Dreaming Your Life Away

My mom grabbed a spadeful of dirt with an unsteady hand as she stood at the very edge and gazed down below. She looked every one of her 81 years, maybe even a few more, as she made several unsuccessful passes, unable, it seemed, to empty the spade of its contents. Or unwilling, perhaps.

Whichever, fall, the dirt eventually would. All at once, in fact, landing on the coffin with a clumpy thud, an eerie sound which visibly disturbed my mom. And me, too, for that matter. I think it was the finality of it all.

Mom’s oversized sunglasses looked out of place on such a frail woman. Though they did provide an effective shield from the anguish that was most certainly beaming from her weary eyes. It wasn’t fair. That much we all knew.

I hadn’t understood exactly how the interment would go. Had I, there’s no way I would have worn what I did. Still, there was little that could be done about it at that point, a fact I acknowledged by taking off my blazer, rolling up my sleeves and grabbing a shovel.

I’m always amazed by when and where self consciousness will rear its uncertain head. Surely not there, right? But as I dug into the enormous pile and brought forth my first shovelful, there it was. Unavoidable. Like the death it was now a part of.

Such is the plight of a grieving man in black loafers when presented with the unexpected prospect of burying someone whose death was anything but. Unexpected, that is.

At first, I was too delicate, coming off, I suppose, like a man in black loafers handling a shovel. So I imagined that I was clad in shorts and wearing work boots, at which point, my motion was more true to the somber task at hand. Yet still uncertain, the motion. And me. At least of the pace. I was careful not to get out of the gate too fast — you’d be surprised how much dirt is displaced by a grave. But it occurred to me that going too slow wouldn’t be good, either. For the very same reason, in fact.

Around the sixth pass or so, I figured it out. This was an endurance deal, as evidenced by the rhythm I’d fallen into. As well as by my steady breath. You get less winded if you use your diaphragm, you know.

It wasn’t too long before I realized that I’d be breaking a sweat. This was manual labor, after all. Reenter the self consciousness. For this was a formal occasion, and I certainly wanted to be presentable.

The first drop made its inevitable leap from the bridge of my nose and landed on the splintered shovel handle equidistant between my hands. And once it did, I officially stopped caring. About being presentable, that is. Because it finally dawned on me that this wasn’t about being presentable. This was about being fully engaged. And from that point forward, I was just that.

You always hear the phrase labor of love. Like most phrases, it’s little more than a succession of words, an expression we use far too loosely. But that’s exactly what it was, you see. Unexpected? Yes. Unconventional? To be sure.

But a labor of love, nonetheless.

When we finally finished, I wished immediately that we hadn’t. That I had opted for a slower pace, after all. And that everyone else had, too. Because once it was over, it was over. And so, too, was my time with her.

Well, except for the roses. We still had them. But soon enough they’d be gone. And so would she.

I made the three-hour drive back to Knoxville and met my wife for a much-needed drink. By then the sweat was long gone. Only a thin, salty film remained. One that ordinarily would have bothered me, but didn’t that night. On the contrary. I wore it like a badge of honor.

It feels so good to talk to Caroline whenever my heart is broken. Or whenever I’m broken. Because she’s the one, friends. The only one, a thought that comforted me as I stared down from the bar to collect myself, my black loafers looking back at me through a coat of red dust.

Caroline went to bed before I did, leaving me to putz around the house uncertainly. Until, that is, I decided to go through the various folders of one of my backup hard drives, a curious decision, or so I thought as I began my rummaging.

It wasn’t too long before I came across an email my niece had sent me several years prior — one which I had converted into a word document. In it, she was discussing her dream of becoming an actress.

Have you ever wanted to do something that was way out of reach? It’s like a bad dream you can’t wake up from. Like “dreaming your life away.” Do you understand that expression? It means you waste your life dreaming about everything you want and before you realize it, life has passed you by and it’s too late. You dreamt your life away.

I hope that’s not what I’m doing.

It was after the third reading, I believe, when the tears came. And through them, I pondered dreams, as well as the dead people who’ve dreamt them. Not to mention how lifeless the living can become if they don’t honor theirs.

I wondered if I were doing a good enough job of honoring mine.

And then I wondered about my sister’s. They were simple, you know. At least the ones I knew about. Like the one to see her daughter graduate from high school.

It didn’t come true. At least not the way she dreamt it.

An hour later, I was in my closet getting ready for bed, about to join Caroline before the black loafers covered in red dust gave me pause. I reached for my shoe-shine kit to bring them back to the state in which they belonged.

Until I thought better of it and just left them alone, after all.

That dust isn’t bothering anyone.

Is it?

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About john cave osborne

John Cave Osborne is a writer whose work has appeared on such sites as DisneyBaby, Babble, YahooShine, TLC and the Huffington Post. He was also referenced by Jezebel one time, but he’s pretty sure they were making fun of him. He and his wife, Caroline, live with their five children and spastic dog in Knoxville, TN. Nothing annoys him more than joke-heavy bios written in the third person, with the possible exception of Corey Feldman.

  • Kristin

    This is a lovely post, but so terribly sad.  Is this a recent loss?  It kind-of reads more like a flashback, but I can’t tell for sure.  Beautiful and heartfelt either way.  My cousin died several years ago of leukemia at 16.  He’d gone into remission, traveled across country for the bone marrow transplant (they’d finally found a match), and when he got to that hospital, he was no longer in remission, so he and my uncle had to fly back home and wait for him to die.  That was, without a doubt, the most difficult funeral I’ve ever been to. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000258736074 Juli Westgate

    Reading this, I remember the beautiful words you wrote in The Goldsmith And My Sister. Then and again now,  your writing drew me in as if I were present and the pain was truly palpable. My heart breaks for you, your Mother and all of Holliday’s family and friends~ but my heart breaks a little more deeply for her Daughter. I too lost my Mother to cancer when I was a teen and it’s an indescribable ache. One that is not softened by time, not even by the smallest measure. As much as I wish, there are no words I am able to offer which will soften the pain you feel. All I can do is pray that you have inner peace as the first anniversary of her passing approaches~ and I hope everyone whose life was touched by Holliday will take the time to celebrate her life.

  • Miss A

    I read this yesterday, and it made me so sad for you, for her daughter, for your family that I didn’t want to add my pain to yours. I’m sorry for the loss of a beautiful person, for the pain and sadness and tonight I’ll hold you and yours in my thoughts (or prayers, whatever we might be inclined to call this).
    Miss A

  • Seattledad

    Very moving post John.  My condolances.