My stepfather B died in January and since then I've only had a couple of dreams about him. I had a few dreams about him before he died. In one, the faces of all the cancer patients I had observed at the Taussig Cancer Center were backing up, coming closer; fragmented, colorful images swirling out of control. There was no theme to it except for scary disorientation. Which fit. I had that dream the night before he died. And while I had a laser sharp focus at that point, everything was tumbling forward faster and faster, out of our control. There was nothing more to be done.
After my stepfather died, we were sitting with the man who runs the funeral home, making decisions. I wanted no part of it. Not because I was sad or in denial that he had passed away -- although I'm sure I was in shock -- but because I couldn't shake the feeling of knowing what B would say. How ridiculous all of it was. He would have been the last person sitting in a room like that listening to a man trying his best to speak in a soothing tone, describing the price differences between caskets. And since B couldn't be the last person, I had to take his place.
During the calling hours whenever I'd walk near the casket, my overriding feeling was to tell him, "These people have no idea what's going on. This is a bad party. Let's you and me get out of here!"
Yeah, he and I got it. They didn't.
In the first dream I had about him after he died, I was at a business luncheon. A large gathering where I was admiring the speaker's orange and brown dress thinking I'd like it better in black and white, while I organized flowers at the end of a long table.
The speaker was talking about where the dead go. She was never specific as to their destination but from what she was saying she had a definite opinion that they leave to go somewhere else. I looked over to the center of the room and B was sitting there listening to her. And as I arranged the white roses, I thought, Well, she has no idea what she's talking about! There he is. He's right here! He's not gone anywhere.
Back in November, my stepfather had a stroke and had to have emergency surgery. After his surgery, I was able to visit him in the intensive care unit. I stood by his bed side. After a few minutes, he opened his eyes. And all I could say to him was, "This stinks, B." He smiled groggily at me then reached up and squeezed my cheeks softly between his thumb and four fingers then he fell back to sleep. I watched as he winced, rolling his shoulders into the pillow. Although he never complained about his pain, he felt it most acutely in his shoulders over the months. And I knew that he must have been in a lot of pain if he felt it even in a post-surgery, drugged up state.
That night, when I got home from the hospital, I wrote to a friend, "I just want to steal him away so nothing else can happen to him."
By this time, I'd come to think that all the hospital visits, all the doctors and all the tests were ridiculous because I knew where it all was headed and the best of the best could continue to do their best and it would all end up meaning absolutely nothing except more pain, more fear and more false hope.
I awoke this morning from a dream. We were at B's calling hours with a roomful of people I used to work with. I sat in a chair near the casket, watching as people paid their respects. B was animated in this dream. He was wincing and rolling his shoulders. No one else seemed to notice. People were talking about him as if he couldn't hear them; as if he wasn't there. After someone had said something particularly ridiculous, he rolled his eyes, sighed and said, "Jesus Christ."
I said to him, "I know B. This just stinks."
Suddenly, I was standing next to my old boss as he talked on the phone.
"Who are you calling?"
"I'm calling Elaine. She'll order the food."
And I thought, Here we go again, everyone trying to make the best of a bad party.