I’ve always been a very vivid dreamer, and it’s actually one of the things that I shared with Eema. We both would have long strange elaborate dreams involving all kinds of strange people, and we liked to talk about them, to tell them as stories. Yes, I’m aware that many people consider listening to other people’s dreams to be horribly boring, but Eema and I never cared.
Because of my tendency to remember my dreams I was hoping that I might have one about Eema. I don’t really believe in that stuff—that dead people can visit us in our dreams, or whatever—but I wanted it anyway. I have been having lots of dreams lately, but Eema wasn’t in any of them. And then a few days ago I dreamt that I was having a conversation with Abba and Deena, and we were talking about Renana needing to be picked up from somewhere and taken somewhere else. We were discussing who could pick her up, and I asked, “Well what is Eema doing?” And then I realized, and then the dream was over. It was—unsettling. Embarrassing. How could I not remember, even in a dream, this huge and horrible thing?
The day after I had that dream was Friday, and after work in the afternoon I was back at the apartment cooking and cleaning and getting ready for Shabbat. I spoke with Renana just before candle lighting and she said something that suddenly made me realize I hadn’t been thinking about Eema at all for a while. I can’t say how long, really, but it seems like it could have been hours since I had last thought about her, and about my own sadness, and I was simultaneously shocked, appalled and impressed by myself. How had I managed to do that? Would I just continue to do it, and that’s what it means to move on? I hope not, because it wasn’t a particularly healing experience. I didn’t feel any better, I just hadn’t felt horrible for a little while. It feels like a sin of omission.
I’ve always thought that recovering from a broken heart is that dealing with a really nasty fall. For a while you cannot go anywhere or do anything without being reminded of the pain, and how different you are from everyone else who’s able to just go on with their lives normally while you hobble around feeling like shit. And then you get better at hobbling, and maybe stronger, but mostly probably just used to it and you still feel crappy. And even though it’s nice not to be doing quite as poorly as before you still wish you were getting the pity you got when things were at their worst. But slowly things get better and better, and then there’s a long stage where there’s a visible bruise, and you keep touching it to see if it still hurts. And for a while it does, and then suddenly it doesn’t. And eventually the bruise goes away.
I don’t think grief works entirely the same way. There are similarities, but I think that when you have your heart broken in a romantic sense, you can console yourself with the knowledge that there are other fish in the sea, and you are likely to fall in love again. I feel like most people suffer from broken hearts and recover and go on to love other people. But when your mother dies, it just doesn’t work that way. There is no other mother that’s going to come along. And I guess partially because of the permanence of the loss, and the way it can never be smoothed over by some other character playing a similar part, I was just so surprised and disappointed in myself.
Friday night I had a dream about Eema. She and I were sitting on a couch somewhere looking at old pictures of her, and she was sick, but she was well in the pictures, and we talked about them and she gave me a hug and I cried into her shoulder. When I woke up, I kept my eyes squeezed shut and stayed in bed for another hour, hoping I could make it come back.
The hope for coming back—it’s so complicated and strange. There’s a whole facet of Judaism focused on what will happen when the dead are revived, if they’re revived, and what various Jewish texts seem to say about reincarnation and revivification. When I was home in Chicago last week I spoke about it with Abba and Deena and felt as confused about it as ever.
It’s not something that I ever spent much time thinking about before. I thought it was kind of wrong to think about it, because if you just banked on being brought back to life after death then what was the point of getting anything done in this world? And I still feel that way, but I also feel strongly that there’s no way to escape wanting someone to come back when they die. And it isn’t really an abstract kind of wanting, it’s a specific, direct and sharp desire for something that seems like it should be attainable. Someone was here a month ago, a week ago, yesterday—how can it be that they are no longer capable of coming back?
Dreams seem like a middle ground. They’re not real. They’re created by our brains trying to process the mental work of our days. But their perceived realness makes a dreamt reincarnation less threatening theologically, and very comforting psychologically.
And with that—bedtime.
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