By John F. Tomczak
Now and then a newly bereaved person will tell me about a recurring thought or dream they have about their loved one that never seems to end. It is as if a video or CD is playing in the background all the time. They feel possessed by these thoughts or dreams and they seem powerless to stop them. No one has told me that they are depressing or upsetting. It is just that they seen to have no control over them, and that can be annoying.
After Collette’s death I had the feeling that somehow an endless tape was being played for me in the background. It wasn’t a dream in the daytime but it was always there. In my case I relived Collette’s illness, the care she received from Hospice, the help of our children and friends, and her funeral over and over again. This feeling and dream of course didn’t stop and it continued during the daytime, not all the time, but I certainly had no control over the situation.
It has been many years since I experienced these dreams or thoughts. I wanted to talk about this with my friends, not to make light of what was happening to them but to relate how I was able to cope with those never-ending thoughts or dreams similar to those they were experiencing.
During a game of cards somebody will mention several times that they can’t stop thinking about the death of their loved one. That usually encourages others to talk about the same subject. This has happened to me many times and usually puts the game on hold. Most people are visibility relieved to hear that their friends have had the same experience. Now and then I hear things like “Thank God I thought I was going crazy.”
It is perfectly normal to continually relive the life we once had with our loved one. However when the reliving becomes all consuming and interferes in a person’s life then it becomes another matter.
After every one who wishes to has talked about this subject, I usually get a chance to tell my story. Because I have been part of the Bereavement Self Help Social Group for some years folks are usually kind enough to listen to my experience. But before I can gently get my point across I have to tell another story.
After two serious heart attacks I finally had my heart repaired.
Afterwards I attended a series of talks by folks who are in the business of repairing hearts. They were doctors, nurses, nutritionists and others who gave much practical advice so that we, the new members of the “zipper club.” could take care of ourselves. One of the speakers was a psychologist and his message was quite simple. “One of the worst things that can happen to you has happened. Now you can either take charge of your situation or it will take charge of you.” I thought that sounded like pretty good advice and I asked him if we could have a talk one day soon. He said “Certainly, but be sure and bring along seventy dollars.”
So I went to see this seventy-dollar man and it was worth it. After I had told him of my reoccurring dream he taught me a very simple trick and that was to scream “stop”- in my mind of course, – every time I had this recurring thought. I was also told to expect that I would have to keep at it for some time. Well, it worked. The endless tape played less and less, and the dreams also slowly ceased. It was not easy but it was worth the seventy dollars and then some.
I really didn’t want to stop thinking about Collette and our life together completely; I just wanted to have some measure of control. Now when I think of how simple the solution is, I smile at myself. Whenever the mood strikes me I will find a quiet spot and have a visit with Collette. There are so many happy times to think about and of course those little tiffs married people have now and then. All the crazy things we did together, and the birthdays with the kids and their friends, and so on and on. Then, when I have had my little visit I gently put it all away until the next time.
As that nice seventy dollar man told me I could either take charge of the situation or it would take charge of me. I feel that I have taken charge and I enjoy my visits with Collette and they are good for me.
Some people recall that a song or a type of music will bring on an overwhelming sense of loss. Others have spoken about the difficulty of attending social gatherings alone. I can remember driving along and being overwhelmed by a sense of loss so great that I had to pull off the road. I would like to gently suggest that if bereaved people take the time to have a quiet visit with their loved one it may go a long way to accepting their new life’s condition while not forgetting the past.
Claire and I talk a lot about John and Collette and I know she too enjoys visits with John; I mean the other John of course.
One evening, quite late, I heard my dear Claire sobbing quietly in her den. Claire and I have our own dens and some evenings we don’t see all that much of each other. But this was unusual and I quietly went into her den. Claire was looking at an interview that she and John had given to a newspaper just prior to his death. The article talked about the excellent care John received and how much it was appreciated by Claire. I sat by her side and we read the entire article together. We talked about John and her love for him. We also remembered the care given to both of our loves and how thankful we are for that. We read, once again the poem John had left for Claire and which is hanging in her den; and of course we held each other.
Once again I was reminded that the bereavement process lasts for your lifetime.
Life has been good to Claire and me. We enjoy life as it has been given to us. But, Claire has a wicked sense of humor and now and then it shows up at the strangest times.
After we had put the article away Claire said “And to think that I married two men called John and both bald!”
The visits I have with Collette never leave me with a sad feeling; rather they are occasions that allow me to reconnect with the part of my life that I shared with this wonderful woman.
Copyright John F. Tomczak. All rights reserved