(Stock photo image from 123RF, if that’s not obvious from the watermark.)
My death dream stayed on my mind all through yesterday, and among other things it triggered the remembrance of another dream from a few months ago. I didn’t die in this earlier one, but I did get a terminal diagnosis: I was suffering from severe tuberculosis and only had a few months to live.
My reaction to this news was to feel utterly cheated. I knew I wouldn’t get to see my niece and nephews grow up – something I had also vowed to do, staying close to them, after their father died when they were little. I thought about years’ worth of time spent with other family and much-loved friends that now would never happen. I thought about how much more time I wanted to spend among wooded mountains that now would never happen.
I did make a few changes in my life based on that dream. Most of them, though, were small and had small effects. Not all, but most.
So I suppose the dying in my sleep dream two days ago was another warning, a much more serious warning. The message still trying to get through.
And as I was remembering the earlier dream, it suddenly occurred to me that in both dream situations – the terminal diagnosis and my actual death – I had the same thoughts:
I’m being cheated out of spending time with the people I love.
Then I started going back over what I didn’t feel in those dreams.
Writing. This is something that’s been supremely important to me for most of my life. I have unpublished books that I still want to publish, and unwritten books I still want to write. Yet in the diagnosis dream I didn’t think about writing at all, and in the death dream my only writing-related regret was that I hadn’t at least published the first standalone book in a series I wrote that I really care about.
Books. One of only two kinds of material possessions I care about. I have thousands of them. Some have their own sentimental value, though most I own very much for reasons of preserving them and their contents for future generations. And yet I didn’t think about any of my books a single time in either dream.
Family heirlooms. The other of the two kinds of material possessions I care about. Again, while I have no children of my own, I do have a niece and nephews and cousins, and I want to preserve these for future generations. And yet I didn’t think about these at all in the dreams either.
I didn’t think about my house, or my car, or social media acquaintances, or my bank accounts (such as they are), or my job (as much as I love it), or my writing career, or places I want to see that I haven’t seen yet, or anything else. I thought I’m being cheated out of spending time with the people I love, and I felt regret at losing time spent in nature, and that was pretty much it.
As my friend Alexandra, who helped get me back on this path, recently put it, “This means something”.
As I also said to Alexandra yesterday, the message is pretty clear – but I’m not exactly certain in some cases of what to do about it. I can try to see my family more. A friend is coming up Saturday for a visit. I’ve sent messages to more distant (and sometimes not so distant) friends via social media, and sent out a wider message to people in general the same way. It’s a good start but doesn’t feel like nearly enough.
The problem is that I’ve made myself a hermit for so long, wrapped the emotional armor around myself so tightly, and let myself get into a domestic situation that I’ve allowed to become restrictive in some social circumstances, that I’m stumbling now trying to figure out how to shed all of that. But both dreams drove home how critical it is that I do so.
I think the thing to do now is whittle my priorities down to the core: Ask myself things like “If I really did have six months left to live, what is the first thing I would do?” And then, “Three months left to live?” “One week left to live?” “Just one day…”
Actually, there are a few things I know I would do immediately. Many of them take more courage than I feel like I have at the moment.
But I have more courage than I did at the beginning of the summer, and I feel vastly better off now than I did then. Even just what I’ve done in the last few days is a great improvement. So I’m certain I’m moving in the right direction. I just need to keep moving.