After someone close to you dies, you look for things. Proof that they're OK. A sign from the beyond to let you know that they're at peace or still watching over you. "Watch your dreams" is what the nurse at Hospice told us, when we gathered in Mom's room after she passed. "She'll let you know that she's OK."
So ever since Mom died, I've searched for signs. The night that it happened, when I crawled into bed exhausted and empty and a little bit drunk I longed for a dream of her. I fell asleep with my great-grandfather's prayer beads in my hand, clutching them because Mom always asked for them whenever she had to go into hospital for a while. They brought her comfort over the years, and I needed to feel close to her. When your mother was the one who comforted you so many times over the years, who do you turn to when she's gone, and her passing is the reason you need to be comforted? I had my husband and my sister and my aunt, but it wasn't really the same, and they were grieving as well. The beads became my anchor, to the point that I often couldn't sleep unless I was holding them.
I didn't dream of her that night, or the night after that, or the one after that. I think it was weeks before I actually had a dream about her, but it wasn't anything significant. No clear assurance, no comforting moment playing out for me to let me know that everything would be fine.
I read a lot of websites about grief and the afterlife and signs in the months leading up to her death. I perused forums for caretakers of terminally ill parents. I sifted through story after story of people recounting their experiences, seeking proof that I'd be able to move on one day. Trying to figure out if what I was feeling was normal, trying to see what I should expect. Of course everyone is different. Every experience is unique, and how people handle things shapes the way they feel after someone they love has died. I read about people who felt emotionally devastated, whose grief ran so deep that even after a decade they still felt as though their lives were ruined. I read about people who felt so empty that they worried they were abnormal. I read about people who saw dragonflies or butterflies or birds in places they ordinarily wouldn't be, and just knew it was their loved one reaching out to them. People who felt a weight settle on the bed next to them, even when no one else was there.
I had none of those things. Just my alarm system going haywire after we brought her ashes home from the crematorium, but that was explained away by sensors going bad. My dreams remained normal. I saw no butterflies and felt no weight settle next to me. I swung from deep grief to numbness to normalcy to sudden tears, sometimes in the course of an hour. I watched my dreams in vain, because even when she appeared in them, it seemed to be nothing different from the dreams I had when she was still alive. I went to her house in hope of feeling some trace of her, but her house felt weirdly empty. It was like her body in the bed of the hospice room. It didn't contain her anymore. It was as though when she took her final breath, her soul had gone so far and so free from the world that she left no trace behind. She had been so present in life, so vividly there that I expected she would leave an imprint behind, like the image of the sun dancing behind your eyelids on a bright day. I look for her and there isn't even an impression. It's as though she simply evaporated, burned away until there was nothing left at all.