Things That Never Were

Last night I had a beautiful dream. 

We, my husband Don and I, were at my brother' house in Massachusetts. My parents were there too, and my brother and his wife Jen were outside jumping on their brand new trampoline with their two kids, Brian and Jillian, and our daughter, Isabella. Jillian and Isabella were laughing as they were being twirled around and tickled by my brother, and Brian was jumping up and down on the trampoline like a typical boy, trying to send his sister and his cousin high into the air. He was laughing like crazy at the thought of sending them into orbit. They all were.

Just then, Isabella yelled out to Don, who was standing next to me in my brother's kitchen: "Look daddy! I can go really high! Come watch me, daddy! Come play with us!" "I'll be right there, honey!", my husband yelled back at our beautiful little girl. Her long brunette hair fell past her shoulders, the curls like tiny little spirals cascading down her backside. She had my hair and Don's gorgeous sky blue eyes, big and warm and friendly. My husband turned to me as we stood at the kitchen sink, put his hand lovingly on my newly pregnant belly, and asked me sweetly: "You gonna be okay here if I go outside and play with them for a bit? Maybe you should lie down, Boo. Remember what the doctor said about pregnancy at this age and resting." "I know, Boo. I'll be fine. Im not THAT old lol. Mom and dad are here if I need anything. Go play with your daughter. She's obsessed with you." There was a knowing laugh between us, and my husband ran out into the backyard to join our little girl.

Except there is no little girl. There is no Isabella. And I'm not pregnant with our second child. And we never had our first one. And Brian and Jillian don't have a cousin to jump on the trampoline with. And nobody's hair or eyes look like mine or my husband's. And he isn't glowing because he's going to be a dad again, and I'm not ever going to be a mom, or have that family with my beautiful husband. Because it was just a stupid dream, and my husband is dead. 

When I woke up this morning from that dream, I couldn't decide if it felt like a beautiful thing, or a nightmare. My heart was confused. None of it is real. None of that will ever be real, and there is this inner-sadness that pokes at me from time to time, because it will never be fair that I don't get to have that life. It will never be fair or make sense that my marriage story ended with sudden and shocking death, and it will never make sense that there are so many things that will never be. And while I know with everything in me what my reality is, dreams like that one feel so real. They are visceral, and when I wake up from them, I can still smell and taste and feel all of the things that were present only seconds ago. This morning, I woke up rubbing my pregnant belly, still feeling my husband's safe and big hand running across it. And as the senses started fading and the forever-ness of all the things that will never be started to settle in, my eyes began to cry. 

There is just so much of it. So many things that will never be. The death itself, of the person you love most, is earth-shattering enough on its own. But when you add all the ingredients of a life that will never happen, sometimes the pain and the overwhelming feeling, is just too much. Sometimes, even almost 5 years later, seeing other families with their newness and their beginnings and all their future stuff in front of them - it still sends me into a tailspin of despair and hurt. And sometimes, seeing my own parents being grandparents, or watching other people being grandpa or grandma, makes my insides bleed and burn and hurt. And sometimes, when a married couple is buying a home, or retiring, or attending their child's graduation or kindergarden concert or little league game or wedding or whatever else, I cry a little bit. These are all pieces of a life that never was. These are all fragments of the future we never got to have. And it hurts. It still hurts. 

Now, almost 5 years later, I am trying like hell every day to create a life for myself. I am trying to find pieces of joy in the life that I have now, because I dont want to be suffering and sad and alone. But there is this thing - this weird corner that exists in my mind and heart - where I am always and forever wondering about that life we never got to have. It doesn't take over, but it's there, and it asks questions. Questions like: Would we have had kids? How many? Would it have been difficult at my age? What would the pregnancy have been like? Where would we have ended up settling? Would we have stayed in New York? Moved closer to my family? Would I still be at the same job? Would I be writing? Acting? Doing comedy? Would my husband have remained a paramedic his whole life? What would our kids look like - be like? What would Don look like at age 50, 60, 70? Would we have retired in Florida like we had always talked about? Would we have chosen a condo over a home so he could keep his vow to never have to shovel snow? What would our lives have become? What would we have turned into together? I bet it would havve been beautiful, but I will never know. 

I can't live my life just wishing for things that will never happen. I know this. I have to create more life with things and people that are here right now. And I will. But there is that thing that will always exist - sitting in the corner of everything that I am and will be - that thing that asks the question: What would our life be, if you hadn't died? The mind continues to wonder, and the heart forever holds and mourns for, all the things that never were. 

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  • Martha Barrett-Smith
    commented 2016-06-07 05:34:44 -0700
    This is the special hell of people who lose their partners early, who don’t have many happy years and hundreds of memories to cushion them. This is the hell of those who have lost a future as well as a partner. My mother had 65 years of a wonderful marriage—I had six. This is not to say that people who have had their partners for decades grieve less; of course they do not. But there is an emptiness in this hell so vast, so sudden, so complete that it defies being. It simply astonishes. We mourn our love, and we mourn our stillborn life. “Starting over”, “picking up the pieces”…these are meaningless concepts. Today would have been my tenth anniversary; next week brings the fourth anniversary of his death. What am I to do? I am struck silent in the face of this…
  • Rebecca Magee
    commented 2016-06-03 10:45:56 -0700
  • Kathie Scott
    commented 2016-06-03 09:14:55 -0700
    Oh my…such a difficult dream. I teared up just reading your beautiful words. We live in a world of “what ifs” and people tell us we should be grateful we had the time we did but I always want more. Our kids were grown and it was now our time and cancer decided to move in and take away that future. I have reached a point that I’m not so bitter or angry but it still hurts when I see my daughters missing their dad or the grandchildren he can’t see growing up. Your words are completely from the heart and are both beautiful and painful but that’s the way this life is!