard things are good there.
* It did, by the way.