an angel in the clouds

After being my wife Annie’s caregiver for thirty months through her battle with cancer, I lost her. I started out as a novice caregiver, but over time I got my Caregiving PhD through on-the-job training. It didn’t take me long to realize the pain and torment some caregivers go through is really badIt was as if my body was always in motion, relentlessly moving to the beat of a hostile drum. Their wasn’t much time for me to sit and relax, sleep, or do many of the things that would have been good for me.

Within the first month I realized my body no longer belonged to me, I was a Caregiver. In my case there was no room for being selfish or of wanting anything that might be good for my well-being. But you know what, for thirty months my body never let me down and I gave everything I had in me to Annie. Never once did I get a cough, a cold, or a fever–I just willed my body onward. So, there I was always moving forward trying to stay one step ahead of the pain and fight off any infections. Annie’s bones were very badly diseased, she had virtually no immunity on a daily basis, and needed to live in a sterilized room as much as possible. A very difficult task!

Grief

Technically from the day I heard Annie’s prognosis I started grieving. After all, a three week prognosis is not very long. As you already know, Annie survived 30 months fighting a nasty cancer. I was told that I was fortunate, in that when I lost her my grief would not be as bad–I had been grieving for quite some time. Don’t ever buy into that theory, it’s not right.

When Annie died, this body that was always in motion lost it’s purpose. I felt like I hit a brick wall doing one-hundred miles an hour. She was just gone–no more giving her medications to her, tucking her in at night, washing her body and beautiful hair, cutting her finger and toe nails, messaging her legs when they hurt, sitting beside and sleeping in a recliner in the hospital for over one-hundred days, telling her and reassuring her “that this is not it Annie,” you’re gonna get through this event, and simply loving her with all my heart and soul–She was just gone! After the initial shock and knee buckling pain my mind started asking questions. Is she okay? How is she doing? Where is she? My faith told me she was in Heaven and doing just fine–but to me in the initial stages of grief, heaven didn’t have a role to play. I just wanted her back!!

An accidental solution: dreams

Having so many questions without answers was eating away at me from the inside out. I was searching for answers. Then one night I laid my head down on my pillow and looked across the five feet to her empty hospital bed. I noticed the sports bandage on her night stand that she wore after braking her pinkie finger. Eureka! A light bulb went on. Annie would sprinkle “Sweet Pea Jasmine” oil on her sports bandage, get in her wheelchair and move around the room wiping it on our fabric furniture and curtains. It made our house smell lovely. My thoughts were, that if I go get the oil and sprinkle it on my pillow I might have a sweet dream of her. I quickly checked the internet to see what it had to say. It said, by laying in a bed of rose petals it is sometimes possible to invoke a sweet dream, however, it can’t be targeted. I was very disappointed but at that point I was not going to give up. When I went to the wicker basket where she kept the oil, I noticed her perfume. I got really excited, and felt like great things were going to happen this night.

And they did! When I laid my head back down I said a prayer to my creator asking him to let me see Annie one more time, then sprayed her perfume on the pillow and the blanket up near where my face was. After I fell asleep I had the most beautiful dream of Annie. She was standing beside her hospital bed, dancing around in a pair of pajamas I bought her, letting me see she was okay. She was turning from side to side, letting me see that her spine was no longer bowed out, and her legs were healed. She was finally free of all the torment and pain she had been suffering. She seemed happy! I couldn’t see her face, but I knew it was Annie.

Isn’t it ironic? Her special perfume was “Angel.” The first four out of five nights I used the perfume I had a pleasant dream of Annie. The stronger the scent the more vivid the dream. And after the first couple of days, I always saw her face. Knowing that greed is a bad thing I didn’t ask to see her or spray the perfume every night, but when I did, the combination worked.

Several months later I was having problems with a question that kept going around in my head. “I can’t let go of her, until she lets go of me.” I went to see my psychologist, Dr. Bryant, and posed the question to him. He looked at me very seriously and said in a soft voice, “Bob, she is not holding on to you!” I said in a soft voice, “I believe she is.” That night I sprayed the perfume and asked for clarification of my question. What I’m going to tell you was simply amazing. When the dream came, Annie and I were up on a grassy hillside, hand in hand, arms swinging in unison like a couple of kids. When the dream ended, we were standing on a porch. Annie had let go of my hand. There was a lady with dark hair standing in the doorway behind an old-fashioned screen door. I looked at her then turned to Annie who had her hand extended to me. She wanted to slap hands. I reached over and gently slapped my hand against hers. She gave me a beautiful smile, turned and stepped off the porch and disappeared. What did it mean? I believe that Annie was telling me when I’m ready it’s okay to move on. She had just let go of my hand.

Note: After several experience’s with dreams, I went to the store where she purchased it and was able to speak to the Angel representative. She told me that Angel contains the same ingredients used in aroma therapy, but much stronger. If I had to give one warning it would be that some of the dreams were not pleasant, and were deeply troubling. I used her Angel until it ran out and although I still have the bottle, I won’t refill it. While grieving I believe my mind had opened up to a higher level of consciousness, hence even life felt very vivid. So when I witnessed trauma on a routine basis as I did, sometimes when dreaming I think I triggered the mechanism in our brain that allows psychic trauma to creep in. In other words, re-live a traumatic event through your dreams. It’s not and individual event, but just as traumatic. Annie wore Angel perfume for nineteen years. So that became her trade mark scent and I loved it.

If you’re grieving it’s very important to keep a journal or diary of how you feel and some of the events that take place from day to day. Later on in your grief, it becomes so important to be able to look back and reflect on your journey. In a sense you are tracking your grief and can clearly see if you are getting better or not. The dreams I spoke of and the many more I had were all documented in real time and now I can use them for a reference point, and share some with others. Believe me, in grief that’s a win, win, situation.

Written by Bob Harrison
Bob Harrison was raised in the heart of the Redwoods in the far northwest comer of northern California. The little town of Crescent City, California was located near some of the world’s tallest trees, with the west shoreline being the Pacific Ocean. Bob spent most of his time fishing the two local rivers where some of the finest Steelhead and Salmon fishing is located. He was also well known up and down the north coast as an avid motorcycle racer, winning several hundred trophies, and one Oregon State title. Bob graduated from Del Norte High School with the class of 1966, then spent a one year stint at the College of the Redwoods, before having a strong sense of patriotism and joining the United States Air Force. After three years of service, Bob met Annie, the love of his life, and they got married in England in 1972. Bob’s love of country pushed him on to what turned out to be a very successful career, retiring in 1991. Bob’s last military assignment was Wichita, Kansas, a place he and Annie decided to call home. Together they developed and ran two very successful antique businesses until the stranger knocked on their door and changed their lives forever; “Because of Annie.”

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10 Comments

  1. I found your story because since my husband’s death in September I don’t dream. Barely at all. I too identify so closely with your story as caregiver. We were together 30 years. Started off as kids barely 17 years old. I lost him after a horrendous 10 month battle with cancer. Just a couple days after he died I dreamt he was over me in bed and he kissed me. No words, just our teeth were crunchy. The second dream was couple months later. I saw him at a party and sat on His lap. I went to kiss him and he pulled back and said “No, punch me in the face so I know this is real.” That is it. I do wake up with images of his illness repeating in my head. I hear the surgeon telling me it’s cancer. I see my husband in his hospital bed in our home and I see him in his last moments not breathing. I replay me trying in vain to resuscitate him. But I’m not dreaming and I miss it. I wish I could cause I know how much it helps to heal. I’ve tried aromas, I’ve tried lucid dream recordings and tantric rhythms. I don’t know what to do and it’s so very frustrating. It’s not even like I am expecting him to “visit” me or anything, I just want my brain to process and my psyche to heal.

    Reply
  2. I only dreamed of my son once, and the dream was upsetting. In the dream, I hear someone knocking at our front door. I open the door to find my son standing there. He was okay, he was very much alive and I hugged him and cried like I never cried before. Them I woke up. Woke up to find he was still gone, he didn’t come home amd I would never hug him again.

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  3. Thanks for a very insightful post.

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  4. Christina, as a caregiver we live a very fluid life, always busy, and focused. It’s a very extraordinary way of life, and when we lose it, our purpose for existence diminishes so much, that it’s very heard to adjust. It’s like an addiction, and difficult to overcome. And then there is the wretched grief. It’s like fighting a battle on two fronts. Grief and addiction. But, those are two battles you have to fight, and winning is the only option. It’s been four years for me now, and I truly believe there is no such thing as a new normal. What is normal anyway. The grand kids sitting around the dining room table three feet apart, and rather than talk to each other they text. I guess that’s called the new normal. Maybe!

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  5. I really needed to read this tonight. Thank you! I took care of my husband for 7 years. I had lots of time to grieve. And even though I thought I did a good job grieving the losses on the way to him passing it hasn’t been any easier. Who am I now? As my husband’s caregiver my role was well defined. I had a clear purpose that motivated me even at the most challenging of times. To find a new normal has been much harder than I thought.

    Reply
  6. Your story was almost as if you were telling mine, it truly is amazing how strong/ brave we can become while caregiving. I lost my husband last April. I prayed the same prayer asking to see him one last time. Just to know he was ok. I got that, he looked beautiful, he was totally healed. He was smiling. And told me he loved me. Woke up feeling happy and blessed. A month later he came in a dream simply said I love you but I needed to stop being sad. He was happy and no longer hurt. Then he said I need you to live and move on with you life. Well I have started to live again finding more peace and joy everyday. So thankful for our 20 years together. Feeling blessed to have loved him.

    Reply
    • Wonderful response, and it does sound like my story. That makes me smile. Dreams are like the next best thing, as when we wake up, we can still feel the love. And what a beautiful start to a day. Coffee tastes so much better too. Annie loved her beloved morning cup of coffee.

      Reply
  7. Thank you, Bob, for a wonderful and instructive article. I believe in aromatherapy and that dreams can ‘re-live’ experiences too. Yes, even bad ones (a ‘sleeping’ PTSD reaction). It is amazing what our individual ‘triggers’ can be. One of mine is the scent of peppermint, for various reasons, but mostly in remembrance of my Mom’s peppermint cookies at Christmas. I often add drops of peppermint essential oil to a small atomizer and ‘relive’ baking with Mom and other memories. I had many years of caregiving as well, and can truly say that it took longer to recover both physically and mentally than the years I spent doing the actual caregiving. You are very correct to say that the grief issues and loss of many things including the loved one take years to come to terms with. It has to be done, though, in order to make one’s own life a positive venture. It also affects other members of the family as well as friends and we have no control over how they choose whether or how to come to terms with these situations for themselves and for us and our relationships.

    Reply
    • Thank you Shirley. That was a wonderful reply. Targeting a dream and hitting the target is priceless. You wee talking about peppermint essential oils remind you of memories with your mom. I use the sweet pea jasmine to boil in the pro, which reminds me of Annie, as she did that too. More people should try their loved ones favorite scent. It just might work.

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