Dreaming of you

The last couple of nights I’ve dreamed about Dan. They have not been pleasant dreams.

In one, he was dead but had returned to life and then been murdered by a family friend and I found myself kneeling beside a shallow grave digging with bare hands through crumbly black earth, reaching a faded and torn Manchester United shirt and dusty bones.

In another, he was eleven or twelve, still at New Mills High School. He’d gone missing for a whole day and night and I was in shock and trying to get on with my day as if nothing was wrong. Then he appeared on the bus I was travelling on, and mutely asked me why I had not looked harder for him, even though he’d been perfectly fine, had been on a training course to be a Welcome Ambassador for new pupils at his school.

Both mornings I woke with a lump of sorrow lodged in my throat. Not the usual sadness about the absence of Dan, but despondency that I had let him down.

It’s the broken tooth that I don’t poke at, the brambly path I avoid, the itchy jumper I can’t throw out but that I always hide at the bottom of the pile; I let him down. It’s the ragged tip of thread on an endless spool that, once tugged, unravels quickly and spins away. I let him down.

I let him down by grumbling about what to have for tea that night as we got off the tram in Hillsborough so that he went off in a huff to KFC. I let him down by moving him to Sheffield. I let him down by being unable to offer him a more stable family life with Brian and Lea in Leeds. I let him down by failing to keep his birth family together. And there are so many other instances. The times I could have made better decisions that would have kept Dan alive whirl through my mind like the endlessly spiralling thread.

It really hurts to think of Dan being disappointed in me. The only achievement I have ever been truly proud of was being Dan’s mum. I loved being a parent and I thought I was doing a really good job. But fuck me, it turns out I was setting us both up for tragedy. That I was making crappy, deluded choices. I thought I was raising a fine young adult but really I was just paving a path to his early grave.

I know dwelling on this horror does me no good in the long run, but it would seem that it is leaking out into my dreams. It leaves me having to acknowledge my guilt at being, in the final analysis, a pretty bloody shit parent that couldn’t even keep her boy safe, so keen was she for him to be independent and grown-up. A better parent would have offered more stability throughout her son’s whole life, and a firmer demand to come home for tea that night. She’d have kept him close, and watched the Champions League Final with him and gone to bed and slept and got up the next day in the sunshine and waved him off as he went to meet his dad in Manchester. A better parent wouldn’t be writing blogs and memoirs trying to make sense of her son’s death, trying to keep some spark of Dan alive. A better parent would have a troubling dream about her son and be able to send him a WhatsApp message the next morning just to check in and remind him that she loved him.

I’ll permit this self-pity today. But it can’t stay. My guilt and horror at myself will have to be carefully rewound onto that spool and tucked away again if I am to function. The broken tooth will be ignored, the brambly path circumvented, the scratchy jumper returned to the bottom of the pile. I will spray lavender mist on my pillows tonight, and hope for dreamless sleep.

Published by The Middow

Fifty-something middow, partner, dog-owner.

20 thoughts on “Dreaming of you

  1. Isn’t guilt at the heart of being a parent? We are all human and all fallible and all make mistakes in raising our children. But, usually, we are doing the best we can for them. You did nothing wrong with the choices you made. At any point. I know you always had his best interests at heart-that shone through from the moment I met you. He wanted a takeaway that night and you did nothing wrong in letting him go and get one. You didn’t let him down. If anyone let him down it was the driver of the car. I don’t know how you let go of that guilt that seems to arrive as a little package in our minds the moment our child is conceived-the analysis of every one of our actions. Should I have done this? Shouldn’t I have done this? The fact is, we did, and usually with the best of intentions. There is no point in the ‘what if’ narrative -because we will never know the outcome of that conversation. Love you lots. Xx

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    1. Ah Ros, thank you. You’re right. And I’m usually good at silencing that ‘what if’ voice. It’s the lack of opportunity – not to put right what I might think I did wrong – to just do something nice for Dan today, here, in the present moment. We always righted our little wrongs, sorted out mini disagreements quickly, because I’d taught Dan never to go to bed on an argument. That way, I always felt that we were well balanced, that every day ended feeling ok, loved. It’s hard, knowing that we ended without clearing the air, with a lingering grumble about what to have for tea, so petty. And I can’t ever put that right. But I will tidy those thoughts away at the end of the day and start afresh tomorrow. Take care X


  2. I can identify so much with what you say, and really there are no words to comfort you because these thoughts come and go unbidden, unwanted and blatantly untrue. A million times a day, different decisions would lead to different outcomes, 99.99% of which we would never know, until one day something terrible happens. My heart breaks for you, and for me, and for anyone who endures this sort of unnatural loss. You are able to put words to the feelings that grief produces, that have no name, and that I have kept to myself for so many years and I am very grateful for your skill in recording it and your bravery in doing so.x

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  3. If there was a dislike button on here I would’ve hit it. No no no no no no Deb disagree with your statements wholeheartedly. You were and are a great parent. Guilt is a natural emotion but in no way are to blame for Dan’s tragic ending. When I think of you and Dan I think of the mum that took him to see Thomas tank at Bury, Just magic on Fridays, picnics in the park. The Mum that swapped schools to help Dan blossom I could go on. Dan knows the great Mum you are. This was just a dream, too much cheese? Love you lots xxx

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  4. This brought tears to my eyes, Debbie. As others have said, guilt comes with parenting and, possibly, the more guilt you feel the better the parent you are. In my view you would have been a poorer parent if you hadn’t let Dan find his own way. It’s a really hard lesson for us parents of teenagers to learn that you can’t control them, or their lives, and, ultimately, it is luck that always has the upper hand in what happens. Sending you big hugs, urging you not to blame yourself for something that was outside your control, and wishing you peaceful dreams.

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  5. When you spoke so beautifully about Dan and his life at his memorial I was completely blown away by the range of experiences he’d taken up through his life and the opportunities you had created for him. He’d had such a wealth of experience, more than some adults I know. You gave him the opportunity and the confidence to explore the world and that was a gift you gave him.
    I guess it’s natural to believe there is blame and I imagine you have blamed others…. the driver (obviously), god, maybe even Dan. Perhaps blaming yourself is the next bit to work through on this painful pathway through grief. Hopefully you will soon come to the conclusion that you were not to blame. Please try to be kind to yourself though because you are a great Mum xx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sorry to hear about shitty dreams luv, I always think of you as an amazing parent, a thought I’m sure echoed by friends and family who know you and Dan, our lovely creative minds unfortunately also have the ability to create the darkest of scenarios, hope you have a better night tonight 💕

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Debbie, I never met Dan but I know that Adam has had friends that he’s had since primary school (same as Dan). He’s never had any other friends outside this circle until he met Dan at UTC. The main words he would use to describe Dan were, funny, kind, clever and generous. The fact that he only knew him for a short period of time as well made me want to meet him all the more. Although this didn’t happen I totally feel like I know him through what Adam has told me but mostly you Debbie. I can totally see why Adam thought so much about him and that’s down to you. His time on earth may have been short but his impact was amazing and continues to be so. Much love xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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