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Dreams and Healing
Elaine Williams © 2008

There were many nights as a new widow, I fell into an exhausted, restless sleep. In the first two years after my husband's death, I had countless dreams in which he appeared. My dreaming seemed to revolve around day-to-day issues with my kids, money, fear of failure, and later, reentering the dating world. Often I would awake from a dream and try to decipher the meaning. I had been doing this for years, but having lost my husband, the dreams now held special significance.

If a dream felt particularly vivid, I would write it down. Sometimes bits and pieces would be recalled at a later point in the day, almost like deja vu. I sometimes experienced an "ah-ha" moment, and yet other times I wondered why I had crazy and confusing dreams. Then there were the comforting dreams. I speculated was it really my husband communicating with me, or was my subconscious responsible for the messages received?

Whatever the source, dreams wove all through my healing process. There were nights I went to bed feeling on the edge of despair, only to awaken and recall a dream offering hope and new meaning. On the days I felt frail in my grief, hopeful messages were held tightly to my heart. Perhaps I was too busy during the day to pay attention to my own fears, so during sleep, some of the answers were provided.

Some mornings I recalled only a snippet of a dream. I went through a period of incredible stress regarding one of my children's relationship issues. In a dream during that period, when my son seemed to be floundering, I woke with these words in my head, "He rose to the top." There was immediate comfort and I knew my son would be okay.

When career opportunities went nowhere, I fell into inertia, feeling as if I was suspended in limbo. I was afraid my life would never feel right. I had a dream one night that I stood naked before a blank wall. My husband entered the room, fully dressed with a knapsack on his back. In the dream he asked me was I happy to see him. I exclaimed with joy, jumped on him, and said of course I was. He laughed and hugged me.

In thinking about the dream later, I realized that I was ready to move forward with my life, but there was part of me still unhealed and hugging his memory to me. That dream made it clear to me that he was moving on to where he needed to be. I, too, had to move on, but not force anything or rush myself. I had a fresh life ahead of me and when the time was right, it would all fall into place. I also realized I couldn't let the past keep me at a standstill, staring at a blank wall.

When my middle son went through a tough time, similarly "stuck" in place, I dreamed he and I were driving down a country road and his father followed us in his own vehicle. A big tree fell across the road behind us, blocking my husband's vehicle. We got out and my husband stood there on the other side of the tree. He said to us, "Go ahead without me. I'll meet you later." I felt the message was for both my son and I, to keep going ahead with life.

My last significant dream of my husband came at a time when I knew I had to veer off a path I was taking. In the dream, he wasn't visiting or stopping by to say hello. He told me he had to leave, there was something he had to do. I knew with absolute certainty that he was dead.

I awoke from this dream crying, knowing this would be our last communication. This occurred at approximately two and a half years after his passing. From that point on, I dreamed only rarely of him, and the dreams were almost static, as if he was there, but not participating in the dream. He had moved on.

At about three years after his passing, I dreamed he was coming back for a short time, and I didn't want him to come back. I had made myself a new life and evolved into a totally different person. I knew also that if he came back, temporarily, it would throw my children into turmoil when he left again.

I felt guilty over my perceived message in this dream, that I didn't want him to come back. I went back and forth with myself for months over its possible meaning to me. Ultimately, I realized the truth was quite simple. I truly believe he had his own "work" to complete on the other side, just as I have many things to accomplish in my life.

We are both where we're supposed to be.
Dating After Loss of a Spouse
Elaine Williams © 2008

When a relationship ends due to one partner dying, what is the correct time period to begin dating again? Grief is such a funny, unpredictable animal. Many people in years' past think a year is a suitable time to wait before incorporating life changes, and yet for many of us, a year into our loss, we're barely getting started on our grief journey. My experience has been that people and perhaps society as a whole, do not allow enough time or thought to the actual grief process. There is no quick fix to "getting over it" and moving on. We all move through grief in our own ways and means. There is nothing by formula that we can follow or hope to happen. Talking with others who have experienced a similar loss is definitely a plus.

Some days the road is more difficult than others days. At times, you feel enveloped in a mist of uncertainty. Even small decisions can sometimes stretch past your point of coping.

Personal decisions are just that, personal. What is suitable for anyone must be decided individually. Sometimes you have to let go of preconceived notions of the correct way to act and grieve.

I began dating too early, about a year after my husband passed away. I was incredibly lonely and in a real oxymoron, I was determined to be happy again, at any cost to myself. So, I started dating through online sites and I kept attracting the wrong type of man. Takers, emotionally unavailable, surface daters, serial daters, men who mirrored my own uncertainty about my readiness to date again.

None of these connections turned out to be anything substantial. In a fog of grief, I yearned to find someone to love, and yet I knew these men were wrong for me. They were just a short ride on a ferry to nowhere special. It was brought home to me gradually, through my dating experiences, that I had to value myself more than what I was doing. I couldn'�t settle with a partner just to have someone in my life. I deserved more. My dates deserved more than someone still traveling through grief.

In those early days, I was as unavailable as the men I dated. If I had realized this, perhaps I would have run fast in the opposite direction, but in two instances I hung on to a flagging relationship, hoping things would change. Of course they did not.

Gradually, I came to realize that I had to stop setting myself up for disappointment in relationships. How could I attract the right partner, unless I was equally ready for a commitment?

I made the decision to bring my standards up to a new level and part of this process involved not dating for over a year. Only then did I start meeting the quality of man that my higher consciousness demanded. I was no longer wasting my time, or theirs, in surface dating, where both of us knows after one date there is no chemistry or real interest.

We all deserve better for ourselves than settling in a relationship just to alleviate the loneliness. It is difficult being alone when you are used to so much more, but I have chosen to remain so until the right partner comes along. For me, there is no other choice.

A Widow's Many "Firsts"
 Elaine Williams ©2008

The left side of the bed where my husband used to sleep remains neatly made, hardly a ripple disturbing the quilted surface. I sleep on the right side each night, where I had slept the twenty-plus years we were together. With time, I developed a habit of reading in bed. The left side remained neatly made, but on top of the quilted cover a mound of reading material gradually grew. I read about feng shui in the bedroom and wondered was I preventing another partner from entering my life by allowing that pile to grow? Was there a part of me that would rather be entertained by books than another partner?

I sorted through and cleared away my husband's clothes a few months after his passing, following an inexplicable but strong urge that struck me. Our bedroom was on the second floor, and with his illness, he had not been in that room at least six months prior to his passing. I went through the bedroom like a whirlwind, clearing out every corner, drawer and shoe box, getting rid of anything that resembled clutter or hadn't been used in years. I cleared all but the barest essentials for living.
At night, I would lie in bed and stare into the dark, feeling the emptiness of the room, as it matched the emptiness in my heart.

When I took off my wedding ring the first time, I put it on my opposite hand. It felt strange to be on a finger where it didn't belong. I got used to it after a few weeks, but I wasn't sure what the protocol was for widows and rings. After several months, I took the ring off and put it on my dresser, but then months later, I resumed wearing it again on my right hand.

Switching the wedding band around felt awkward. After several more months, I removed it for the final time, wondering if my kids would notice. My youngest son one day remarked that my ring was gone and I told him I'd put it as a keepsake in my jewelry box. The last time I wore it was two and a half years after my husband's death.

The first time I went to a social event without my husband felt incredibly awkward, as if I were an imposter masquerading as someone single. Two of my children went with me, but I wondered how many people there, most of whom I knew, wondered about my state of mind since I'd been a widow a scant two months. Did I look happy, sad, ready to cry? Inside I was shaky and struck with inadequacy, as if half of me was missing and the remaining half didn't know how to act. I certainly didn't want anyone's pity, but I had this crazy notion people were feeling bad for me. I didn'
t stay long, but somehow I felt it was important that I had gone.

My first lunch by myself I slipped into the diner booth hoping no one would notice me. I sat there self-consciously, wishing I had brought something to read so I could keep my head down, my own way of hiding. I had gone in there just to see if I could do it by myself, a test, if you will.
As I waited for my food I looked at the television showing the weather, the other patrons, some of whom I knew by sight, and out the window at the rain. My food arrived and after I ate and paid the bill. I walked out of there feeling as if I'd cleared a monumental hurdle, ultimately relieved that I had taken another step forward.

It sounds trivial, and yet these little steps were my daily leaps forward. Progress was measured some days by how long it had been since I'd cried. Was it silly to drive down the road and suddenly hear a song that made you cry? Not because it was "your" song, but because the poignant lyrics poked at something hurting inside.

My first date in twenty plus years felt as foreign as if I was cheating on my husband. How do you pick up the pieces of a life gone awry, where it feels like you're a stranger in your own world? Where does loneliness end and desperation take over? How do you control the craving for human attention and affection? Many days I had questions and no answers.

The first wedding anniversary, birthday, holiday, Valentines day and the first anniversary of his death I told myself I was okay, these were merely days on a calendar. I lied to myself and on bright sunny days I walked into our woods and cried. Even with the sun's warmth on my face, I felt an emotional mess. The biggest sustaining factor in my life was my kids. I knew they needed me as they faced their own "firsts" without their father in their lives.

Gradually, time, healing and loved ones' support made all the "firsts" bearable. Four years down the road, I realize I"ve successfully jumped many hurdles. It had not always been with perfect execution, but with overall strength and dignity. I've come into my own power once more as I applaud my accomplishments big and small.

A Journey Well Taken:
Life After Loss by Elaine Williams

Grief and It's Many Forms - Elaine Williams © 2008

Grief and loss come in a multitude of forms. There is grief due to loss of a loved one but there's also the sense of grief related to illness and the impending demise of a loved one.

When our family pet, our dog Bear had to be put to sleep after ten years with us, it was more emotionally draining than I'd realized. When he was five weeks old he was slated to go to the dog pound since no one wanted him. My children and I went to the private home where he had been born and brought him home with us. I wasn't sure I really wanted another dog, since we had the veterinarian put to sleep our cherished Lab "Pearl" the week before. However, Bear soon became a part of our family, and lived with us for ten years.

This Fall he developed a terribly aggressive, fast growing tumor that despite our best efforts, he chewed at and ultimately broke open in his last day of life. That month before I went back and forth on the idea of agreeing to an operation to remove the tumor. He seemed fine, despite the tumor, but the operation I was afraid would seriously interfere with his quality of life. He would lose his tail, and some of his hind quarter.

When the tumor started to bother him a great deal I decided to go for the operation -- only to have him within the span of twelve hours, go from seeming to be okay to dying. We never got to the operation, and it seems he was fully involved with cancer, even though he looked okay on the outside. He still had a beautiful, shiny, thick husky coat, and yet he was dying from cancer. It's incredible to find how much you've become attached to an animal.

The same week we had Bear euthanized, my girlfriend of seventeen years underwent an operation for endometrial cancer. When she went for pre-testing and blood work the week before, they found swollen lymph glands in her legs. This news made me fearful. Having been down this cancer route before, the deep feeling in the pit of my stomach was there...that unrelenting fear for the worst. I wanted to keep her spirits buoyed up, it wasn't up to me to play doctor or surmise what this might mean -- she had experts to do that. But I called her, took her out to lunch, kept in daily contact, just to talk to her and let her know I cared.

I visited her in the hospital after the operation to remove the tumor, and stayed with her several hours. A few times during that visit we talked realistically about her prognosis, and we cried together because, based on what the doctor's were saying, the news was not good.

Her realistic approach to her cancer brought the tears to my eyes. I began to mourn her loss of mobility and her loss of real quality of life. She told me she doesn't want to linger, and wants it over quick. She knows how my husband's cancer illness went, and she fears lingering toward death.

Sometimes it's a natural reaction not to want to talk about dying and death, but I must, so I can help her just by listening. I feel for her and I feel for myself. Already I feel the loss in my life.

When my girlfriend was released home from the hospital, (too early in my opinion), she came to my house for four days because I knew she would be alone at her house without any help. On the hour long ride home, hooked to a portable oxygen tank for breathing difficulties, she dozed on and off.

My friend was filled with fluid due to ongoing heart problems and also the after affects of the major operation she had undergone. She was incredibly uncomfortable and her color didn't look the best. I began to realize she really needed expert nursing, not a friend who was trying to offer her support.

That first day was incredibly hard for her, and it was very difficult for me also, in an emotional way. Unbidden, having her there brought back to me when my husband was ill. Every movement seemed to jar her incision, which was over twelve inches long and held together by staples. By Friday night she had filled up with even more fluid and I urged her repeatedly to call her doctor. She called the doctor twice on Saturday, and he finally called her after four hours, then instructed her to come to his office on Monday.

Gradually, she began to feel better, but it made me realize once again how caretaking someone is a big responsibility, and takes over all aspects of your life. As much as I cared about her, I felt weak with the responsibility I had undertaken. I wanted her to be well, but I knew also, unless she drastically changes her eating habits and her lifestyle, I fear she will succumb to this disease. There's nothing more I can do for her. Nothing at all, except be her friend and help her in the best way I can, by letting her know I care.

Afraid to Talk About Dying --  Elaine Williams © 2008

When my husband was diagnosed with esophagus cancer, we never talked about him dying, except in the very beginning. I think we were afraid to voice the worst scenario we could think of, him not making it through this disease. He refused to consider taking the traditional route in medicine, which was chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He told me early in his illness he was certain that the chemotherapy would kill him right away. When such a diagnosis is delivered, you begin to carry around with you a heaviness inside. When someone you care about is terminally ill, it dominates your thoughts and every waking moment. Your mind races over the different treatments and the newest drug trials, in the slim hope that things aren't as bleak as they seem.

When the doctors told him he had this cancer, which essentially prevented him from eating, he wanted them to operate and take out the largest tumor at the junction of the stomach and esophagus. His doctor said it would be a major operation, where the ribs would have to be cracked open, and not one that he had the ability to perform. After more extensive testing was done, the doctors decided not to operate because they felt there was a good chance the cancer had already spread to the lymph nodes in the esophagus region. I didn't know it then, but I guess I should have -- they didn't want to operate because they felt it was a lost cause.

We didn't feel we should give up -- we just knew that each human life is a cause worth fighting for. We never gave up hope that he could beat this cancer, even though it wasn't discovered until almost last stage. I never actually asked the doctor what stage his cancer was. I believe it was an emotionally insulating factor for myself. I was afraid to know. I did so much research on alternative therapies that might help him, but I was afraid to know where traditional medicine saw him in his stage of cancer. Perhaps I was just better off that way. If I had known, perhaps that may have taken some of the fight out of both of us. We passed many milestones on our quest to heal him. To me, it wasn't extending his life, it was attempting to heal his life and his body.

When someone is terminally ill, you want to preserve every moment, and that in itself becomes exhausting, though you're not really cognizant of the toll day to day life takes on you. You want to try every avenue available to get better. I wanted my husband to visit a clinic we learned about in Mexico, where they had a good success rate of treating his type of cancer. I questioned our alternative medicine doctor about the latest therapies for cancer patients. I refused to let hope die, especially when my husband's smaller tumors disappeared, and even when he kept losing weight. My mother said to me once, that some women might have left, but it never occurred to me. How could I ever think of leaving someone who I love when they needed me?

We took note of every mile marker along the way. Each step forward felt like a triumphant race to the ultimate goal, his being totally cured of cancer. I read many stories about others who had beat this devastating disease. It wasn't until three weeks before my husband passed away, the night I had a dream, that I knew he was going to die. I'm sure many others knew right along he was going to die, but being in the thick of living this illness, it wasn't an option for me. When I had the dream he died, I awoke and knew he was going to die. It was that simple.

All hope turned to despair. And still, we did not talk of him dying. Perhaps we should have, I don't know. Perhaps he didn't talk about his dying to spare me and my children. Perhaps he was afraid that even though I'd always been strong, maybe he didn't want to see me break into a million tiny fragments. And I might have. I might well have broken apart, lost the emotional glue that was keeping me together in those last weeks. When hope flees, emotion and fear can break you down.

Some days I thought there was nothing more terrible than watching someone you love waste away from 200 lbs. to ninety or so pounds. The spirit and the brightness in his eyes was undiminished, until the last eighteen hours. When you look into a loved one's eyes and all you see is a black glassy emptiness, you know it is the end. For someone who likes to take control, and make other's comfortable, I knew there was noting I could do. It was the most helpless I ever recall feeling in my life. The end had been written, but we never talked about the end. I think it was just too hard.