If Only…

By Emma Pearson

June 22, 2024

Photos our own, taken over the years. Main photo with baby Ben, (2000). I have so few photos of us just sitting in bed, when it happened so often. Other photos taken by the kids or friends over the years. I treasure these photos.

22 January 2022

I have many terrible dreams. Night-time dreams, I mean. My day-time dreams are much more enjoyable, pleasant, inspiring, life-giving. I am a light sleeper, which, I think, also means I dream a lot. Or I wake up a lot from my dreams, as I am having them, and so I remember them quite often. When I set an alarm and I am asleep when it goes off, I am invariably in the middle of a dream.

But most of my terrible dreams are terrible because I am dreaming about people who are dead. And even though they are not necessarily dead in my dream, something in my psyche tells me that it is not possible. And I am jolted awake.

Just this morning, I awoke and had been dreaming of Angela, a formidable and formative former boss. She died coming up to two years ago, only 18 months or so after I had last seen her. In my dream, we were catching up, having a chat. Her smile, her laugh, her sparkly eyes, her mouth, her unique-in-the-world hair, her voice – so totally and utterly her. Just how she is in my mind, in my memories. And while Angela and I didn’t see one another often, we met with some regularity over a 25 year period.

In my dream, there was no question of her no longer being alive. We were just catching up as we had last done, in 2018, at a mutual colleague-friend Andrew’s wedding. Bidding one another “au revoir” at Oxford bus station, the morning after the wedding.

But there was no natural ending in the dream with Angela. We were chatting, being together, and then I was suddenly awake. As if my conscious and unconscious selves were not going to let me have this little fantasy. This reprieve. This lovely bit of Angela, and hanging out with her.

Classic Angela – Photo used with permission from Jim Brown

I seem not to get any reprieve, even in my dreams. Some of the moments in dreams where my dead loved ones make an appearance are glorious, but it is so very short-lived. Either I remember in the dream that they are dead, and wake up; or I am simply jolted awake before a natural ending. And the waking up is so violent. So abrupt. So brutal. It seems that I can’t linger with my dead loves, even in the dream world.

This week, I had a dream like no other I have had. It was closer to an actual wish, or fantasy, that I have – that I still have Mike, alive and healthy, present in my life, to help support me with the weight of the loss of Julia. I so often wonder how different it would be. It is a regular fantasy of mine, to not carry the loss of Julia quite so alone. I just wish Mike were here. I know that child loss can split up parents, so devastating is the loss. But I know, deep deep deep in my core, that child loss would not have devastated the “us-ness” of our relationship.  We would have got help, support for inevitably different grieving styles, allowed one another space, provided comfort, cried together, and continued to fall asleep wrapped around one another. The loneliness of not having that companioning pervades my day-dreams and my night-dreams.

2006, we did lots of training for the Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix trail run – and provided one another comfort in the hardship

In my dream, Mike and I were sitting in bed, ready for bed, or recently awake – I am not sure. A “typical” start or end of day for us, back when we were both alive. Alive, all of us. A family of five. But in this dream, Julia was dead. Just Julia. Mike was alive. He and I were both alive, and our youngest child had died.

Gower Peninsula, Wales, 2012

We were crying and sharing our pain, our love, our grief, our loss of sweet Julia. Devastated. Crying crying crying, and holding one another in our joint, our mutual and shared, pain. Together. Not alone. At least having each other in this devastated landscape.

So real. So vivid.

And so very harsh to awaken from, yet again.

Volunteering in Ghana, 2013

On days like this, I take refuge in poetry. Like this poem by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, whose daily poems bring me one of the infrequent experiences I have of not being so damned alone in my aloneness.

Things to Know When Waking

There will be weather.
There will be some measure of light.
The earth will not pause, will not stop
in its spinning. The morning
will stretch into night.
And whatever I feel,
I won’t feel it forever.
And whatever I love
will someday be lost—
no matter how well I love it,
no matter my hopes,
no matter how tightly I grasp.
But the love itself, love
can continue to grow
in ways that defy
what I think I know—
if only I tend it, meet it.
And the mountains around me
are falling down.
Somewhere else,
mountains are being made.
Our Milky Way Galaxy,
sure in its course, will collide
with Andromeda Galaxy someday.
That someday will not be today.
Today there will be thousands of chances
to choose to be generous.
I am what I give.
I have a love light to carry.
Gravity wins.
Today is the day to live.

Tour du Mont Blanc – second attempt, and we succeeded, with all three kids plus Kyrsten D

About Emma Pearson

3 thoughts on “If Only…

  1. So painfully beautiful, Emma. I must admit that while reading of your dream with Mike, the both of you grieving Julia, I felt a bit of relief for you. Although these were moments encased in dreaming, you were allowed the brief ‘gift’ of experiencing your pain as parents, as spouses, as human who love each other and whose love brought Julia’s all too brief light into the world, together, until your time suddenly ended. The photos of the three of you brought quick tears, particularly the second. Thank you for the privilege of experiencing every winding road of this particular journey. ♥️

  2. As usual… in the emotional journey you continue to face, both asleep and awake.. You share with deep poignancy and beauty… That I am thankful to be able to read, you always leave me with questions and processes to go through..

    Sending you hugs and love to continue onwards and live another day xx

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