Hamlet, I, 5 - Hamlet and the ghost.

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Can’t remember whose theory on dreams and the subconscious gave the most weight to the symbolic nature of the people, objects and situations that make up the scenery of our nightly home movies.

I blame Pat Robertson and the Progressive Left in any case for last night’s visitation regardless.

Normally, my dreams are populated only with people I know and the setting is most often a variation of the town where I attended university or a school building I once worked in. I don’t know why and I haven’t bothered to research what it means or doesn’t.

Dead people seldom have starring roles in my dreams. If the departed do appear, they have cameos at best. But last night, Will showed up, which shouldn’t come as a surprise thanks to the Robertson faux uproar, but I have to be honest – I was surprised because he has only deigned to grace my dreams a handful of times in the past five plus years and never as more than a walk on. Ever.

I was back in school. It was – god help me – the 80’s with  clothing and the hair styles so jarring that I actually commented on it to another character completely out of context to the situation.

I found myself back on Currier E2 in my old corner room (minus the high-strung room-mate) and Will shows up to visit me for the weekend. And you could have knocked me over with a feather when I opened the door and it was him. Normally, it’s Rob who rides shot-gun in my dreams. Very seldom do I dream that Rob doesn’t figure at some or all points.

Here’s the odd thing – as if dreams with dead husbands stopping in for visit aren’t odd enough – he was not young. His hair was longer, curled like Dee’s does at the nape, around the ears and that same cowlick that drives her to distraction and salted with gray. His face was lined a bit and his goatee salted as well.

This has happened once before where someone who’s been gone a while showing up in a dream looking his real age. My Uncle Jim popped into a dream not long before Will and I married, looking very much like the 65-year-old man he would have been and not the 39-year-old man he was when he died.

When I asked him what he was doing there, he said,

“I thought I should visit now.”

I had been on my way out to meet friends, but his arrival prompted me to suggest we stay in. He didn’t want me to change plans. He would come along after he changed into a clean shirt.

He was not the 30-year-old I remembered from before the ravages of illness. More solid. A bit thicker and hairy, but not on the order of a grizzly.

Throughout I was aware that he shouldn’t have been there but I got no further explanation from him about why other than he deemed the visit “necessary”. I sorta felt like he was less happy to see me than I was to see him and that the visit wasn’t for pleasure but one of those dutiful things a person does.

He watched me with an appraising sort of look. He seemed tired as though he’d come a long distance to spend time with me, but whatever he’d left behind him was still on his mind. He mentioned at one point that he wouldn’t be able to stay for more than the night. He had to get back. I didn’t ask where or why, and he didn’t volunteer any more information.

I’ve thought about it all day and I can’t figure out why – after all these years – he put in an actual appearance in my dreams. He has never felt the need before. It has a ghost of Hamlet’s father feel to it. Blunted purpose chiding? Perhaps.

I am hardly an expert but I do know a thing or two more than I would like about endings and beginnings and about moving on. I spent a good deal of time closing up the rooms in the dreams of the future my late husband and I imagined together in what seems now to be a long ago time but in reality is just a mere five years past. During his long illness, there were many endings. Most too painful to recount. There is a time for remembering loss and there comes a day when the laundry list of hurts isn’t a useful exercise anymore and I have reached that point. Ironically there were as many beginnings during times of tragedy and loss, and there is even growth. I changed job sites and age levels in my teaching career. Began and finished a masters program. Made new friends. Set new goals, among them a decision to change locale and careers in the short term future. It’s interesting the chain reactions decisions of all shapes and sizes have on the course of a person’s life. Some people are blown far afield by unexpected circumstances and their reactions to them. Some are brought to a dead stop, letting currents take them and waves sweep them under. Some keep moving, re-plotting their courses as the conditions warrant until they find themselves on stable ground again. My plans changed course over the course of my late husband’s illness and in the aftermath of his death and again when I met my now husband, Rob. In a strange way, Rob has always seemed a natural progression, a given, in a new beginning we seemed destined to share, so despite the rather momentous hurdles of leaving family, friends, home, job and country, it’s been in some ways the easiest of my transitions from then to now.

Being a widow I have the dubious pleasure to know many others. Male and female. Much older than I am and some young enough to be my sons or daughters. We have endings in common. That’s true. But a small portion of us share beginnings too. Some are triumphs and some are not. There is one gentlemen I know of through a message board for young widowed I frequent from time to time. He has taken to posting emails he receives from an organization called GriefShare, which tries to help bereaved people work through their losses. Recently he posted the following message:

What It Means to Move On

Moving on does not mean . . .
• you forget the person.
• you never feel the pain of your loss.
• you believe that life is fair.

Moving on does mean . . .
• you experience a lessening of the pain.
• you can treasure your best memories of the person who has died.
• you can realistically accept the different aspects of your loss.
• you can form new relationships, try new things.

Moving on also means . . .
• you grow in grace and in your walk with God.
• you accept your loss and forgive others.
• you understand that both joy and loss are a part of life.
• you believe that God is good, even when life isn’t.

My husband loathes the saying “moving on” like many widowed he prefers “moving forward”, and I try to use the term in deference to him though to me it is a bit of a semantics thing. In many ways beginnings do mean moving on as opposed to forward because it is not about momentum or trajectory as much as it is about putting certain dreams, hopes and deep feelings away in much the same way you pack up mementos from your children’s lives or souvenirs from a trip. My mother has a cedar chest in the basement of my childhood home that is crammed with tiny clothes, blankets, report cards and such that belonged, and were important, to her and to each of us kids in times now long past. I seldom think about the old rag doll I named CeeDee that lies there wrapped, I think, in the remnants of my sister Kate’s baby blanket. I know that it sounds like apples and oranges, comparing the inevitable of growing up to the loss of one’s spouse, but they are not as different as you think. As my mother has been annoyingly fond of pointing out to me over the years, everything is a growth experience. Because I look as though I have achieved adulthood doesn’t necessary mean I learned all there is to learn. I haven’t achieved the enlightenment of Sidharrtha. Possibly because I haven’t the time to sit under a tree until it smacks me on the head like gravity struck Newton. But in a way, widowhood has been my apple. We learn from everything and everyone in our lives, with luck, and at some point we move on from them – willing or not. It’s not about forgetting or minimizing. Time moves and sweeps us along in its wake, but its different from just being pushed forward. Moving on implies that we have packed up those things from our old lives that are important and special in our own cedar chests, loaded them on the truck and once arrived, carefully put them away.

I have a habit of choosing my mottoes from the lyrics of songs. One of my favorites was written by group called Semi Sonic. The song is entitled “Closing Time”. It uses the idea of a pub closing down in the wee hours as a metaphor for moving on and out into the big wide world. The song on the whole has a rather positive message but the line I truly love is “Closing time. Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.” There is so much truth in that one simple expression. So much faith as well because I know many people who see endings as endings and nothing more, and even though I can see their side of it, I find that kind of thinking short-sighted. The reason being that endings and beginnings, as Shakespeare once put it are “neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so.” Funny that I should find a line from Hamlet inspiring because there are few plays I dislike more than that dirge, but it is true.