Racing Towards The Abyss

Ice, c’est Radio Canada.  Il est neuf heures quinze, et maintenant…..

“9:15!  If traffic goes my way I can be at work by 9:30, and with a half hour lunch, be done by 5:00”, I calculated while racing through the yellow light.  My day had started early with a brisk power walk to get me going, a quick shower, breakfast for the kids, then off to morning French class at the University.  Fortunately for me, my job offered flex time, so I could catch the early class before starting my shift.

I strained to catch the gist of the radio program.  Something about the funding of English schools in Quebec, and a debate about immersion.   A hole opened up in the line of traffic to my right and I weaved around the slow driver in front of me, just grabbing the tail end of a yellow to turn the corner and enter the parking lot.  I would make it to my desk with two minutes to spare.

“Bonjour!”  I greeted my co-worker on the other side of the cubicle.  I had been thinking in French since I left school, and forgot to switch back.  “When is my mind going to shut off?” I wondered.  It seemed like it was always racing these days, but I did have a lot to juggle.

I landed this job in early February, at a time when most corporations were not hiring.  I got lucky.  Just as the receptionist was turning me away, the Human Resources Manager was walking into the room and caught my eye.  “What are you looking for?” she asked.  “Can you speak French?”

“As a matter of fact, I can.”

“Follow me.”   She grabbed some papers off a nearby desk and led me into a conference room.  “Write these tests,” she said pushing the papers towards me.  “There is a job freeze on right now, but if you do well, I’ll keep your name on file.”

The call came that same afternoon asking me if I could come back for an interview.

“No one has ever scored so high on the tests”, she said.  “We’d like you to start right away.  There is an eight to ten week training program you’ll have to do first in Toronto.  We’ll put you up, all expenses paid.”

I was both excited and anxious.  I hadn’t worked full-time since the my first baby was born, and I while I was happy to be able to provide for the family again, I wasn’t sure how we’d all manage.  I’d made the promise to my husband though, that I would support the family while he took some time off to establish a new business.  He hadn’t been happy for some time, and so we decided to swap roles.

I completed the course in five weeks, wanting to reduce my time away as much as possible.  A year of training on-the-job proceeded the initial training.  I was exceeding all expectations within months and at the approval of my manager enrolled in a fourth year French course to be paid for by the company.  A pay increase followed as I was now their bilingual representative.  I was moving up in the world.

My husband was not having the same success.  Caring for the house and children turned out to be harder than he thought, and he finally admitted that it just wasn’t “his thing”.  I found a sitter, resumed the cooking, housework, shopping, and laundry. He bought himself a race car. He was looking into starting a mail order business.  Worrying that my income wasn’t enough, I picked up a job working weekends at a restaurant.

Sometime in the middle of all this, my oldest sister’s health took a turn for the worse.  The doctor’s wanted to hospitalize her, but she refused, saying she wanted to die at home.  A nurse was assigned for eight hours a day, but she needed around the clock care.  In the beginning, the family rallied around, and we all did our part, but that was waning.  Now it was only my mother and I who were committed to seeing her through.

“Can I see you in my office?”  My boss’s voice brought me back to the moment.  I followed her brisk walk down the hall.  “I have been reviewing your work and there are a few areas for improvement.”

I couldn’t believe it.  “I don’t understand,” I protested.  “I thought I was meeting all the quotas.”

“You are,” she said, matter-of-factly.  “There is always room for improvement.”

Driving home from work that night, I felt particularly exhausted.  What more could I do?  I arrived home to realize I had forgotten to pick up the kids.  It was Wednesday night.  Stuart wouldn’t be home till late.  He was meeting with the car club.

Don’t ask me what happened next; the night, like many others, passed in a blur of cooking dinner, trying to keep the kids from killing each other or themselves, completing homework, baths, and then bed.  Then when my husband got home, I’d grabbed my schoolwork and headed to my sister’s for the night shift.

I don’t remember Thursday at all.

Friday, Stuart headed off to the racetrack for the weekend.  He’d be gone five days.  It was the Thanksgiving long weekend.  Even though he had a cell phone, he didn’t anticipate it would work where he was going, and the track did not have a contact number.  I would not hear from him again till Tuesday evening.

It was later than usual before I got all the kids to bed that night, and even though I still had work to do, I just couldn’t face it.  I decided to go to bed early.  I was asleep within minutes, but not for long.  I was jolted out of my sleep by an all too familiar image – myself alone with the children, living in a townhouse complex.  Although I had dreamt of this place many times, with no emotional attachment, this time I woke up crying.  What was wrong with me?  The tears just wouldn’t stop.

Saturday was recreation day, and each of the children were enrolled in different programs.  Marie was taking art, Ester dance, and John was attending some sports clinic, all held in the same building.  This had been our Saturday morning routine for two months now, but somehow after I loaded us all in the car, and set out on our way, I could not remember where we were going.  I drove up one street and down another, and with each miss, grew more and more anxious.  Ester began to scream in the back seat.  Marie asked me what was wrong.  I didn’t know.  I started to tremble.  The tears started to come again.  I turned the car around and headed for home.  Our street ran off a main road, and all I had to do was turn left and we’d be there, but suddenly, I froze, mid-intersection:  mind, body, and emotions no longer under my control.  Ester screamed louder and the other two began to cry.  A siren flashed behind me and a police officer stepped up to the driver’s side.

“Is there a problem, Ma’am?”

I looked at him through a flood of tears.  “I don’t know where I am.”  I handed him my license.  He was young, and I could just tell he hadn’t expected this.

“Ma’am, your license says you live just down this street.  Do you want me to follow you there?”

“Yes, please.”  I don’t think I’d ever felt so humiliated.   We crawled down the street and into the driveway.

“Is there anybody you can call?” he asked.

“I don’t think so.  My husband’s away, and my sister’s dying, so my parents aren’t available.”

“Well, you need to call somebody.”

“Thank you, officer.  I will.  I’m so sorry to have bothered you.”

In the end, I called my Dad.  Between choking sobs, I told him I needed help.  He came right away.

That was the day I discovered that I have limits.  In those days we called it a breakdown, but in retrospect it was a breakthrough:  the beginning of a new way of being, one that took me out of the rat race.

(Image: fineartamerica.com)

Original Purpose

Original purpose

cannot be trusted

in a house where

chaos

and

confusion

reign

due to the abuse

of the single-minded

male figurehead

whose

soul purpose

(pun intended)

is to obliterate

all semblance

of peace

dragging

us

into his vortex

of destruction.

Nothing could be trusted to turn out the way it was intended.

 

 

Children As Mirrors

When I think of my grandchildren – one now six months, and one on the way – my heart swells and tears fill my eyes; I love them so much.  I hope that I have extolled upon my daughters that children are a blessing to be cherished.

One thing I can tell them is that children will be their greatest teachers.  Honest, straightforward, and ever curious, children will tell it like it is, question inequities, and challenge everything.  Like little parrots, children repeat what they hear, and mimic gestures and behaviours.  They will also reflect the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My moment of revelation about how intrinsically linked mothers and children are came when performing therapeutic touch on the mother of a boy with severe autism.  His constant spinning and screaming was a source of anxiety for the young mother seeking my help.  She had hoped I could calm him, however; he was not receptive to staying still, so I offered her a treatment instead.  Amazingly, as soon as the mother began to relax, so too did her son.

All the way home, I thought of my own children, and questioned how many times their anxiety or distress was merely a reflection of my own emotional imbalance.  Over time, I had to admit there was a definite link.  If I would return home tired and distraught, that would be the time my children were acting up.  If I was feeling happy and positive, the children would reflect that back.

In therapeutic touch we have an analogy that the therapist is like a tuning fork:  when s/he is centered and grounded then the client can follow suit.  The same goes for children.

Another way of looking at this, is that children are mirrors for their parents.  When my oldest, Marie, is being impulsive, she is reflecting my own tendencies.  When Ester is feeling anxious, or John is burdened by being overly introspective, they are exhibiting the very traits I myself struggle with.  The challenge for me, as parent, is to a) take ownership of my shortcomings, and b) work to heal them so that my children can do the same.

Children are teachers because they offer us the opportunity and the incentive to become better people.

Grandchildren teach us how to fall in love all over again.

I’m so glad I enrolled in the school of parenting!

Mickey Mouse Meets Gestalt

Looking out from under the big white wooden chair, I can see Mickey Mouse approaching with a kettle of boiling water.  He’s going to pour the water on me, and even though my family are all around, and I am screaming, no one notices. 

“I had this dream repeatedly as a child, from about the age of five.”

“What is the significance of the white chair?”

“My father used that chair to teach us how to skate.  We had to push it around the rink until we learned to stay up on our own.  I remember being very frightened, because my father wasn’t a patient man and I didn’t want to upset him.”

“What would happen if you upset him?”

“He would yell, call us names, tell us how stupid and incompetent we were.”

“Why Mickey Mouse?”

“I don’t know.  I’ve often wondered about that.  Mickey Mouse would have been the prominent cartoon character back then, and I loved watching the Mickey Mouse Club on TV.  I really wanted to be a Mouseketeer.”

“In Gestalt therapy, the belief is that each aspect of the dream represents a part of you.  Would you be willing to try something with me?”

I nod.

“I want you to put yourself back in the dream and let me guide you.  Imagine you are five years old again, and let me know when you can picture the scene.”

I close my eyes and remember.  “Okay.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Frightened, very frightened.”

“Tell me what’s happening. Talk it out.”

“Mickey Mouse has a kettle of boiling water and he’s going to pour it on me.  I scream, but no one is paying attention.  I can see my Dad and my sister Joanne, but they are not looking my way.”

“What do you want to say to them?”

“Help me!  Help me!  Can’t you see I’m in trouble?  Somebody stop this from happening!”

“Tell them what’s happening.”

“He’s going to hurt me.  That man is going to hurt me.  Please, somebody stop it!  Listen to me!”

“Tell them what you need.”

“I need you to hear me.  I need you to see what’s happening. I need you to see me.  Nobody sees me….”  I break off crying.

“Tell me why you are crying.”

“My childhood home was very chaotic.  There was always lots of fighting going on, and although I don’t remember much of the early years, my mother says I was always tossed over the fence to the neighbour’s house, so they could look after me. ”

“Why do you think this dream has stayed with you?”

“I never felt like I mattered in my family growing up.  There was so much going on that I felt insignificant.”

“In every family there is a rivalry for attention.  How did that play out for you?”

“Well my oldest sister was always sick, so she got most of the attention, and my next sister withdrew into herself, and later we found out she was schizophrenic.  My youngest sister was a handful, throwing tantrums and being difficult to get along with.  I tried to stay out of the way, and not cause any more trouble.”

“So what did you try to do to get noticed?”

“Achieve.  I tried to be the smartest and the most successful?”

“How did that work for you?”

“It didn’t.  I never felt like I could be good enough, and when I did do something worthwhile I got shot down for bragging about it.”

“Do you still feel that way?”

“Not so much.  I’ve struggled with not feeling good enough, but I don’t need the glory anymore.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“Maturity.  Life experience.  When I first learned how to do Therapeutic Touch I did a lot of volunteer work, and I soon realized that there were many people whose lives were worse off than mine, and that by giving a little bit of my time, I could make a difference.  It felt so amazingly rewarding to help another, that I realized how unimportant everything else was.”

“So what would you tell that little girl today?”

“Well, first of all, I’d reach in under that chair and offer her my hand; then I’d pull her to me and give her a great big hug and tell her that I love her.”

“Tell her as if she is here.”

Come on, Sweetheart, lets walk away from all this commotion.  You are okay now.  I am here, and I can see you, and I’m not going to let that man hurt you. 

Why doesn’t anyone see me?

Because they can’t right now, Honey.  They can only see their own pain, but that doesn’t mean you’re not important.  You matter very much. 

Are things going to get better?

Eventually, but not for a long time.  But I want you know that you will be okay.  You will be better than okay. 

Why are you here?

Because I think it’s important that you know you are perfect just the way you are. 

“Do you feel better?”

“I feel like I have had a breakthrough.”

“How so?”

“I understand now that the little girl in me sought attention for a long, long time, and I don’t need to do that anymore.  It feels lighter.  Achievement is good in and of itself.  The need for glory only taints it.”

“And Mickey Mouse?”

“Well that’s just what we become when we seek out fame and fortune, I guess.  Burned.”

 

Dream House

There is a house that I often visit in my dreamtime.  I am either thinking about buying it, or have just moved in.  It is set in the country, high up on a bluff overlooking the water.  It is not a new house, nor does it stand alone; it shares the quiet street with other houses, different from itself.  Tall trees line the street, and green sloping lawns surround the house.  The setting is idyllic, but I have concerns about the house.  Sometimes the house appears as a yellow brick, two-story, older style home; other times it is a small white raised ranch.  Every time, I worry that the house is not big enough for comfort.

When I enter, the main living area appears cosy, and has a certain charm.  It is liveable, I think to myself.  Then I look around, and am amazed to find that there is so much more to this house than I first thought.  Always there is a second kitchen and living area, as well as endless bedrooms and bathrooms.  I awaken with a feeling of pleasant surprise and a longing to explore more.

* * * * *

None of the houses, nor the setting in the dream are places I’ve been to in my lifetime, however; there is a certain familiarity.  The setting is a feel good place:  quiet and serene, and off the beaten path.  Years ago, as a single mother, I used to drive up to the lake and admire the houses on the bluff, wishing one day that I could live there. I would dream of a simpler life, where I could be close to nature, and write.

The old, yellow house reminds me of a rental property my former husband and I bought, hoping it would be an investment that we would profit from.  The house turned out to be a money pit and a bit of a nightmare.  We just didn’t know enough about real estate values at the time.

The white house reminds me of the home my parents bought at the lake for their retirement; a home that became a wonderful gathering place for friends and family.

Often, I think the house in my dream represents me:  aging, and plain on the outside, although surrounded by beauty and comfort.  Inside, I appear uncomplicated at first, yet there is more to me than even I know.  I love the idea that there are many more rooms to discover within.

 

 

 

Life’s Treasures

I have thought of my life as a rally race, in which I am driving blindfolded and without a navigator.  There have been many bumps in the road, and several turns, but a whole lot of discovery.  One of the greatest treasures I have encountered on my journey is compassion.  I stumbled upon it unintentionally.

I have always approached life with passion and courage.  At five, my peers would ask me to form an army against the neighbourhood bullies.  Fearlessly, I would lead the confrontation, ready to fight.  At eight, I had a reputation for beating anyone who crossed me.  I gave up the physical battles by thirteen, but anger still lurked just below the surface.

At twenty, I applied for a job in customer service, only to be told I was too intimidating.  I ended up in collections.  An attitude of judgment closed me off from others.  Life was a battlefield, and my sword was raised.

Then, at twenty-eight, something happened.  The walls around me came tumbling down to reveal a highly sensitive and intuitive side.  It is impossible, I discovered, to empathize with another, while holding judgment.  Opening my heart in empathy, unlocked compassion.  The world suddenly became kinder, warmer, and more loving.  I laid down my sword.

Compassion without limits, I would learn, can be detrimental.  I felt so wholeheartedly for others, that I forgot about my own needs.  Conservation was the next treasure I needed to find in my life quest.  The ability to establish boundaries, and set parameters on how I expended my compassion.  Life is about balance, and while there are limitless opportunities to help others, I do not have limitless energy.  Free will dictates making healthy choices.  I understand, but have not fully incorporated this treasure.

The last gem I am just uncovering, although I still have a lot of digging to do.  It has been a hard road to come to the realization that I do not have to be the first, the best, or the only.  I am not sure, but I suspect, that it relates to my sense of not being good enough.

 

 

A work in progress.

The Fourth Bun

The significance of the fourth bun comes from a story about a fool, who upon discovering it takes four buns to satisfy hunger, thinks that she can skip the first three and just eat the fourth with the same result.

I have been that fool.

* * * * *

“Why are you here?”

We are an eclectic group of first year psychology students:  ten of us that have been appointed to this group facilitator.  Meeting twice a week and doing “group therapy” is a requirement of the course.

“Because we have to be?”  one student jests.  Nervous giggles all around.

“No, really.  Think about it?  Are you here to fulfill your destiny, or are you here because that is what expected of you?  Are you pleasing your parents?”

I knew I wasn’t pleasing my parents, well, at least not my mother.  She didn’t see the point in women having an education.  I was interested in psychology, but not yet sure that was the path I wanted to follow.  Why was I here?

The question haunted me.  What was I looking for?  What did I hope to achieve?

The answers had nothing to do with education.  On my own since seventeen, I had an intangible hunger that I sought to satisfy.  I felt as if I was swimming in murky waters,  unaware of the dangers beneath the surface, and just treading water on top.  Trying to achieve my education, while having to work full-time to support myself was not easy.  At some level, I knew that education held promise for the future, but the immediacy of my hunger overshadowed any rationality.

I wanted security:  the kind of security offered by a stable home.  I wanted to feel loved and supported, and not like I was clawing my way through life in order to survive.  I wanted to not always have to be so strong and independent, and I wanted an end to this feeling of being so alone.

The first bun would have been to finish my education; two, to find a career; three would have given me time to establish my independence; and four to marry and create a family.  Young and impulsive, I skipped to four.

Now I understand why I never found the satisfaction I was looking for.  It took a long time for the hunger to subside.

(Image:  leitesculinaria.com)

Mindfulness

“Can you consistently eat when you eat, and sleep when you sleep?” asks Derek Lin in “The Tao of Joy Every Day”.

Therapeutic Touch is a practice which teaches how to stay fully present and centered in the moment.  Practitioners learn how to set aside all distractions so that they can focus completely on the treatment itself.  Like many others, I struggled with this concept in the beginning.  I would quiet my mind, focus on my breathing, and then remember I had forgotten to change the laundry over, or return my mother’s call.  My mind, I discovered loves to travel in multiple directions at once.

To train myself, I would pick random times during the day and “check-in” on myself.  The first thing I discovered was that I was driving without actually being aware of what I was doing.  Behind the wheel, I felt an inexplicable need to be in front of the traffic, weaving in and out, tailgating, and exceeding the speed limit.  I decided to replace this behaviour with mindful breathing, always bringing my awareness back to what I was actually doing.  Instead of passing the car in front of me, I would take deep breaths, and will myself to stay aware.  It didn’t take long before I began to notice other drivers like myself, driving aggressively.  Ironically, I noticed that many of those drivers did not gain a lot of ground, having to stop for the same lights, and succumb to traffic.  Remaining conscientious and choosing to drive mindfully, I knew myself to be a lot less stressed than those other drivers.   It was an aha moment.

I learned how to bring my full attention to my clients, effectively able to sense the subtleties and different patterns they presented.  I felt I had mastered this art.

Yet, in response to Lin’s question, I have to confess that I usually eat as an aside to whatever else I am doing, and when I sleep I toss and turn with thoughts of what was undone from the day before, or what needs to be done tomorrow.

I can’t help but think that if I could just focus on eating as a solo activity, I would be more conscious of the taste of the food and the response of my body, and maybe, just maybe, not eat to excess.  I would have to turn off the t.v., and the computer, close the book, and just eat.  It is a effort worth exploring.

As for sleeping, well, that is another matter.  How does one clear the mind enough to just sleep?

(Image:  healthyhappyhumanbeings.com)

Conned

The man across from me was weathered and tanned, with a dark mop of curls, and shocking blue eyes.  “What bothers me most,” he was saying, “is spouses that cheat.  It’s the worst thing you can do to another person.”  I was warming up to him rapidly.

“What happened to you?”  I asked.  No ring.  New to town.

“Girlfriend decided it wasn’t working for her.  Threw me out.  We had a business together too.  I lost everything.”

“I can relate to that.”

We began to see each other.  It was a bit unnerving for me, this dating thing.  I felt like an adolescent all over again, swept up in an emotional whirlwind.

“I feel so vulnerable,”  I told him.

“Give it time,”  he responded.  “Don’t rush anything.”

Good answer, I thought.  He seemed so much more self-assured than me.

I noticed that I was becoming distracted, and forgetful.  I forgot to return phone calls, and missed appointments.  My bank book showed me making more withdrawals then I remembered.   I misplaced a paycheck.  I started to feel out of control.  When I told him, he suggested we slow down, take some time.  I trusted his judgment.

One lazy afternoon, he fell asleep on the sofa while I was doing my laundry.  His gym bag was in the hall, and I thought I would offer to wash his things with mine.  Not wanting to wake him, I opened his bag to remove the dirty clothes.  On top was his wallet.  I don’t know what possessed me, but I opened it.  His driver’s license checked out…his health card…..debit…..credit….the same as mine…..they were mine!  My cards were in his wallet!

Removing the cards, I put the wallet back.  A friend of mine was RCMP.  I called him from an upstairs phone and gave him the name and birth date.  He called back and said there was nothing in the files.   I was afraid.  I didn’t want to confront him alone.  I decided to wait until he was gone.

Checking with the bank, the credit card company, and my employer, I found out that he had been using my cards all along, and cashed my paycheck using my identification.  I called the police.

While he may not have had a record with the feds, he was wanted on dozens of charges with the police.  Once I reported, former girlfriends called with similar stories.  I felt so foolish.  The officer assured me that this happens to nice people all the time.  Con men count on good people like me to be unsuspecting.  I was an easy target.

I don’t know who I felt more victimized by, him or me.  I chastised myself for being so stupid.  What was I thinking?  I felt sickened, and full of shame.  But, more than all that I needed to take stock of my history with relationships.    My track record was poor.  By all accounts life had taught me not to trust in love.  Giving up seemed the only sensible option.

Yet, closing my heart seemed so cold and final.  Surely, this was not God’s intent.  I needed to look at this from a different perspective.

“Your picker is broken,”  a friend told me.  “Until you fix it, it’s not safe for you to love.”

She was right.  I had no discernment.  Loving in nature, I always look for the best in others.  I forget to watch out for red flags.

Closing my heart was not the solution, but guarding it responsibly was.

(Image: acountryroseflorist.blogspot.com)

Learning About Death

Taylor was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of twenty-one. Although he never smoked a day in his life, his father’s family were heavy smokers, and he suffered for it.  He was my cousin Lynn’s only son.

I belonged to a weekly meditation circle at the time, and Taylor, who was studying to be a physicist, asked if he could join.  I told him that we not only meditated, but liked to explore the realm of intuition as well, and he said that was fine with him.  So week after week, Taylor would join in and add his scientific musings to our experience.  He told me that while he was skeptical, he was sure physics was going to bridge the gap between the rational world and the irrational.  He said that I needed to involve myself in research, if I was ever to prove the existence of anything beyond the accepted norm.  I would laugh and tell him that I was a Literature major, and research was outside my norm.

Taylor’s bald head, and limping figure became a fixture at our weekly meetings, and we all came to love his gentle banter.  Unwilling to accept anything at face value, he brought a healthy balance of skepticism to our circle.

Then one evening, he did not attend. Nor the next.

His mother called me.  “Taylor is in the hospital, and they think he has three more weeks to live.  He is asking for you.”

He was asleep when I entered the room.  His girlfriend greeted me and told me that he slept most of the time, but that if I could wait he would wake up.  She excused herself and left us alone.

Taylor’s body look so fragile and boyish lying in that bed.  An oxygen mask covered his face, so that only his closed eyelids could be seen.  His head was still bald, and he looked more like an infant than the young man I had come to know.  At this point in my life, I had not been this close to death, and I wasn’t sure what to say.

Taylor’s eyes opened and I saw him register my presence.

“Hey, Tay!”  I tried to sound cheerful, compassionate.

He reached up and pulled the oxygen mask down.  “Thanks for coming.”

“No problem.”

“I asked you to come, because I want to talk about what’s happening to me.”  His words were laboured.  I could see it was an effort for him to talk.

“Okay,”  I began.  “Are you sure it won’t be too much for you?  Are you okay without the mask?”

“Oh, yes.  It just keeps me comfortable.”  He replaced the mask and took a few breaths.  “I fall asleep a lot.  Even mid-sentence.”

“That’s okay,” I reassured him.  “I’ll just wait.”

“Thank you,” and he was gone again, sleeping behind the mask.

I looked around.  The room was spacious with a large picture window overlooking the southwest part of the city.  A recliner sat in the corner by the window, and several other chairs allowed for many visitors.  The blue walls reminded me of the night sky just as the last rays of light are vanishing:  a blue tinged with indigo.  So this is where people came to die.

“I want to talk about my dreams.”   I understood now why he had invited me.  I had enrolled in a course at the university that explored the meaning of dreams.  It was actually a religious studies class, and examined how God speaks to us through our dream messages.  “Everyone else wants to talk about things that have no meaning for me anymore, like getting their cars fixed, or the weather.  I don’t have time for small talk.”

He closed his eyes again.  I waited.

“I have been dreaming about horses.”

“Interesting.  Horses were the original mode of transportation, so they are seen symbolically as the vehicles that transport us from one realm to another.  Apparently horse dreams are common at the end of life.”

He nodded.  “Sometimes I can’t tell if I am dreaming or it’s real.”

“What do you mean?”

“I am so emotional.  I can’t seem to turn it off.”  I had to smile.  My highly rational, intellectual cousin not being able to control his emotions.

“Well, I’m no expert, but I’m going to guess you are going through one hell of an emotional time.”

His eyes met mine and we both laughed.  “You’re right about that.”

We both fell silent.

* * * * *

Our visits became a daily occurrence, but I never stayed long as it tired him too much.  We talked about his dreams, his emotions, and as it got closer to the end, we talked about his fears.

“I’m not sure if I’m actually dreaming,”  he told me one day.  “More and more I feel like what I am experiencing is real.”

“Describe it to me.”

The silences were growing longer.  Speaking, or even staying awake, seemed to take great effort now.  I would hold his hand to let him know I was still with him.  I felt such reverence towards my young cousin for letting me share these moments with him.

“I see figures.  Grey figures.”

“Do you know who they are?”

His eyes stared, unfocused, into the space before him.  “No.  Can’t really say they are people.”

I pondered this revelation while he rested. I thought back to a story my mother told me about my birth.  During my delivery, she suddenly lost physical consciousness, and found herself, disembodied, floating above the delivery table.  She said she saw her father beside her reaching out his hand, and as she went to take it, she realized what was happening and pulled back, being jolted back into her body and the labour pains.  She claims that she had refused death in that moment, and remembers telling her father that she had five babies to look after and couldn’t go with him.

Taylor’s eyes were open again.  “What if the figures that you see are here to escort you to the other side?”  I asked.  “How do they make you feel?”

“Afraid.”

“Maybe your fear is what is clouding your ability to see them.”

He didn’t wake up again that visit.

* * * * *

The next day I arrived at the hospital later than usual.  Taylor’s mom met me in the hallway.  “He’s gone.  He tried to wait for you, but didn’t make it.  He did leave a message for you, though.  I don’t know what it means, but he said to tell you that you were right, that all came out clear in the end, and not to worry about him.”

As I hugged her in condolence, I thought my heart was going to burst.

In his short life, this beautiful young man shared so much with me:  his theories and questions, his deepest vulnerabilities, and his experience of the beyond.   Together, were we able to strip away all the noise and distractions of everyday life to touch something much more sacred and real.