Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Dream With An Alternate Ending

I don't usually remember my dreams, but I had a dream about my dad last night. I think it was because we watched a movie last night that really disturbed me. It was Untraceable starring Diane Lane. There were two parts that thoroughly up-ended me (besides the sickness of the murders and torture). The one was the thought that millions of people could be so sick as to tune into a website to not only watch a murder, but actually participate (the premise of the story is that the killer rigged it so that the more people that watched, the faster the person died). I know there are sick people out there, but I think of them as aberrant, not the status quo. Surely in real life there aren't MILLIONS of people who would find that entertaining. I know it was just a movie, but it was the idea and the niggling doubt that disturbed me. The second thing that bothered me was the scene where the FBI are watching one of their own agents being tortured to death. I wanted to weep, even though it was only a movie, to think of having to watch someone you know and love being tortured to death.

I don't know if that was the reason I had this dream or not. But, I can't think of any other reason I would suddenly be dreaming about this close to two years after my dad's death.

Most know the story of my dad's death, so for their sake (& mine) I will try to keep this brief. But I know not everyone will know the story, so let me backtrack just a minute for some background.

My dad died October 10, 2006. Well, that's the official date of death on the death certificate. My dad had been in ill health for a while and had just been in the hospital for his second bout with congestive heart failure a few weeks before he died. I'll try not to assume my soapbox against the VA hospital, but I do blame them. My dad's doctor had taken him off one of his diuretics and his lungs were starting to fill with fluid. I remember visiting him in the hospital and thinking, "What if dad never leaves here again?" Anyways, the ICU cardiologist told dad he needed to be on that diuretic, but when he followed up with his VA primary care doctor, she said, "Who is your doctor? I am your doctor and you will do what I say!" And she took him off of it again. I had been worried about him because he wasn't able to get around like he used to and he wouldn't call me when he needed me, worried I was too busy. I finally got him to let me grocery shop for him and I began calling him every day after he mentioned having a diabetic "episode" where he had lost time and woke up in an odd situation. We were beginning to discuss and look into a retirement community of some sort because I was afraid to have dad living alone. Well, then I got bitten by some weird spider, I guess. I never saw it, but I had the bite on my knee when I woke up. It swelled up to the size of a grapefruit and was extremely painful. I felt like a baby, but my husband insisted I go to the doctor. Turned out I was having a secondary reaction and as I sat in the office, I broke out in a rash from head to toe. They put me on antibiotics, steroids, Benadryl, and Lortabs--that's how painful it was. I was pretty dopey, to say the least.

Anyways, I forgot to call my dad (I think this was a Wednesday). My therapist said that I didn't "forget" my dad, I was just living life and also in a drug-induced stupor. But, my guilty conscience still doesn't buy that excuse. When I did call him and got no answer and no return call (as per our agreement, as an alert to emergency situations), I didn't react in the prescribed manner. I had told him I would show up to check, but I didn't. Whether it was denial that anything was wrong, or denial to spare myself from what my subconscious told me would be a horrible discovery, or whether I was just careless, I couldn't tell you. My brother and I had been playing phone tag. I had wanted him to call to check on dad on weekends, since I often caught up on my sleep on Saturdays and Sundays. But, as we had only left messages for each other, he didn't grasp the importance of actually talking to dad, so when he got no answer, he thought nothing of it (dad often--before our agreement--didn't answer the phone if he was tired or sick and took forever to return calls) and didn't go check either. Finally, on Monday I was more coherent and realized I hadn't talked to dad. I had called later than usual, so when I got no answer, I hoped it was because he was already in bed, so I left a message and waited for the call to be returned. It wasn't. Tuesday, I called once more, then prepared to go check on him. My husband tried to get me to allow him to go, but I refused. I don't know if deep down I was in denial and thought everything would be fine or if I thought it was my duty, or why exactly I insisted on going. It makes no sense to me now. I called my brother on the way, as I was supposed to meet him later. I desperately wanted to ask him to come with me or for him to offer, but I knew I couldn't and neither could he. On the way there, I began thinking of scenarios to explain the lack of contact. When I got there, I knocked and knocked. No answer, so I went back to the car and retrieved my key and my cell phone (apparently amidst all the denial, there was a shred of instinct). I entered and the first sign that I should have stopped right there and called 911 was the smell in the house. But I rationalized that if he had been sick, he might not have taken out the trash. So, I started walking through the house, calling out, "daddy!", so as not to startle him. When I got to his room, I flicked on the light and saw him on the bed and I quickly flicked the light back off and ran sobbing from the room and the house, my fingers fumbling to dial 911. I told them that I KNEW he was dead, but they made me go back in and look again to be sure, in case there was something we could do to help him. I won't go into detail, more for my own sake than yours, but I could tell that he had not recently passed--he was decomposing. I am a squeamish person. Anything dead repulses me. But, that it was my own father was really hard. I couldn't sleep. And then the guilt came. I never thought I could have saved him. I believe that everyone has their time--if I had been standing next to him, I couldn't have saved him. But, I feel guilty that I didn't find him sooner. It makes me feel like a horrible daughter to know that my dad lay there dead for four or five days before anyone noticed. It's also terribly embarrassing.

I tell that story because I think it's relevant to my dream. I think I hated the outcome so much that I dreamed a different one. I dreamed that my dad was alive, but that he was still going to die and we all knew it. It was as if me and my little family were transported back in time--we knew what would happen, but no one else did. Dad was living in a little old house instead of his trailer and he had a cat. He had been at the hospital and was on his way home and I called him because we wanted to come check on him. He didn't want to visit long, but asked if I would take care of the cat and have him a pizza and a drink waiting so he could just eat and go right to bed. I tried to argue that the pizza wasn't good for him, but gave up, knowing that he would die-- what difference would it make? I had to chase the cat to the neighbor's yard. I remember dad sent something to mom (they had been separated for six years). I think it was an article or poem or something he found--something about "wife." It was hard to hug and kiss him goodbye, especially for the kids, since we all knew we wouldn't see him again. And he didn't know. Then my dream had two endings. I don't know if that's how my mind did it naturally, or if I woke a little and decided to change it. It was fresh on my mind when I woke up, so it's likely it was a recent dream. In the first version, we went home and anxiously and sleeplessly waited out the next 24 hours, then I sent my husband to check on him, saying, "I can't do this again," even if he hadn't been decomposing for a few days. The second version, I couldn't wait. I called 911 not long after we left him, said that I suspected my dad was suffering from congestive heart failure, they picked him up in an ambulance, and he died in the hospital, being cared for.

I suspect that if I had been born in another era, I wouldn't have this aversion to death. Don't get me wrong, I don't fear death (not because I think I am invincible, but because I know Someone who is!). I fear dead things and dead people. I fear finding someone I love dead. I fear watching someone I love die. From books I have read, written around the turn of the century, it seems it was commonplace for people to die at home with their loved ones around them. That's not the way it happens most times now. It was natural back then, but now natural to me seems to be dying in a hospital. I am comfortable with the idea of someone dying in the hospital--that seems right to me, so I guess I created an ending that seemed right to me. I hated that my dad died alone, though I am not sure I could have handled watching him die, even in a hospital. I couldn't even be in the room when my cats died. How could I watch my dad die? I pray God gives me strength--I know at some point, I might have to watch my mom or my husband or someone else close to me die. I hope I can be strong enough to hold their hand and not flee the room. Or, I pray God takes me first. Not that I am in a hurry! I'd like to at least see my children raised first. Then, I'm ready.

When I was a kid, I didn't have much experience with death. I was trying to think of how many funerals I went to. I think I was too young to go to my aunt's and my grandma's funerals. I went to my great-grandpa's, my uncle's, a friend's dad's, and I think I recall going to an infant's funeral (someone in our church). None of these people were very close to me. My first real experience with death was Chris' dad, when I was nearly 25. Just before that, we went to Chris' great-uncle's funeral, then Chris' dad's. After that, it seems like a cousin, my aunt, my great-grandma, my other cousin, Chris' grandma, my dad, my uncle, Chris' aunt--there may be more, but they start to run together, sadly enough. That's ten in the last seven years. I am getting more experience than I want to have.

I have actually begun to be thankful that I found my dad. I was the only one in the family to see him like that. I have closure, I have the burden of seeing what I saw and carry it with some measure of peace that I (as the oldest) was the rightful one to find him. I gladly shoulder that burden alone, gladly spare anyone else from that burden, gladly spare dad the indignity of being seen in that condition by anyone else. Even though I struggled and had to go to a psychiatrist and take anti-depressants and still have dreams, I believe that I have more strength than some of my family and was able to bear what others could not. If I sometimes still find myself wanting to call my dad, forgetting if but a moment, the tragedy I witnessed, how much more so would I be in denial if I had sent my husband and never seen dad again? Closed caskets do not afford closure.

I apologize to my readers if this post was extremely depressing. This was cathartic for me. It's hard to have a good day when you wake up with ghosts and guilt. I had to write it out. This form of therapy is much cheaper than a psychiatrist and doesn't leave me as numb as a pill would. Here's to good dreams tonight with a conscience clear and a burden lighter.

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