Years ago when I was living and working in Newcastle, I had a horrible dream. I dreamt that I was at the family home where I grew up. I was living there with my father. At first I couldn’t figure out why it was only the two of us but then it became apparent that my mother had died. It was autumn and I went outside to clean the leaves in the front yard. Whilst I was doing so, my mother came walking down the road as if she was alive and well. I looked up and said to her through my immediate tears: “Mother, what are you doing here? You are dead.” She replied: “Oh, I came for a visit. I just cannot get used to where I am now.” She came towards me and through some miracle I could touch her. I held onto her as if my own arms could cheat death and keep her with me. Eventually, she broke away from me and turned towards where she had come from. “I have to go back now” she said simply. I told her: “No, no, no, Mum don’t leave me”, but she just turned and walked back down the road knowing that she could not stay. The tears and anguish that flowed from me in the dream as I watched my mother disappear from my reality followed me into my waking state and when I woke up and I could not wholly convince myself that my mother wasn’t really dead. I could feel a visceral pain sear through my being – it was like I was being cut in two. There was also this rotten lump of despair in my centre which would not abate. I stayed fully concentrated on the dream and my own reaction to it for what seemed like half the night, until through sheer exhaustion I must have fallen asleep.
A few hours later, my alarm woke me up to start my day and before I could even open my eyes, the memory of the dream opened a window in my mind and it was real again. I cried through my morning ritual of showering, dressing, primping and getting out of the door. On the bus to work I stared hard out of the window, trying to not cry as the emotions of the dream alighted themselves in my psyche and refused to budge. At work all I could do was try to give my total concentration to the task at hand so that I did not watch the clock constantly waiting for the hour when I could call my mother in Canada and hear her voice. Once that hour did come, I left work and hastily rang my parent’s number. With teeth biting down hard on my quivering lower lip, I walked down Northumberland Street, waiting for someone to pick up the phone. I was fully prepared for my father to answer and give me bad news. When the ringing on the phone line stopped and my mother’s sleepy voice said “Hello”, I burst into tears. She of course, was alarmed that I was calling so early, crying down the phone. “What’s happened?” she asked, “What’s the matter?” I couldn’t even talk, the sobs were coming so thick and fast, but eventually, I relayed my dream to her. I made her swear up and down that she was not ill and hiding it from me. She wasn’t then and isn’t now. As I told her in the final moments of the telephone call, I am so grateful to still have my mother in my life and I hope with all of my heart that I will have her here with me for many more. I am lucky, no one has to tell me that, because I have friends who have lost a parent and it is devastating. I know that from my life-like dream and also from a few years ago when my Uncle Don died.
Because I eventually moved from Newcastle to live in Southern England and my parents were in Canada, I only had my Uncle Don, my mother’s brother, and his wife Carol, as my familial stalwarts. For a couple of months, when I first moved, I lived with them and even when I went to live in London, I would often visit them on weekends. Although we rarely did much outside the house, I always enjoyed my time there because it had that “go back to see your parents” quality to it. We would sit around the house and talk about current affairs, books that we had read or were reading, my life in the big city, their memories of times past. My Uncle and I might drink some red wine at night as we watched television, not really watching the chosen programme if it was boring, instead just talking over it. On Sundays, after a roast dinner, my Uncle would drive me to the Tube station and I would make my long way back to central London. As time went on, and I met my now husband, I started to travel to Turkey on a regular basis so my weekends in Essex became fewer. I would call for a chat from time to time, but between travelling, working and resting, making the hour trip out to see my Uncle and Aunt seemed another thing on my to-do-list that never got done. After I came back from having a civil marriage service in Turkey involving my husband, myself, the registrar and two security guards as witnesses and before we had our massive, traditional village, marriage celebration, I went to visit my Uncle and Aunt. When I arrived at their house, I was surprised to see that my Uncle Don was looking so thin and drawn. I was told that he had been sick over the holidays and had gone to the doctors who after some tests had given him the news that he most likely had cancer but would need a biopsy to confirm. I was shocked. As our weekend wore on I could tell just how sick my beloved Uncle was. Before I went out the door to my waiting cab, my Uncle being too sick to drive me, I hugged him tightly and said: “Take care of yourself. Get better.” He promised me that he would but he never did, in fact a couple of months later when I was in Turkey with my family for our marriage ceremony, my Aunt called to tell me that he had died. I was heartbroken. I went through the three days of wedding celebrations and the remaining holiday feeling like I had lost a precious friend. I still feel like that. I still think of my Uncle all of the time. When I returned back to the UK from Turkey without my parents or husband, my first thought was: I must call my Uncle Don tomorrow. Then I realised that there was no tomorrow for us. It took many months for that feeling to wear off. The feeling that person is still extant which morphs into a feeling that person has just gone away somewhere and will be coming back shortly. Finally your mind accepts what your broken heart knows, that your time with that person is over.
So I have been thinking about life and about death. The fact that one day my parents will leave me, my sister and husband might too. Many of my friends could die before me and for the rest it is I who will leave them. I will also likely leave my daughter on earth and she will have to go through these same emotions and feelings, I have tried to describe here. Life is a strange, strange thing that I cannot seem to get my head around. Folk say: who wants to live forever, but who wants to be torn apart from their loved ones? My mother, who lost both her parents, by 21 years old, always asks: “Why are we humans so capable of such love and emotion if we just end up losing each other?” I do not have the answer to that but funnily enough before my Uncle Don died I had an amazing dream about him which as much as the one about my mother dying showed me grief, this one showed me hope.
Although when I left my Uncle and Aunts house after our final visit, I knew that my Uncle was sick, I did not know how sick. Even if I contemplated that he could die, I never imagined that it would happen so quickly and without any time to say our goodbyes. So a few weeks later when I had a very vivid lucid dream about him I was totally taken aback. In the dream I dreamt that I was in Winnipeg, the city where I was born and where I had spent many Christmases with our close family friends. There was a house full of people just like one of my childhood Christmases and there was a jovial feeling in the air. There came a knock at the door and I went to answer it. There stood my Uncle Don who was looking terrible. I invited him to come in and asked him what he needed. He told me that he was tired and just wanted to lie down. I told him that he needed to eat and should have some soup. He said that he couldn’t really eat anything, so I told him to go upstairs and have a lie down. I then went back to the festivities, until I saw my Uncle come down the stairs again after his nap. The only thing was, it wasn’t the same version of my Uncle who had come to the house, instead, he was a young man. He was in his Army uniform and had his kit bag thrown over his shoulder. I asked him where he was going. He said: “I have to get going now. It is time for me to go.” I said: “Stay with us. Have some soup. Rest some more.” He shook his head and said: “It is time for me to go, Nat” and off he went. Weeks later after I found out that he had passed, I told my mother that I knew from my dream that he would leave us soon. I felt like his soul, or energy, or whatever part of the universe that makes him exist, was telling me that it was time for him to move on. He was so young, healthy, energetic and positive in the dream. He had his uniform and kit with him like he was reporting for duty somewhere else in the cosmos. He was ready for his next adventure.
The fact is that we live and we die. We love our parents, relatives, friends, children, pets, leaders, heroes and heroines and some of them leave us and some of us leave them. The pain of separation is part of this earthly experience, but I do believe that it is not a final separation. Many of my life experiences have hinted at that and my dream about Uncle Don further pointed in that direction. It further compounded my belief that we are all energetic adventurers, journeying our way through this life and beyond. To answer my mother’s question, perhaps we love with such intensity because we know that we do not have infinite time together in this shared life. We love so deeply because out of all of the people incarnate on earth we have chosen each other to walk with. We have decided that we will learn and grow together until we cannot learn and grow anymore and then one of us departs. It is our time to go. It is our time to part ways but it is never “Adieu” but always “Au revoir” in someway, somehow.