In my dream, I remember standing inside a building speaking to a woman. The building was some sort of last century high school or perhaps a town hall with its block construction and its marble floors and large wrought iron railings encircling the stairs. The steps had been worn down through a century of scuffed feet and the windows reached far up toward the high ceilings.
The woman was a counselor of sorts. But not a guidance counselor for a high school junior trying to decide on what college to attend. I guess she was a "grief counselor" in a way. Though not one for those who had experienced a tragedy. She was a counselor for the dead. She was counseling me. She was explaining to me the rules of how to die, what to do now that I had died.
It was time, she said. It was time to leave the building and make my death known. It was time to leave the ones I loved behind.
I didn't want to go. I wasn't ready to go. I was terribly, terribly sad. And more than anything in the world, I was worried about how sad I was going to make someone else.
I remember walking down the large granite steps from the building and into a yard. There were people in the yard standing about, talking quietly, mostly off to the sides in the periphery. I didn't heed any of them. I walked past them toward the person I had to face. The woman followed me several steps behind quietly reminding me of what I had to do. Up ahead I saw him. He was playing in a sandbox all by himself.
He was just a little boy. A toddler I guess. Not quite old enough to talk in sentences, but he could point and make you understand what he wanted and what he needed. He was beautiful. He was innocent and carefree. He was everything to me. And I had the smothering sense that I was about to make him very, very sad.
"You can hold him," she said, "but you must take him to a corner of the yard that has no memories for you and him. You must take him to a place in the yard you have never been before to say goodbye."
"Because what is happening cannot be linked to his memories of the past with you. He has to let you go and that has to be something that he knows is quite different from anything he has experienced with you before. He has to know that this is the end and that he cannot keep you."
I guess I nodded.
I approached the little boy and he smiled as he saw me coming. He ran up to me and I picked him up and held him tight. He was perfect, just a perfect bundle of little boy within my arms. He pressed his face against mine in joy and perfect love. I started to carry him slowly away from the sandbox, to some foreign corner of the yard. But he resisted. He leaned away from me and pointed earnestly toward the sandbox where his yellow plastic shovel and Tonka truck lay.. I dutifully carried him away to the edge of the yard near some sapling maple trees. He looked distressed. This was not our normal play space.
He took my hand and pulled me back to another point in the yard, to a place where he and I used to play together, to the big tree and the rope swing. He tugged me along and smiled more as we got closer.
"No," I said. "Let's go over here," and I led him to another place in the yard that was strange to him.
He began to cry. I picked him up and held him tight, as tight as I could hold another human being. For all the tears he cried, they couldn't keep pace with my own. He didn't understand. He was sad and scared and a little bit mad. He wanted me to go back with him to our accustomed placed, to do the things that he loved to do with me.
What I was doing to him was unbearable. He couldn't understand. He couldn't know it wasn't my choice. This was not what I wanted, but all he could see was that this is what I was doing. I could feel my heart ripping inside of me.
I just held him and cried. A few feet away the woman spoke again in quiet tones. She spoke like a perfect professional, factually, with empathy I suppose, but with no emotion. She continued on with her explanation of what was happening and why it had to happen. This parting was necessary, she said. It had to be. He needed to feel the break from what he had known with me and to recognize that nothing would be the same. She droned on.
Her words were repugnant to me. In them, I felt this reality -- this goodbye -- crumble away . I was no longer merely uttering an unspeakable goodbye to someone from whom I could never bring myself to leave; it had become far worse than that. I was now feeling the malignancy of sorrow dredged from the utter darkness of my very soul. Within my heart, I had isolated the very essence of grief from death itself.. I was feeling pure sadness distilled as it were from pain as though it was water wrung from a cloth. It hurt. God, it hurts. It still hurts now an hour later.
Slowly the awareness that I was no longer in the yard seeped in. I was still in the depths of dolor, the tears were still rushing from my eyes, but the place was changing around me. I could a hair dryer somewhere in the distance. After a few moments, there were distant voices. They came closer and in them I could hear concern. My wife's hand brushed over my face. I woke up, but not even that stopped the tears. I suddenly realized that I could feel my heart, not its beating, but my heart itself as if something was crushing it. And then the kids. My oldest climbed into the bed and wrapped himself around me. The twins came and asked Mommy if Daddy was okay.
I'm not sure I am.