In May I began having reoccurring nightmares that my son was mangled in horrific accidents, then he got up and walked away, as if nothing happened. Once he drove a truck off a cliff and emerged without a scratch. Another time I watched in horror as he fell off a several story balcony onto concrete. He lay motionless and contorted for a while, then stood up and walked off.
Okay, so we all know goofy, out of sequence things happen in dreams that seem normal until we wake up and say, "What the...?". One second you're cleaning the kitchen sink and the next you're partying in Paris. Not this time. Even in the dream state I knew I'd witnessed a miracle - when he rose I actually put my hand on my heart and breathlessly whispered, "wow".
Since my reoccurring dreams occasionally foreshadow future events, I was seized by a vague terror I could neither name or shake. Continual cross-currents of denial and knowing rendered me a river of uncontrollable sobs, running in both directions yet getting nowhere. Would something unfortunate befall my son? Nah. They're just nightmares. Forget it. But I knew. In my heart I knew something was imminent. And that was the problem.
During my darkest hour I heard Dr. Gregg Korbon's interview with George Noory on Coast to Coast AM. Gregg spoke of his healthy son, Brian, who knew he would not "make it to double digits". Brian told his parents he did not want a birthday party because it would bring him closer to his death. And he did die, after scoring the first run of his little league career, just before his tenth birthday. Upon returning home later that day Brain's parents found a note on his bedroom door that read, "Brian's on a trip. Do not worry about me."
The perpetual pummel of my emotional cross-currents hit full crest when I sobbed uncontrollably during most of the interview. And yet, here was this guy who suffered every parent's worst nightmare and he seemed okay. Genuinely okay. Brian's death left Gregg with profound emptiness, to be sure, but trying to avoid or fill that emptiness just drained his ability to cope. Only in entering that emptiness could Gregg find strength, and eventually, peace. This moved me profoundly, for I too feared the well of emptiness, yet fear stalked me anyhow. What did I have to lose? So I collapsed into emptiness then rose decisive - come what may; we'd get through it.
A week later a tumor was found on my son's hip.
The x-ray suggested the tumor was benign but an MRI was scheduled to be sure. I knew in my heart it was benign but what explained his odd limp? This wasn't over. I knew it wasn't over. The dreams foretold serious spinal impact and complete recovery. The cross-currents wanted to whip me into a frenzy again. Oh forget that. They're just nightmares. Who do you think you are, Sylvia Browne? No, enter the emptiness and hold on. Yes - THAT. So I held on, sensing something larger at play.
The MRI revealed my son's spinal cord was significantly tethered.
Without surgery the cord would stretch as he grew, to terrible result. Episodes of worry overcame me but for the most part, no panic. Instead I held the emptiness and a vision of my son rising, like in those dreams. Had Dr. Korbon not inspired me to enter my fears I'm not sure how I would have coped. I had to read this guy's book!
Gregg wrote Beyond Reason to honor Brian's bravery and the mystical strands that his life and death continue to weave in the hearts of those he left behind. Yes, it is amazing that Brian knew when he would die. It is uncanny that two days before his death Brian told his mother it was time for his trip and that he must not be wimp. And it is beyond reason that Brian lived his last day joyously despite knowing his time had come. This child was a clinic in how to face the inevitable fate that awaits us all.
But I find Gregg's journey through the grief process equally compelling. He could have stalled in sorrow for the rest of his life and that would have been totally understandable. Yet, from day one Gregg had flashes of deeper meaning that he gave a seat at the table, right alongside his grief.
After being driven by a friend back to the little league field to get his car a few hours after Brian's death Gregg was stopped in his tracks.
"I reached up to wipe a tear from my eye, and the sour smell of Brian's vomit on my hands blended with the sweet smell of honeysuckle. At that moment, my vision became clear and the colors, sounds, and smells became stronger and brighter than I had ever experienced - and I knew I was at the center of life. The worst thing that I could imagine had just happened, and yet, I felt peace. Everything was as it should be. Brian had died a happy boy. He conquered his fears, which is more than most of us do. In my heart, I knew that if I could bring him back, it would be for me - not for him. Brian finished his work here."
When I read that paragraph on page fifteen I knew this man would be fine, that his life would be full, because he has the ability to pierce through the dense fog of sorrow and perceive that which it obscures.
Before Brian's death it seemed to me Gregg had a well choreographed life. He was an Anesthesiologist, had the wife, two children. The American Dream really. Yet he describes the pre-grief-stricken Gregg as "The Tin Man" - an accomplished and cleaver guy who avoided vulnerability. After living his own loss, though, Gregg found that giving grief support, even to strangers, came naturally to him. Holding that space with others opened his heart to vulnerability. The book goes on like this; page after page witnesses a man becoming. To me, it reads more like a sacred text than an autobiography.
As for my own son, he had tethered cord surgery on October 13th. When he rose from that bed and walked two days later my heart whispered a breathless "wow", just like in the dreams. Those dreams, I now see, were a gift from my subconscious, who somehow saw into the future to assure me everything would be alright, just as Brain's mystical experiences were a gift from his.
I recommend Beyond Reason to anyone who has ever grieved anything, not just the loss of a child. Though my son is with me, I have lost some of him over the years. He was a healthy baby who developed a particularly regressive form of Autism and intractable Petite Mal Epilepsy. So high functioning was he at three that his therapists said he was a genius. By six he was severely Autistic, functionally non-verbal, and struggled with basic academics. The worst part is his continuous suffering. Beyond Reason has inspired me to find ways to let even this make me a better person. Thank you, Dr. Korbon, for sharing your story.
A Son's Premonition and a Final Baseball Game - NPR
Dr. Korbon's Website
Dr. Gregg Korbon's interview on Coast to Coast AM