Dreams of Loss and Inspiration

Dreams have always fascinated me. Some tell of a future we’d rather not face; others bring insight and inspiration. Below are some dreams from my memoir, Watching for Dragonflies: A Caregiver’s Transformative Journey, in which I write about the years I cared for my husband, Michael, who suffered from multiple sclerosis:

More than once, in the summer months after his collapse, Michael asks, “What is happening to me?” It’s more a bewildered lament than a question.

As his legs stubbornly refuse to respond to his will, he begins to feel that his body has betrayed him. He can no longer control it; he is no longer himself, and his image of his old self is inexorably slipping away.

Our growing anxiety continues to be echoed in our dreams. In a recent one of Michael’s, he’s driving a big truck down the highway when suddenly he loses control and panics; the truck veers sharply out of its lane. He is terrified.

In one of my own dreams, I witness a showdown. We’re somewhere in the Wild West. Michael appears youthful, in jeans and a plaid cotton shirt. We want to go through a gate in a fence, but a huge, intimidating animal bars our path. It looks like a kangaroo with a seal’s head, and, as Michael attempts to pass, it continues to threaten him. He’s afraid, but he confronts this unnatural-looking animal, refusing to flee. I can see his body begin to shake, and he finally decides to turn back. I, in turn, am left to wonder whether I have the strength and courage to face down this beast by myself.

I share many dreams in my memoir. Some, such as these, foretell ominous events while others are positive, revealing internal resources that assist me on my caregiving journey. In one of the latter, I dream of a strange goddess. I see a young woman who has been enchanted; eyes appear all over her head and in her long, dark hair. She is beautiful. I sense that this dream is showing me that my awareness is increasing now and that I’m also becoming more conscious of my nurturing feminine energy and intuition and the collaborative power it brings.

Have you had dreams that you’d like to share?

Rehab

When my husband, Michael, was confined to a wheelchair, for seven days he was immersed in a rigorous program of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and group therapy led by a licensed clinical social worker. All this happened when he qualified for treatment in our HMO’s rehabilitation facility. He had a written schedule that hung in a plastic sleeve from his wheelchair, and he was responsible for being at the right place at the right time. He had the benefit of excellent medical staff, who carefully selected and tracked his programs and therapies, and his admitting doctor oversaw his treatment and progress. Although he had a regular hospital bed in a four-man ward, he was rarely in it except to sleep at night and, sometimes, to rest for a couple of hours in the afternoon. He took his meals in a group room and participated in the activities and movies that were provided for patients during their free time. I was able to visit him whenever I wanted, but because the facility was quite a distance from home, I didn’t come every day. I was able to take some time off for myself, secure in knowing that he was well taken care of.

            Michael got more cheerful while he was there. The hospital was laid out to accommodate wheelchairs, and the wide hallways made it easy for him to wheel around to the various rooms. 

            “I thought I was getting better,” he told me when I visited one day. “But the doctor tells me my MS isn’t disappearing. It’s just easier for me here. Everything’s laid out for a wheelchair, and I have all kinds of support.”

            He did make progress, however, and as his functioning improved, he saw new possibilities opening up for him. His balance and walking got better. He became independent in upper-body dressing, only needing help with pants, socks, and shoes, and his confidence improved. Physical therapy increased his strength and range of motion, and when he came home, he had an exercise program designed to maintain his gains. 

            Two caring women in the occupational therapy department got Michael approved for a customized, electric power chair. It had mid-wheel drive, which made it highly maneuverable, and Michael loved it. When he took it out for a test drive in the parking lot and garage, he put it through its paces. The chair passed the test and, thanks in large part to Medicare (which Michael had received early due to his disability status), he was finally outfitted with what he needed.  

            While I was visiting him one day, the physical therapist asked Michael if he would like to stand up. “You bet!” he said. So, the physical therapist strapped Michael onto a standing board. This device gradually raised him from a prone position to almost 90 degrees. 

            The first thing he said when he was “standing” was “I want to hug my wife.” 

I moved close and embraced him, and he put his arms around me. It was the first time we had held each other this way in years. I was a little self-conscious being in a room full of people but feeling the full length of his body against mine was sublime. I closed my eyes, rested my head on his chest, and savored the moment. We held each other until the therapist came to crank Michael down.

            I highly recommend checking out rehab possibilities if your loved-one qualifies. For Michael, it was definitely time well spent.

Solace

photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

These are times when much is taken away. As caregivers we are all too familiar with loss, and now is an especially difficult time. I’d like to share an essay written by the Irish-English poet, David Whyte, that speaks to loss and to solace.  

Solace is the art of asking the beautiful question, of ourselves, of our world or of one another, often in fiercely difficult and un-beautiful moments. Solace is what we must look for when the mind cannot bear the pain, the loss or the suffering that eventually touches every life and every endeavor; when longing does not come to fruition in a form we can recognize, when people we know and love disappear, when hope must take a different form than the one we have shaped for it.

Solace is the spacious, imaginative home we make where disappointment goes to be welcomed and rehabilitated. When life does not in any way add up, we must turn to the part of us that has never wanted a life of simple calculation. 

Solace is found in allowing the body’s innate foundational wisdom to come to the fore, a part of us that already knows it is mortal and must take its leave like everything else, and leads us, when the mind cannot bear what it is seeing or hearing, to the birdsong in the tree above our heads, even as we are being told of a death, each note an essence of morning and of mourning; of the current of a life moving on, but somehow, also, and most beautifully, carrying, bearing, and even celebrating the life we have just lost. – A life we could not see or appreciate until it was taken from us –

To be consoled is to be invited onto the terrible ground of beauty upon which our inevitable disappearance stands, to a voice that does not soothe falsely, but touches the epicenter of our pain or articulates the essence of our loss, and then emancipates us into the privilege of both life and death as an equal birthright.

Solace is not an evasion, nor a cure for our suffering, nor a made up state of mind. Solace is a direct seeing and participation; a celebration of the beautiful coming and going, appearance and disappearance of which we have always been a part. Solace is not meant to be an answer, but an invitation, through the door of pain and difficulty, to the depth of suffering and simultaneous beauty in the world that the strategic mind by itself cannot grasp nor make sense of. 

To look for solace is to learn to ask fiercer and more exquisitely pointed questions, questions that reshape our identities and our bodies and our relation to others. Standing in loss but not overwhelmed by it, we become useful and generous and compassionate and even more amusing companions for others. But solace also asks us very direct and forceful questions. Firstly, how will you bear the inevitable loss that will accompany you? And how will you endure it through the years? And above all, how will you shape a life equal to and as beautiful and as astonishing as a world that can birth you, bring you into the light and then just as you were beginning to understand it, take you away?

More from David Whyte can be found at https://www.davidwhyte.com.