The dreams always recur this time of year: I’m with my grandparents or I’m grieving the loss of them, and I wake up with the weight of unshed and unarticulated grief sinking my bones. Without the spaciousness that used to characterize my mornings before I had children, I can’t drop into the dream. I’m up, I’m snuggling my little one, I’m washing the cat bowl and filling it with fresh food as I notice the snow or sun on our yard, I’m reading books to my kids, making breakfast. The sounds and movements of the day begin and the dream is lost in the ether of that other realm.
But it’s not lost at all. It lives beneath the surface, swimming in the current of psyche that has no words, the world of grief and heartache, loss and longing. It’s a slow, quiet world, but it does not disappear simply because I choose not to carve out time for it. It creates a pane of glass between me and my loved ones. It closes the petals of my heart. It sits, waiting like a child that needs attention. If I fail to notice, it will make itself known in other ways.
And this is how anxiety is born. I’m suddenly over-focused on the fact that Asher, our little one, has been tugging on his ear lately. We know that he has a build-up of wax, but my grief-laden-heart-turned-anxious mind now creates a story that he has a swollen lymph node and it’s the precursor of child leukemia. I have enough presence of mind to resist the dreaded Googling, but I leave for my yoga class with the anxious thought that something is terribly wrong. Before I walk out the door I whisper this to my husband, who looks at me like I’m crazy. We just had Asher’s well-visit check up and we know everything is fine. But my anxious mind doesn’t agree.
Once at yoga, I step onto my mat and breathe. I scan my body and become aware of the anxiety, aware of my closed heart, aware of the lack of clarity and joy that normally reside in my soul when the channels are unimpeded by unshed feelings. Is something awry with work? My marriage? My kids? Am I feeling the challenge of Asher’s frequent emotional outbursts? That must be it. No. Doesn’t fit; it came from my head. I keep breathing, keep moving, keep sweating.
And then I see her: my grandmother. She’s pruning her prized roses, standing in the dirt on the rise in the backyard of their Santa Monica home that my grandfather built himself. The majority of the garden is my grandfather’s domain and comes alive with dozens of fruits and vegetables year round, but the roses are hers. I’m twenty-one. I’ve just graduated from college. She’s teaching me about the roses, showing me where to cut. “Just below the third thorn,” she says. She picks a yellow one and two baby pinks. She gives one to me. We’re happy.
Ten years later I’m standing at those same roses, but she’s no longer with me. I’m at her memorial. The backyard is overflowing with their friends and family. I feel like a part of me has been removed, never to return: a petal of my heart that held our love.
The pain lives in my hips, in the spaces between my vertebrae, in my breath. It emerges when I slow down enough to release the memories from my body, where they rise up like apparitions waiting to be seen. She had surgery in March, a procedure that we thought would prolong her life for several more years. My first words to her when I saw her after surgery were, “You’re going to meet your first great-grandchild!”, for nothing would have brought her more joy. She went back into the hospital the night before Passover and we had the meal without her. It was a quiet meal; my grandfather, normally chatty and jovial at family events, didn’t utter a word. Three weeks later, on April 22nd, my husband and I were awakened by the phone call that announced her death. I screamed into the pillow and cried from a pain I had never known.
The body remembers, which is why the memories begin in dreams this time of year. It always takes me a few days to realize what’s happening, and sometimes, if I don’t bring consciousness to the grief and allow myself to cry another layer of loss, the grief morphs into anxiety or irritation. But as soon as the floodgates open and I allow the tears to wash my soul clean and connect me to the great love I have for my grandmother, the anxiety and irritation dissipate.
I return home from yoga and hug my kids with an open heart. And with complete clarity, I know that Asher is fine.