A Mother’s Dream

I dreamt last night about my son who died when he was six and worn out from fighting Leukemia fifteen years ago. In the dream, he was healthy, and someone else was looking after him upstairs while I was busy downstairs in a house. I came up to find him in a white, claw foot bathtub full of water. He seemed to be sleeping peacefully at the bottom. After a moment, I realized that he must be dead, unable to breathe under water. I pulled him up and held him, his legs around my hips, my arms around his back. I looked into his beautiful face, his eyes closed. I screamed and keened in the realization that he’d died.

After a few minutes, presumably from all the noise of his momma’s wailing, his eyes fluttered open. Seeing that he might be able to come back to life, I shouted for him to wake up, to come back. Slowly, in little bits of waking, moving his head from side to side, opening and closing his eyes, and finally smiling that unforgettable, mischievous smile, he did. He was alive. I hugged him and felt the indescribable joy of having him returned to me. I even felt proud that I’d raised a boy so healthy that he could survive ten minutes without oxygen.

Later in the dream there was some talk in the family about how I shouldn’t have left him alone with a sitter. “Where was his mother?” was the gist of it, blaming me for his almost death.

This morning, when I told my fiancé my dream, I was surprised by the tears that slid down my cheeks when I got to the part about Chan being alive. I was surprised by the strength of the grief that overtook me as I wept harder, allowing myself to hold the thought of him in my arms, to hold the thought that he might have lived.

If only fifteen years ago my keening could have awakened him when I walked out of our cabin into the sunrise, his body stiff in my arms.

Nowadays I think I’m “over it,” healed. Mostly I am, but his birthday is in a few days. June has always been hard. This year it’s been better. This year I’ve made it this far into the month with no more than some low-level anxiety, which I didn’t recognize until today as unacknowledged grief.

But this dream tells me to remember, tells me to give myself the time and space to feel this loss. Because sometimes I still miss my little boy.

Now You See the Sky, Gracie Belle, Akashic Books, 2019


These days, fourteen years later, I always think I’m done. I think I don’t miss him anymore. And usually, I don’t. It’s over. That life was so long ago.

Then it’s December, a few days after his brother’s birthday, a few days before Christmas. I don’t know what’s hitting me at first. At first I’m just mad at my lover. I’m distant he says. He doesn’t understand what he’s done. I don’t either, so I make things up. I knew this was too good to be true. I’ll always be alone. But after a while of this attempt to make him the reason I feel so bad, I remember. Oh yes. The date. This damn date. December 21st. And the memories push in. The middle of the night moments when my boy took his last breaths.

And I tell my lover now, and the tears that I’ve been holding in with my emotionless distance slide down as I realize the remembering. The indelible pictures of my boy’s last night with us muscle their way forward. The creak of the rough floorboards as I came and went from his side. The rustle of the sleeping bag I pulled over his failing body before I left for a sip of the dark night sky, a glimpse of the moon. The feel of his hair, silky under my palm as I held his head, warm under my hand for what I didn’t know would be the last time. The rattling of his shell drying out, dying out. The glow of the candle above the bed. The hands of the clock almost at the half hour past one a.m. when he took his last breath. The way we rocked him between us in our arms, our empty arms.

And the pain is so much now that I come and go from cold and distant to hot and sad and remembering. I say I need to be alone, but I don’t leave. And my patient beloved asks me to tell him the story, and I don’t want to. But I do. But only a little. Little pieces. I’m so tired of all of it.

This cat and mouse. This playing with the pain. This trying to hide from it. This opening little windows to it. This has been my life since then. For fourteen years. Only now there’s more space between the openings. There’s more room for other things than the pain. A lot more room. But still it comes. This day of the year it comes. And I remember.

Catharine H. Murray, Author of Now You See the Sky

Seattle, December 5, 2018

Coming Back

I find the Uber before midnight in the too-bright layers of cement and air parking garage.
I am plane-squeezed empty, underslept, zapped in from other coast.
Driver slides us down the highway current.
City approaches. We enter in.

Nearly fourteen years since I’ve been here
where my son was sick before he died,
Where his younger brother, healthy, was born.

It was so long ago that I am not who I was then,
but when the driver carries me up and down these dark streets, light-punched awake,
Bits of that life swim up to greet me:
That small store where their father didn’t speak
while we searched for snacks for cranky boys one sunny afternoon.
The corner at the end of 15th where I walked the stroller
when I needed to get that far from home.
24th where I remember the exact words that took the tension from a certain conversation.

Are memories when they surface still memories or something real?

And that strange ache of how hard it all was and how much we loved each other
the tired now.

Screenshot 2018-12-05 09.58.59