When Your Dreams Die

Discovering Ambiguous Grief

November 6, 2023

Edited November 11, 2023

Life is but a dream

A close friend of mine recently texted me a link to a YouTube video called “When Your Dreams Die” that I’d like to share with all of you. In the video, the psychologist proposes that there are two types of grief. We are all familiar with the first form of grief, like when someone close passes, a relationship breaks up, a parent loses a child, etc. All quite painful in their own right. However, the 2nd form of grief is known as “ambiguous grief.” Ambiguous grief is what we feel when our dreams die. We all have dreams, many of us since childhood, but let’s face it, very few people actually realize their dreams. The dream job, the dream car, the dream partner, the dream career, the dream of retiring and being set for life. All of these and more are dreams that, when not realized, generate “ambiguous grief."

If I use myself as an example, whatever dreams I had were sabotaged by illness, which has completely changed the course of my life. When I look back to the 22-year-old Patrick, he was brimming with potential just before his diagnosis. I had a college degree in Graphic Design, I had found a job in my field, I was living with my then-girlfriend, and things were looking up. We had nothing really, no assets, just ourselves and whatever talent or skills we had. I never had a big dream, but I saw myself as being successful, getting married, having a family, and owning a home. So, I guess it was more of a “comfortable life” dream than anything really big and exciting. I did manage to accomplish those things despite being diagnosed with a degenerative disease called Psoriatic Arthritis at age 22. However, life had different plans. By 27, I had all those things I mentioned, but I also went in for my 1st hip replacement. Things were starting to turn.

...back in 2004, Sherrie and I eloped and were married on the grounds of Graceland in Memphis! Again, I never dreamt of eloping to Memphis, but it became a dream.

When my son was just two years old, his mother and I divorced. Soon after, I met the love of my life and would go on to marry her. I had a 2nd hip replacement in 2001, just before I met my would-be new wife. I started to have new dreams. My wife was an extremely talented singer-songwriter, and my dream was to sing and join a band. Well, as luck would have it, a family member who was a musician invited me to join their garage band as their singer. That was my school of rock! We did 3 shows in a local club for our friends and family. The band broke up because the drummer moved to Europe. Sherrie, my new girlfriend, found me a new singing gig on Craig’s list. It was an instant match. We went on to perform covers in local clubs and eventually evolved into an Elvis tribute show. WAIT! Don’t jump to conclusions. I did not try to imitate Elvis other than his voice. (My voice is actually quite close to his) It’s no secret; those of you who know me know that I’m a huge Elvis fan. This was not a cheesy Elvis imitation; it was a cool new take on Elvis that had been inspired by the Viva Elvis show I had seen in Vegas for my 40th birthday. Many of his songs had been redone with contemporary instruments and heavier rock arrangements. They were quite good, actually. So, although it had never really been a dream of mine, putting on an Elvis show certainly felt like one. And, back in 2004, Sherrie and I eloped and were married on the grounds of Graceland in Memphis! Again, I never dreamt of eloping to Memphis, but it became a dream. It was a one-of-a-kind wedding; we were wed where no one else had ever been wed before, directly on the grounds of Graceland just steps from the front door in a cute little garden called the keyhole garden. There is a lot more to this story, but I’ll save that for another chapter! Life was as amazing as it could get. And then, in May of 2005, Sherrie and I purchased our first home. Our new life had begun. From 2005 to 2012, things were going swimmingly. My son, from my previous marriage, was growing up, and we were enjoying every moment of it. We had a beautiful home in St-Lazare on a crescent street, two cars, two cats, a swimming pool, and a hot tub. Life was good.

Unfortunately, in 2012, while still doing the Elvis show, my health started to take a turn. I was not feeling well at all. Something didn’t feel right; I was tired all the time and could barely get through the days. And then, in 2014, I had a nervous breakdown shortly after my father died. My health was poor, and I was in a lot of physical pain. I remember the day, it was March 3rd. And one year later, to the day, I had another breakdown. I had had a few in between as well. I had to put the band on hiatus. My health was continuing to deteriorate, and the dream band and the dream marriage were slowly fading away. Ambiguous grief was waiting for me just around the corner.

Where dreams go to die

In 2016, I had hip revision surgery, and two months after that, I had a severe gastrointestinal attack that landed me in Emergency. I have not been well since, and I continue to battle a severe form of IBS every day. I have not worked in 7 years. I missed out on seeing my son in his teenage years. I missed his baseball games and his hockey games because I was just too sick to attend. Sadly, due to matters out of our control, my very poor health, and crushing debt, Sherrie and I separated in 2021. We sold the house; the house that had been our home for 17 years and was filled with incredible memories was now gone. Everything we had worked so hard for just disappeared. And shortly before we officially separated, we had to put two cats down due to illness. Life was at its worst, or so I thought. Side note: I just got up from my desk to get something to drink and, upon returning, saw three photos of Sherrie and me from our first summer together, which churns up this ambiguous grief I’ve been talking about. In the span of six months, I lost my home, my wife, my friends and neighbours, many of my possessions, and two cats, and I had no job. I had NOTHING. Why and how did this happen? It’s simple; I’ll quote Bono, “The rich stay healthy, and the sick stay poor.”

...in the blink of an eye, everything you have can be taken away, just like that.

I have been living alone now for over two years, and it has been the saddest, most painful time of my life. Every morning, I wake up to the same nightmare. My life is a disaster, and there is nothing I can do about it. I just want my wife and my life back. I live in constant ambiguous grief, and I can tell you, it’s just as painful as regular grief if not more. The depth of the pain is indescribable. The point I’m trying to make here is that in the blink of an eye, everything you have can be taken away, just like that. I realize that there are people in this world who have truly lost everything, like refugees whose homes were destroyed in a war, for example. Now, that is some serious grief. 

Those of you who have been fortunate enough to be blessed with good health have everything you need to live a fulfilled life. Some of you may even have big dreams. But most of you will not live exciting lives filled with dreams that come true. The truth is, if you can have an average life with a few shiny moments here and there, you’re in luck. Sheryl Crow sings, “Every day is a winding road,” and she could not be more right. Life is a winding road, and sometimes, you skid out of control in one of those winding curves and never recover.

Written by - Patrick Franc  - A.K.A. The Bionic Man

Note: When I started this chapter, I had a different song in mind. However, now that it’s finished, I see that the perfect fit for this chapter would be “If I Can Dream” by Elvis Presley. This is the song he performed to close the 68’ Comeback Special. It was written especially for Elvis and was sparked by the recent assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Elvis never performed this song again. I’m not sure why, but I’d venture to say that after seeing his out-of-this-world performance, he probably felt that the song needed to stay where it was, untouched and sealed forever in all its glory. He could never have topped that performance. Elvis put all of Elvis into it; you can see it in his face and hear it in his voice. I hope you enjoy it.

PS: I urge you to watch the video I mentioned at the very beginning of this chapter. It’s 15 minutes long and well worth it. And, for those of you who do have big dreams and want to pursue them, I encourage you to watch a Netflix film called "NYAD." It's the true story of a female long-distance swimmer who makes a last attempt at achieving a swim from Cuba to Keywest at the age of 60 after failing when she was 28. It's quite inspirational.

If I Can Dream – Elvis Presley

There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land
Where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can't my dream come true
Oh why

There must be peace and understanding sometime
Strong winds of promise that will blow away the doubt and fear
If I can dream of a warmer sun
Where hope keeps shining on everyone
Tell me why, oh why, oh why won't that sun appear

We're lost in a cloud
With too much rain
We're trapped in a world
That's troubled with pain
But as long as a man
Has the strength to dream
He can redeem his soul and fly

Deep in my heart there's a trembling question
Still I am sure that the answer, answer's gonna come somehow
Out there in the dark, there's a beckoning candle, yeah
And while I can think, while I can talk
While I can stand, while I can walk
While I can dream
Oh, please let my dream
Come true
Right now
Let it come true right now
Oh yeah


  • Josee nadeau

    Hey Pat, I’m happy to see you’re keeping the blog up. Know that you inspire others who have been through similar grief. Your contribution is important! Keep writing and especially keep leaning on music as a passion. It will always be there for you.

  • Ray

    So well written! I can feel your pain and hope you’ll find a way to resolve some of your health issues.

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