Dreams of a Bereaved Mother

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By Suzanne Leigh

After Natasha was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, I started to have dreadful dreams. They always involved driving. I would be approaching a stop sign and depressing the brake pedal, but instead of slowing down my car would speed up. I’d stomp on the brakes, frantically apply the handbrake, but my car would gather momentum as it zipped along city roads dotted with office workers and shoppers. I’d shout out of the window warning passersby that the car wouldn’t stop, but my voice was drowned by the cacophony of horns and screams of outrage as pedestrians and drivers darted out of my way. Nobody died in those dreams.

I know the dream mirrored something that I was too scared to acknowledge: that Natasha’s disease was out of my hands. That no matter how many expert opinions I obtained, no matter how much time I pored over PubMed.org to read peer-reviewed studies on all things brain tumor to discuss with our oncologist, the disease’s trajectory might be impervious to any treatment protocol.

After Natasha died I never slept restfully and I always woke up racked by the irony that my child would be deprived of this new day, while I had to live through it. I stopped dreaming about out-of-control cars and I stopped dreaming about Natasha. (I was glad about the latter: I didn’t want to deal with the dawning realization that yes, that was just a dream about Natasha that had had me conned, and no, she won’t be coming back. Of course she won’t.)

And then more than a year after her passing I did dream of her. Sort of. It was one of those dreams when you know you are dreaming but the images and plot are powerful, emotive and real nonetheless.

The doorbell had rung and I had bounded down the stairs. And there she was. Clad in her pink parka. Smiling.

“Natasha!”
“Mama!”

I enveloped her small being, covering her head with grateful kisses, breathing in her Natasha smell, grasping her hands and gazing at her face. (I know that I’m dreaming, but a part of me feels relief that I seem to be able to see and touch my daughter once again.)
“I’ve missed you so much, my Peanut.”
“I’ve missed you, too.”
“Come into the house!”

Natasha smiles, but stays put. (Why am I upset that she won’t come into the house? This is only a dream.)

I pick her up so that I can carry her upstairs. Carefully, carefully. Natasha is fragile in this dream, just as she was in the last two years of her life.
“No, no! I can’t go into the house.” (I so want for her to come inside, even if this is only a dream.)
“We want you home, Natasha. More than anything …”

I’m fully awake now, reliving this dream or sort-of dream, frame by frame. If only, if only I could have my child back for real; just for two minutes to hug, to see that beautiful face. If only I could witness her dad and sister as they are reunited with her.

As the day lumbers on a little more slowly and painfully than usual, I catch sight of a photo of Natasha. She is wearing her pink parka and has a radiant smile, just as she appeared in my sort-of dream. In the picture her tumor had come back but had been temporarily annihilated. In the picture Natasha was happy in spite of a future that was grim. My sweet, brave girl.

If only.

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