Keeping a big secret

Seeing Stephanie in my dreams is about the best thing in my life these days. I'm turning in earlier most nights than I ever have before, just because I'm looking forward to seeing her.

For months, we've chatted in my dreams, and it wasn't until waking up that I remembered she's gone. Which was always awful —first thing in the morning, restart the grieving process from step one.

Lately, though, in my dreams, I'm aware that Stephanie's not alive. Which makes waking up easier, but makes the dreams more difficult, because in my dreams, when we're talking, I'm keeping an enormous secret from her.

Last night, for example, I dreamed that we were going through boxes of stuff after we'd moved, and I found a supply of some of her medicines. She was unpacking another box in the same room, and I said, "Hey, I found a bunch of your pills, Steph," and I read the name of the pills off the packaging.

"They took me off that prescription," she said. "I don't have to take those pills any more."

I wanted to say, "You don't have to take any of your pills any more, Love." Not having to take pills on a neverending med-sched (as she called it) would be delightful news for Stephanie; she didn’t like popping pills all the time.

Some of her pills were supposed to be taken in the morning, some at mid-day, some in the evening, some at bedtime, but it was actually more complicated than that, because on dialysis days the morning and mid-day pills had to be delayed — the essence of dialysis is cleansing the blood to remove any toxins, but the process also removes whatever meds are in your bloodstream.

Some of Stephanie's pills were supposed to be taken with meals, and others on an empty stomach; some of her pills were so big they were difficult to swallow, and some were so tiny they sometimes slipped through her fingers and fell to the carpet, never to be seen again; some of her pills had unpleasant side effects, caused diarrhea or nausea, and some came with warnings not to drink alcohol, and one prescription came with a warning not to eat grapefruit, so Steph had to give up grapefruit juice, one of her favorites.

Some of her pills were so tightly regulated by the FDA or the EPA, or both, that she wasn't allowed to call for refills until she was almost out of them. This gets complicated, sorry, but if the directions said, "Take two pills three times daily," well, obviously, she'd need six of those pills every day, right? 42 pills weekly, for just that one prescription, so when a bottle of 100 felt only half full, she would phone for a refill, but the answer was often no — that's a "controlled substance," so you can't refill that prescription when you still have dozens of pills on hand. But if she waited a few days her supply of those pills would run too low, and she'd have none for however long it took the doctor's office to re-authorize the prescription — which could be several days.

All the pills, all the hassles. Steph disliked being a perpetual patient, and managing all those prescriptions was, she said, like having a part-time job that didn't pay. She wanted to read another chapter of Jane Austen, but needed to spend half an hour doublechecking her supply of pills. She wanted to do something fun, but first she needed to re-order refills, and re-stock her pill-cases.

So in the dream, I wanted to tell her, "You don't have to take any of your pills any more." Stephanie would've been happy as heck to hear it. Even in dreams, though, she's still smart. She would have wanted to know why she didn't have to take any pills, and the answer to that question would be, "Because you're no longer alive." How could I say that? Even in a dream, how could I tell the woman I love that she's dead?

Instead I asked if she'd like to go for a walk, a proposition sure to put a smile on her lovely face. She always fancied a pleasant walk on a warm summer's evening, and we must've walked a few thousand miles over the years. She checked the weather to be sure we wouldn't need our jackets, slipped into her comfy shoes, and we were out the door. And I awoke, perplexed.

Stephanie and I rarely kept secrets, beyond birthday presents and little well-planned surprises. In my dreams, though, I'm keeping a huge secret from her. It feels wrong to keep such a secret, but it would be wronger still if I told her, so — yeah, color me perplexed.