Dream about the Death of my Son

I just woke up from a very vivid dream and I’m writing it down so I don’t forget it. Long-time readers of this blog know I occasionally do this.

In the dream, I had two other dreams that were premonitions that my son Riley was going to die. These were dreams I had inside my dream. In one of those dreams, he had been hospitalized for something and the doctors said it was 50/50 whether he was going to make it. This was similar to when he was a newborn and almost died of an infection. In the other, there was some water accident associated with my Dad’s boat and sea plane. Then, after these dreams, in the waking state of my dream, he had some sort of accident and died (it is unclear what exactly happened). I then understood my two previous dreams inside the dream to have been premonitions of what was coming.

I then wanted to go talk to my wife about it, telling her that even though he had died, he had not disappeared but simply gone somewhere else. This was the advice that Gen Lekma gave me when my mom died that made all the difference. As I approached my wife, her sister materialized in the background. My wife then became like an emotional echo of my sister-in-law’s thinking. It echoed into my wife in the form of all sorts of ways in which my wife was thinking it was her fault or my fault that Riley had died – if only we hadn’t done this or if only we had done that – and the guilt of this was eating my wife alive and I wasn’t able to get out my message that he had not disappeared, he was simply somewhere else. I just kept on trying to tell my wife, “don’t go there, it’s totally wrong, don’t go there.”

Then, my wife and I moved to somewhere else away from my sister-in-law where we could talk without anyone in the background, and I started to tell my wife Gen Lekma’s point, but then I started crying about how I loved my son so much and it hit me that he had died. I cried out several times while crying deeply, “I love him so much, I love him so much” and it just hurt more and more with each recitation. With each recitation of this, I then thought something else to myself. With one recitation, I recalled Gen Lekma’s point as advice to myself and my hurt subsided somewhat. I then recited it again, but then recalled how angry I have gotten at him during his life for his misbehavior and how much my anger has hurt him. I then started screaming, crying out of intense guilt and remorse at how much hurt I have caused him with my anger and now it is too late, he is no longer with me. The pain and hurt were among the most intense I have ever felt thinking this. I then cried out I love him so much again, and I recalled bodhichitta that I can still become a Buddha for him and help him even though I had hurt him so much, and this helped relieve some of the inner hurt and then I woke up.

When I woke up, my first thought was about how much I have hurt him in his life, and especially recently, and how, due to his being on the autism spectrum, he disassociates when he gets in trouble and goes somewhere else into another mental space/personality/behavior pattern because it is too painful for him to be in the present moment where he is. I then thought how I love him so much and I need to be kind with him, not crack down on him for his misbehavior.

I then thought about how my wife’s family is always consumed by guilt for all the different ways they think it is their fault something bad happens to somebody else, and this guilt drives them to unnecessarily beat themselves up irrationally for not having done enough (something my sister-in-law does about the death of her mother when in truth she had done so much for her) and this guilt also drives them into being incredibly controlling behavior of others in the family to not do things that could potentially prove harmful to them. This anger-enforced controlling behavior to avoid potential harm was at the core of much of my wife’s childhood trauma with her father (such as getting mad at her when she was hurt playing on the monkey bars), and it was this same anger-enforced controlling behavior that we have recently been using against our son for his wreckless behavior going on the roof of our house where he could have died in some accident. This corresponds very closely with something Kadam Lucy told me more than 25 years ago that my wife’s anger comes from having learned it within her family as how things are done, and the only way to heal the anger is to first heal the misplaced guilt.

Additionally, this dream gave me a deep emotional feeling of just how much I love Riley, and when I remind myself of that when I am in my hurt, it brings me somewhat out of my pain. First, it triggers guilt in me for how I have treated him with anger, but on the other side of that is bodhichitta for him that looks at my relationship with him across lifetimes. I don’t know what will happen to Riley in his life, but I suspect he will face a lot of hurt. I don’t know if he will ever have some sort of accident in which he dies, etc., but I do know I would deeply regret all the hurt I have caused him. Just as I may die today, he may die today, and I don’t want him to die with him not knowing how much I love him and I would feel deep regret for having gotten so angry at him so often. But I can use that deep love for him as fuel for my bodhichitta. Wanting to become a Buddha for all living beings is a very abstract concept, but seeing my son hurting by my hands and then losing him makes me want to become a Buddha for him so I can make up for the hurt I have caused him and one day lead him to freedom. This touches my heart and makes the path much less abstract and more personal.

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