On loss, fear, teeth, and flowers
The dreams I had after the losses of loved ones haunted me, until I figured out what they meant.
Three months after Raymond died, I dreamt for the first time of my teeth falling out.
I cupped my hands together, and stared at the pile of silver-capped teeth. They had fallen en masse from my mouth and, as is often the case in dreams, that somehow seemed normal.
When I woke up, it felt very not normal.
It was the first time in my life that I dreamt what I soon realized was quite the common nightmare.
For me, it was strange and uncommon and confusing, but I learned quickly (thanks to Google and plenty of amateur dream chasers) that it really wasn’t. In fact, people everywhere have the dream every night.
And it meant something.
The dropping-out-of-my-mouth teeth represented loss. And, more than that, they meant I was afraid of more loss. The “official” explanations I found said that the dream “highlights your feeling of having experienced a profound loss of something or someone in your life” and “signifies powerlessness, fear and loss of control.”
Looking back, it surprises me that it took that long for that particular dream to invade my sleep. Because loss—despite my sunny disposition, strong faith, undeterred resilience—had crashed into my life and settled onto my couch like it was an old friend (or an unwelcome intruder).
Loss—unexpected, inexorable, ugly—had moved in. Had taken an entire family of friends, my three-year-old cousin, a vibrant best friend with a toddler who needed her, my grandmother, our Raymond.
But I guess Raymond was the one that did it.
I’d had enough, and I finally listened.
The dream fairy crashed into my nighttime, kicking and screaming: “Here’s Greg and Karen!" (my friends who died in a horrific carbon monoxide accident), "Here’s Haven!" (my three-year-old cousin who had battled heart disease her entire short life), "Here’s Erin!" (my dear friend, mother to a toddler, who had died in her sleep of an aneurisym), "Here’s Grandma!” (my wonderful grandmother, who slipped quickly into a disease that shook our entire family).
And then she howled, “Here’s Raymond!”
Raymond—my dear, loved, haunted adopted son—took his own life on Christmas Eve, and it was too much to bear. I cried and screamed for days, then weeks; I wondered what I'd done wrong; I begged for God to wake me up and reveal that it had all been just a ruse.
So the teeth fell out, and piled up.
Loss, it seems, piles up too and transforms itself…mostly into fear.
Suddenly you’re fearful of so much—the things that are rational and the things that are irrational; the bumps in the dark, but also the things right out in the sunlit open; the things you know are happening, and also the stories you create in your imagination; the memories of the past, and the future whatevers that you think might manifest.
It doesn’t make sense, and yet you’re simply afraid of something.
Of something more.
My middle daughter told me of that dread, that worry that sits heavily on your chest, as she prepared to sing and play piano at one of the too-many memorial services we attended during this span of time. She understood on some level similar to me.
On a dreary, snowy day, she sang of “beautiful things” that come out of the dust, and I think that must be the message that has to emerge from loss and uncertainty and fear.
They say that "time heals all wounds," and there is some truth in that. You never get over your losses; they haunt me still to this day; but life does go on, and you find good things amidst the sad memories.
A while after my wake-up dream of piled-up teeth, I dreamt again.
I boarded a train and settled into a cushy, velvety seat bound for somewhere. Outside the window, flowers—yellow, crocusy, open-up flowers—began popping, growing, emerging from the ground.
They were all I could see, for miles and miles and miles.
And I didn’t need a book or an expert to tell me (or yell at me) what the dream meant.
The meanings were as clear as day (or as night, in this case):
I’m on a journey.
Things start anew.
Stops don’t mean it’s over.
Fear can’t control you.
We must enjoy the view.
It might take a while (it will take a while), but we’ll get there.
Flowers bloom. They always do.
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