On most mornings I wake Rohan with a cup of tea. She drinks sitting up in bed, I sit on a comfy chair and soon there is the inevitable question “.. and how did you sleep?” When dreams occur they take pride of place and after careful retelling we puzzle together over what might have inspired the dream and what it might mean. I rarely dream but soon after we arrived in France in early July I had two, and both were nightmares about our eldest son Daniel who died suddenly seven and a half years ago (“When words failed me”. Greyhares, 24 March 2013).
We were sitting in a cafe when the news came. My phone rang and I went outside to answer. After introducing herself, one of Daniel’s closest friends told me calmly and clearly what had happened and although she left no room for doubt, the news of his death was impossible to absorb let alone to believe. I returned to Rohan and relaying what I had heard was almost impossible.
Recovery has been slow and for each of us the path has been different. We always share the sadness of his birthday and the anniversaries of his death. For me now, every three weeks or so something happens that brings back memories and makes me think, sometimes even tearful. For Rohan, memories of Daniel and moments of sadness are more common, sometimes occurring several times each week.
My two nightmares were a most awful way of ‘bringing him back’. In the first, I dreamt that I was in bed in our cottage in France. It was dark and I was half asleep as I waited for Rohan to come home from an evening meeting. I heard her open and then close the front door and then suddenly Daniel, as a man, was at the bedside leaning over me kissing me goodnight. He was sweating and very agitated and I asked him “Why are you so nervous?”, to which he replied “I am very anxious – I haven’t been back for seven years”. With that I woke in tears saying “Daniel, this can’t be you – you are dead”.
In the second dream three days later, I was standing in the doorway looking into the sitting room in my parents London house. In the middle of the room two chattering girls aged around five years were playing on the parquet floor; looking on was Daniel standing, leaning against the wall. His was an imposing figure; all 6ft10inches of him dressed in greys and blacks and sporting quite a tum. Several times the children stood up and gently biffed him, sometimes his legs, sometimes his tummy and each time he smiled in gentle acknowledgement. With each biff I said aloud “You must be careful, Daniel is dead.” – no one took any notice. After four such exchanges I woke sobbing.
After both dreams I got up out of bed and sad, shaken and even frightened I went into my study. For me, being woken up by dreams is most unusual and my crying was a first! Each time it took around an hour to recover enough to go back to bed.
As I recounted, Rohan was both very moved and gently comforting. But soon we were puzzling together over what might have brought Dan back in this way. There were two reasons that felt right. One would have brought him closer generally; the other would have touched me more precisely now that I am gardening.
Thoughts about Daniel have been heightened by once again reading a collection of around seventy of his poems that we have just published. For any parent, not feeling moved would have been impossible. It is the last line of his poem, ‘Once a Jolly Soldier’, that I find particularly moving and that line is this blog’s title. The poem itself ostensibly tells how because he had grown tall, hugging him was difficult. Now, of course, it eerily refers to his dying when he has become really out of reach. Reciting the line is always sad.
Now to the more precise stimulus. During the very week of the dreams I had become aware that the once sturdy fig tree we had planted in Daniel’s memory was now ill, not to say moribund (see illustration). Our Treguennec gardener had told us of the changes some months ago; now, while digging and weeding nearby its plight became obvious and very moving. The tree wasn’t him, but it might as well have been.
In all this, both Rohan and later our son Joshua commented how lucky I had been to see Dan and speak to him. It was far from how I felt, but their idea did somehow help lighten the experience. Both also asked if I ever talk with Dan otherwise – they do. I never have, but perhaps by doing so I might talk through some of the issues that I had failed to deal with earlier; warding off further nightmares would certainly be worthwhile.
The illustration is a photo of the fig tree we planted in our Tréguennec garden in Daniel’s memory six years ago. Normally, at this time of year, it would be covered with shiny green leaves hiding umpteen little, yet-to-ripen green figs.
For helping me write this blog, I would like to thank Joshua, Al, Rohan and Vivien.
10 thoughts on “Can’t Hug Me Now, I’m Out Of Reach”
Your story bought tears to my eyes. I have read Daniels beautiful poems and was moved by them.
I am also reading your latest book Joe between watching the Japanese NZ soccer game ( Olympics) and have two stories to go. Then I see your blog.
Synchronicity?? I often think of you both.
After my Nana ( and (Rohan’s Nana ) died I often had conversations with her. All in my head nothing supernatural however I found I knew what she would say and often found that helpful.
I have a simple necklace with 8 pearls that was her. Wearing her necklace always bring back her memory which I like.
Sorry your fig is dying. I am told they can grow easily from cuttings. Maybe try a cutting. I am trying with half a dozen roughly 40 cm long pieces of fig poked in the veggie bed. I looked at them this afternoon and thought the dormant buds were finally responding after 3 months, to the slightly warmer weather.
Dear Heather, Thank you very much for your kind and interesting comments. We have been watering the fig tree heavily every day and that might well have done the trick – the few leaves that remain lock healthy and even some buds have appeared. Following the blog a friend brought round some horse manure to fortify the tree and that will be dug in soon. Here’s hoping. Love, Joe
Sadness and sorrow, Dan was deeply loved and is overwhelming missed… his poems are beautiful and demonstrate the depth of his love and uniqueness!
The fig tree has missed you, and hopefully with your tlc ‘he’ will renew, repair and flourish.
Dear Carolyn, Thank you very much for you warm comments both about the blog and about Daniel. Love, Joe
Such a moving blog Joe
I dream quite a lot sometime of people who are long gone but most of my dreams are full off activities and mostly happy. As a child I used to laugh out laud while asleep
You have a real gift with words and Daniel also had this gift and his poems make him very real and alive.
I really miss the virtual exchanges we had by emails
I am sorry for the fig tree but they are known to survive most of the time. Do as many cuttings as you can.
Dear Sauliac, Thank you very much for your generous comments both about the blog and about Daniel. As for the fig tree, with lots of love and care I think – hope – it is pulling through. Love, Joe
A really moving blog Joe. The best. Heartfelt – I feel for you both. We are all missing you and Rohan in the Avenue. You for your down to earth common sense and Rohan for her wonderful sense of humour.
Hurry back – the Avenue is not the same without you.
Dear Kaye, Thank you for your kind comments. I am glad you liked it so much. We too miss The Avenue and will be back for our weekly teas possibly next month. Love, Joe
Dear Joe and Rohan,
Thanks so much for sharing your dreams about Daniel – and yes, it certainly brought tears to my eyes. How sad about the tree but you must plant another.
I am so very glad I was able to speak to him about his memories of Patience – he was so keen to talk.
I had been thinking about you both as you travelled to France and we send you greetings and love.
We’re looking forward very much to seeing Sarah this weekend.
Much love, Vanessa and Sam too xxx
Dear Vanessa, Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments and for reminding me how he spoke with you about your book. He had a remarkable memory. Love, Joe