by Melinda Helpenstill
Last night, I dreamed my lost son came back to me—back from the death he had condemned himself to with a pistol and a broken spirit.
Rick had always been a funny, sweet kid. Maybe that was his problem, he was too sweet for this world. Just days before his own father committed suicide he had told Rick, then only thirteen years old, that if he couldn’t get me to return to the abusive relationship I had run from, he would kill himself. He also said it would be this child’s fault.
The day his father died, Rick changed. He became somber, morose, argumentative. Then the drug abuse started.
We tried therapy, drug counseling, even a stint in rehab, but something in Rick broke the day his father died. Cracks splintered deeper and deeper into his psyche as he took on the weight of our divorce, the abuse, the ultimatum his father gave him. Thirteen is a hard age to think you’re responsible for another person’s death, unwarranted as it may be. Whatever the direct cause, the effect was that my son had retreated so far within himself that no one could reach him.
Rick emulated joy for the sake of the family; he loved us as best he could with his fragmented heart. We tried antidepressants, which he would alternately take and then throw away. We tried coddling, tough love—anything we could to reach him but even when he acted like himself, it was just that, an act.
And then, April 15th, 1999, I came home to find my baby, my sweet boy, in the seat of his car, pistol in hand. Dead at 17.
A lifetime has passed since that day in 1999. We have survived, never the same. The trajectory of our family shifted from what we thought it would be to what it is. Most have survived; most but not all. We lost our son Greg to drugs ten years later.
You see, physical pain is often temporary, but heart pain never goes away completely and sometimes, it is terminal.
Last night I had a dream, a dream that Rick would be able to come back to me. In it, two of my other sons, Anton and Greg, were looking at Rick who lay on a bed, unresponsive.
The subconscious has a way of making the ludicrous logical, and so I didn’t question Greg’s appearance with Anton any more than I questioned Rick lying on the bed. In my dream, I knew that if I put my hands on his chest and said a special word, he’d come back, alive, and healthy.
“Mom! Don’t do it!” my boys warned. “You don’t know what you’re doing!”
Two sons, one on each side of the veil of death, warned me not to do what my heart desperately wanted, but I didn’t even take a moment to weigh the consequences of my actions. I put my hands on my son, said the word, and watched the rise and fall of his chest, drawing life into his lungs.
My joy was indescribable as I drew my son close to my heart. His body was warm, and he smelled the way I remembered his smell to be. I kissed his head and his face, I held his hands, I cried tears of joy because he was home. But my boys were afraid. I didn’t care as long as I had Rick back; we were together, holding each other close. I promised him that I’d never let him leave me again.
Then I woke up and realized that it was all a dream, and I fell apart. The grief attacked me fresh and raw, as real as the day he died. The grief I felt was real because the dream had been so real. I had been with him again.
Eventually, I tried to process it. I realized why the boys had been so afraid; it was because I crossed a line. I did something that was forbidden—morally wrong, and I did it without the least hesitation.
I know that it was just a dream, but isn’t the me who walks through my dreams the same me deep down inside? Does the dreaming me have the same moral code that waking me has? If I were tempted with breaking the laws of the physical world as well as the laws of God to have my son back, would I, given the opportunity, be able to withstand that temptation?
It’s a possibility that I won’t have in the real world; even so, I think I’ve been faced with something in my character this morning that makes me uneasy.
In my dream, I never considered how I would feel if yanked out of paradise to come back to this world of misery and temptation. I never considered the spiritual consequences at all. My only concern was having him back with no regard for what was best for him. Maybe I’m over-thinking this, but I look at this dream as an opportunity to grow.
There was a reason Jesus cried before he resurrected Lazarus. I may understand that better now.
Melinda Helpenstill is an angel mom of two, mother of four, and grandmother of six and counting. She and husband, Dickie, live in Gilmer, Texas, and volunteer as grief facilitators at their church. Retired, Melinda finally has time to pursue her dream of writing.