I had this dream last week. Matt had gotten up early to go mow his grandparents’ lawn. He kissed me goodbye and when the door shut behind him I drifted back to sleep for half an hour until my alarm went off. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular as I closed my eyes, but I was thrown into the dream’s vividness immediately.
Like most dreams, the setting was irrational – I was in a hospital that looked like a nail salon, nurses bent over patients’ feet, administering manicures instead of IVs. I tell them I am here to pick up my mother’s belongings, she has died, can you help me?
They ignore me completely and I grow visibly upset. I see a doorway and walk to it defiantly; I don’t care if I’m not allowed in there, I will figure it out for myself.
And then I am in a bedroom, and a girl I knew from my childhood is there, someone I haven’t seen or talked to in years. I am crying and she tells me to stop, no one cares anymore what you’ve lost, you need to move on. She leaves the room.
I see my mother’s belongings shoved underneath a desk. An evening gown and black satin heels, a curling iron, a makeup bag, a tube of lipstick. I shove them into one of those plastic hospital bags with her name written on it in Sharpee.
I turn with the bag and my face wet with tears and I’m surprised to see there is someone sitting on the end of the bed, an elderly man with a white beard and overalls and a flannel shirt. I’ve never seen him before in my life, but he looks like Santa Claus dressed as a farmer. I want to feel repulsed by this stranger that has wandered in unbeknownst to me and witnessed my private grief, but he holds his arms out and says softly, it’s okay to cry. I sit down next to him and he embraces me, all large, protective arms, and scruffy beard and wide chest. It’s okay that you’ve lost her and miss her and don’t know what to do. Don’t listen to them. Don’t feel ignored. It’s okay to cry.
My alarm goes off and I wake up, surprised to feel my face wet with salty, hot, real tears.
I go through the motions of getting ready for work, all the while totally confused by my dream. Why a Santa Claus figure? Why a nail salon and a bag of belongings that weren’t really hers and harsh words from a girl that I haven’t talked to in a decade?
I didn’t think I needed permission to grieve.
But do I? Is that what the dream is telling me?
My independent, eldest child/only girl spirit doesn’t want to accept that answer. And she doesn’t want help, either. She doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, though he’s a nice idea.
But instead of letting my own subconscious irk my independence, I took the dream’s meaning at face-value, and let myself feel the unquenchable sadness of seven months and 23 days (and one year) sink into that hallow corner of my heart. I stayed quiet for a few days, asking myself things like, am I really going to write another sad blog again? And also, can I quit the internet? Because lately it seems plagued with politics and controversy and incessant arguing and it makes me tired.
I didn’t quit the internet, you’ll be happy to know. And this isn’t intended to be another sad blog, another reminder to each of you that this year I lost my mother, a pity party , or ploy for attention.
Instead, I’m here just to ask a question :
When you’re a twenty-something and you’re supposed to figure out your life and learn how not to be a student or a child or a follower anymore, how and when and where is permission relevant to us?
Because I realized that I have unintentionally been waiting for it – in my work, in my writing, in my grief, in my faith, in my own politics.
Do I need permission? How do I give it to myself? How do I let others give it to me appropriately, without depending on it to the point where I am immobile without it? How do I help someone else understand that they have permission to be who they are, emotions and words and tears and all? If you’re older than twenty-something, at what point did you learn to give yourself that grace and permission? Or, who helped you understand it?
Because the truth, as deeply painful as it is to admit this to you, is this :
I am afraid that if I admit that I need help I will give away my dignity.