My (ex) husband took his life September 15, 2016. After a tumultuous 10 year marriage and only six months after our divorce was final, he ended his lifelong battle with mental illness. The crazy thing about it is that even though our marriage was always hard–he was abusive and constantly tormented by his own mind–I loved him. I still do. Some days my whole body aches to see and hold him again. Grief is weird–confusing sometimes and other times it’s healing. It’s “normal” in my family now as my two kids and I continue to discover life after losing our very important person.
Sometimes grief shows up in my dreams. Recently, I had a dream my husband came back to life three years after his death and we began to live again… together. I kissed and hugged and squeezed him, laughing and crying, in shock and so thrilled and confused! I was a giddy mess and he was… very solemn and uncertain. His main concern after his resurrection was the shame of the impact of his actions. He had chosen to die, and now he was back. How were our friends and family going to handle him knowing he willing inflicted them all with the pain of his suicide?
Shame. It covered him. And just like I had habitually responded to his pre-death shame spirals, I swooped in to assure him everyone was going to be so thankful he’s alive, his cause of death wouldn’t provoke them to retract their love and excitement for his return. Although my affirmations of the value of his life were the same as they were before his suicide (“you matter, you’re loved, you’re wanted”), something felt very different. I was very different. As I scurried around to arrange reintroducing him to the world and all our people, I felt strangely whole.
When I awoke and began to process the dream, I realized what felt so different in the dream. See, I have spent the last three years since his death doing some megawork on myself–personal development on steroids–and as a result, I even showed up in my dreams differently. This time, when I had the chance to talk, touch, and be with my first love, I brought my new self to the scene. I’ve learned a lot about mental illness, suicide, relationships, connection, and self worth since his death, and as we sat together in my dream, it was all there with us. All the new tools, authenticity, understanding, and love. I loved him better in my dream than I was ever able to when he was alive. I heard him, understood him, connected with him, not because he was better, but because I knew how to show up this time.
Then my heart dropped to my stomach and the grief wave came crashing in. I don’t actually get to show up differently with my husband. I don’t actually get to love him better (healthier, wholly as me). I don’t actually get to apply all that I’ve come to know to our very fragile relationship. Because it was just a dream…
I know that dreams lack details (like his battle with bipolar and his history of abuse with me), but what this dream showed me was something precious and priceless:
I learned how to live whole because he died broken. I understand the sacredness of living because I know the pain of someone giving up their gift of life. I discovered the key to life is connection because he never felt how deeply needed, seen, known, and treasured he was.
I show up to life differently because I lost my first love to suicide. I am more present with our kids. I work everyday to connect better with myself and others because I now know connection is what tethers me to the land of the living. I don’t ignore my own pain or anyone else’s because now I understand how ignored pain can lead to the worst thoughts and actions a human can make. And most of all, I love differently because I didn’t get to love him the way I wanted. I didn’t have the tools back then, but I do now. I know how to choose myself and set boundaries so others can love me safely and fully. I know how to softly, openly approach others so they can feel seen and protected by my love. I know how to create wide open spaces in my heart and mind for my loved ones to dwell.
My dream showed me how big I know how to love now. Oh, how my heart wishes he could experience my new ability of love; the ache is heavy knowing I can’t love him this way and he will never feel it. But I do get to love our kids with it. They get to grow up under it, surrounded by it, being shaped by it. So, I guess his lesson on love lives in my expression of love, and that is a love story that is only just beginning.