40 weeks ago, Penny, my wife, died of cancer, a month and two days short of our 25th wedding anniversary.
That seems like a huge number. Less than a year. This is October, which is really the ninth month of the year, but in time-passed, it was eight months, to the day, on Thursday the 12th - she died on January 12th. I spent most of Thursday in a sort of weird dazed state, neither terribly happy nor unhappy most of the time, doing some housework, cooking some food, playing with cats and playing City of Heroes online. I did a bit of job searching, of course. And, since I hadn't gotten enough sleep, I took a nap which turned out to be longer than I had expected, and at least, I did dream of Penny.
So, for this week, I'm focussing on dreams.
Back in 1998, when I was formally diagnosed with Narcolepsy, I started taking ritalin to control my main symptom: excessive, sometimes overwhelming daytime sleepiness. Let me make this clear: if you don't have a sleep disorder, you can still understand how I feel day in and day out, by remembering the last time you went 24 to 36 hours without actually sleeping. That's how I feel three hours after I wake up from my usual sleep period of 6 hours. I've become quite acclimated to this, though, and so it takes the equivalent of a club to the head to make me listen to the fatigue. Oh yeah. The fatigue. Besides the dry-gritty-eyed fatigue, there's a physical sense of just not having any energy, whether or not I've been getting enough exercise (which I haven't.)
Dreams suffer when you're narcoleptic, and you come up with ways around them. For instance, I can dream without falling asleep sometimes. That is, I can 'think in the back of my head' and recognize that the images and sounds that are just out of reach are actually dream-stuff running. In the daytime, if I close my eyes and let myself fall asleep (which seldom takes longer than 2 minutes, and the normal person takes 20 minutes to fall asleep) I'll normally end up in a very deep sleep for maybe 7-10 minutes, 20 if I'm really undersleeping, but then I'll wake up again after that. If I let myself go longer, I'll wake up in 1.5 to 3 hours, like just happened. I went to bed at 10:30pm and woke at midnight, and was annoyingly awake, so came out here to make this entry. Since I have a 10AM meeting, and it's 4:15AM right now, I'll probably go back to bed in less than 10 minutes.
If for some reason I'm able to go back to sleep (I did this Thursday morning) I will end up sleeping 8-10 hours and the last two hours or so will be incredibly vivid dreams. And I probably won't remember them after a half hour, unless I make an effort to write them down.
Emotions are a big part of dreams, as are the experiences of the last few days, but once you've processed that, you can get some wild stuff. Penny used to have spectacularly fun dreams, spies and spaceships and such. And remembering that, I remember more vividly the two dreams I had Thursday and the one I had waking up this morning. Thursday morning, at the bladder-determined waking point, Penny and I were driving somewhere, just talking about books. There was one after that where we were spies and super-heroes (some City of Heroes influence here, in the costumes at least.) And then Friday morning I woke from a dream where I was lying in bed on my side (I sleep on her side now) and she was lying on her side, behind me, and I started to snuggle into her before I remembered, she's not here. She said "Shh, don't look yet," but by then I'd started to wake up, and I was so happy that she was there... but she vanished like smoke when I opened my eyes.
Now about the other ... I guess I can call it spiritually devastating, thing.
I had been feeling guilty, ranting at God about Penny dying alone, and in an attempt to think about something else, read something from the Prayer Chain, totally unrelated, but then it made me remember. She usually did her prayers for prayer chain in the morning, or if she couldn't (and on that day she was interrupted) she would do them before her afternoon nap. And that day, when I found her, she had clearly put her glasses aside to nap. And then, realization hit like being shot.
She wasn't alone. She was praying when she died. She was _told_ what was happening to her body, how it would go, and she had a _choice_ to go then or to go later, and she chose to go then, because later would have been even harder. And, from the dream I had the next time I was able to actually sleep after finding her like that, it was her choice but she asked me first, and I told her, "If you have to go, I'll miss you terribly, but he says there's something only you can do, that needs to be done now, and I'll see you soon enough."
Sometimes, I need to remember dreams. This week has been a revelation of something I didn't quite get, and I'll need to recapture time and again for a while, but this is it: I'm not horrified by her death, or unhappy because she's gone. I'm unhappy because she's not here to share my life with, because it's so hard to take the same kind of pleasure in the daily beauty and the new things, because for half my life, the better half of my life, she was the better half of US.
I also found myself fretting a bit about not yet having any job offers, and about needing to start spamming companies again - but then a friend (thanks Ashley!) has suggested me for a possible contract that MAY be coming up, and they won't make a decision on whether or not to do that until next friday anyway. And then the same unmistakeable realization like being shot: my grandmother is dying, and will probably go sometime around mid-november (mom's birthday, sorry to say) and then we may make it back to Montana to scatter her ashes.
And, in the last 30 days, another four people in the extended community in my church (relatives or friends of members, or sometimes members) have been diagnosed with cancer, one guaranteed terminal and two of the 'most likely barring a miracle and good medicine' variety. The church has about 260 members, the extended network would be 2600, but the incidence of cancer in this area is 148 in 100,000. Unless I'm doing the math wrong, we're seeing at least 20 times what we should be seeing, at a rate of 2-4 new cases every month in that extended network, and at least 1 case every other month in the church itself. I'll have to have someone better at statistics than I am, tell me whether I'm misreading this.
And now, to sleep.