Thursday, July 10, 2014

A different Dylan dream

Last night I had a dream about Dylan and it was unlike any dream I had had before. In this dream, Dylan was alive again and he was chatting to the rest of the family about something, I can't remember what exactly. At one point my mum had a book that turned out to be a collection of all the books we had made as children. It was all the stories we had written in primary school, one after another, covering about a decade of our lives. I wanted to read what my brother and sisters had written, but of course I couldn't see any detail- I don't know what they wrote in real life, and I only recognised glimpses of what I made myself. Anyway, that seemed to be an important part of the dream, the idea that deep in my past there are things that I'll never get back. In this dream my mum and my older sister were also in the same room and talking to each other, or at least not avoiding each other. They're not on speaking terms in real life (for whatever reason, I've lost since given up trying to work out why or how to fix things between them.) Either two things had happened- Dylan had come back and that was enough to make us all come together, or I had actually gone back in time in this dream to when were still a single family instead of different individuals.

What was different about this dream was that for once I was happy that Dylan was around again. Previously when I had dreams about Dylan being alive again it's always been very disturbing to me, because I know someone died and someone was cremated. When it turns out to be a different person that this happened it suddenly becomes very, very disturbing. Why did my family choose to cremate a stranger instead of burying them? Why choose the one method the completely destroys all evidence of who that person was? Why was I the only member of the family that never saw Dylan's body? There are good reasons behind all these choices we made, and many of them are mundane. For me, I'd rather not have a grave to visit because I'd very rarely, if ever, visit it. I'd rather carry the grief with me as part of me, than have it be something I can "visit". There also seems something very conventional and traditional about burial. By going with with the slightly less conventional and more modern option we said that Dylan was special to us and relevant. I never got to see Dylan's body because it was height of summer and I visited Crewe at least twice- once when it was too soon to see the body and once when it was too late. If I had traveled on a different day I might have seen his body.

But somewhere in the back of my mind is the possibility that maybe he didn't really die. In most of my dreams this possibility is so sinister that I don't even want to consider it. In this dream I accepted that he was alive and I enjoyed his company. It was part way through the dream that I realised the problem, and I wanted to talk to Dylan about it, but for various reasons I never got the chance. (The dream moved on to a standard "I'm back at school, or maybe university, I'm running late, have no idea of where to go or what to do" etc) As I thought about it I remembered that one of the contributing factors to Dylan's suicide was that he had lost a lot of money, was could have been deep in debt. Disappearing for a few years seemed like a sensible way to solve that problem, but it still meant putting me and the rest of the family through the process of bereavement. So I wanted to talk to Dylan about that as well, but again I didn't get the chance. In my head I'd created the possibility that Dylan was still alive and even justified it to myself. I don't even know where to begin finding out what that means. Maybe it means nothing.

It's probably worth pointing out that recently I took part in a stand up comedy act, and one of the jokes, in fact the biggest joke of my set, revolved around the wrong cat being cremated. At one point the character in the joke (actually my mum, as this is based on a true story) finds out that she cremated the wrong cat and she's overjoyed to find her cat still alive and well. At the time it was just a funny joke that went down well with the audience. Looking back, I can't really tell what to make of it. Was that some idea that was in the back of my mind that I wanted to explore? Or did the joke leave something for my mind to wrestle with in the form of a dream? Or was it just a coincidence? I have no idea, but whatever the case is, it is a bit chilling to look back at that joke and compare it to the dream I had.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A walk in the woods

Today I decided to go for a walk in the woods.  It's the fourth of July and that means a lot of different things to different people.  For me it's the day I found out that my brother, Dylan, died.  It wasn't the day Dylan died though.  He had decided to hang himself and he died three days earlier.   It was also the first day of my new job, after finishing my degree.  It was a watershed in my life and even though it happened nine years ago I still a day off from the rest of my life every year to myself space to grieve, to look at the past, and think about the future.

I've been living without Dylan for nine years now.  If I'm lucky I'll be around for another fifty years.  Each year that passes gets easier, but it's still daunting to look ahead at all that time in front of me, to try to find some kind of plan and find an identity for myself.  This is something that doesn't get talked about much.  When you lose someone close you lose a part of yourself and when you lose a sibling you lose not just a strong connection to your past, but a connection to your future.  You lose a sense of security and permanence.  It affects the other people who were close as well, so my immediate family, which was already in the process of falling apart, collapsed forever.  I've always wanted to be independent and strong enough to find my own way through life, but it's terrifying when it's forced upon you.  My reaction to the grief was to leave the country for a few years and give myself distance from everything back home.  This helped a lot and by doing this I also demonstrated to myself that I can survive alone and that ultimately I don't need someone by my side.  The pain of the loss has faded, and so has the sense of injustice.  I try not to be self-indulgent with the grief, but there are times when it is very cathartic to say to myself that it's not fair to have to lose Dylan.  Thankfully those moments have become more and more rare as time passes.  These days I'm mostly concerned about where the decisions I've made in the light of all this have left me.

Since 2006 I've chosen to move from place to place and follow the physics experiments of the day (I wouldn't say I followed a career, that's the wrong way to think about it) and traveled to new places in the process.  It's been a very formative collection of experiences for me and helped me to grow a lot.  There are still things I need to improve, but I am generally a better informed, more tolerant, more resilient, more experienced person than I would have been if I had chosen to stay in the UK.  In a way, the loss of Dylan is one of the best things that ever happened to me, because it taught me that I can succeed in spite of the pain, and that life is too short to spend all day indoors in front of a textbook.  (Life is also too short to never do those things.  Recently I had some free time so I opened up a maths book for the pure pleasure of learning something new.)

In the course of this travel I've gone to great lengths to find time for myself.  I have a habit of letting work take over my life, but when I make the effort to block out enough time for other activities I find that I get a rush of old memories.  Memories from my childhood that I hadn't even realised I'd forgotten about.  The holidays we went on in North Wales, how Dylan and I would spend hours playing with Lego (only for Dylan to find it more fun to destroy what we'd created) and the stupid word games we'd play when we were lying in our bunk beds avoiding sleep.  (When we were about 10 and 12 years old we used to listen to a radio show called the Late Night Funster Show that was broadcast from 10:00pm to 1:00am.  That was the start of my lifelong problem with insomnia.)  We also found that we could tune our radio to pick up police radio transmissions.  Occasionally they would announce that it was illegal to listen in, but once I realised it was impossible for them to work out if we were listening or not I was fascinated.  Dylan used to love making his own radio shows as well, and I keep hoping that maybe one day we'll find the old cassettes we made and be able to play them back.  I won't be able to relive those moments with Dylan again, of course, but it would be nice to hear them.  All I remember was his impression of Mr Miyagi from The Karate Kid.  I would love to be able to show Dylan the videos I'd made about the LHC, and ask him if he ever thought the radio show we made as kids would lead to something like that.

Well I wrote this post during a pit stop to charge my phone and get something to eat.  I'll return to walking through the woods, thinking things over and working out if I'm brave enough to keep going for another year without falling apart.  The answer will be yes, of course, but the next question is "How?", and there's no simple answer to that.  It used to be the case that traveling the world and working as a scientist was enough to keep me motivated, but these days I find myself wanting to be more grounded, consider a long term relationship, and investigate other professions.  For the past week I've felt an emptiness growing inside of me, in anticipation of this day off.  It's not just grief over the loss of Dylan, it's also grief over the loss of something that once brought me so much joy that it consumed my entire life for a few years.  At least I can do something about that though, and find the strength and motivation to keep on going into the unknown.