A friend told me the other day that she reads my blog, and she agrees with all I say about grief, but that I never mention one thing: dreaming of our dead.
The truth is, I hate dreaming. I don’t like the feeling of weird and inexplicable things happening, I don’t like the feeling of being out of control, and mostly I don’t like being controlled by any nightmarishness. Researchers say that to aid in dream recall, one should take Vitamin B6 before bed. When I read that, I immediately stopped taking any B vitamins before bed, and that certainly aided in my ability not to recall dreams.
That being said, I have the impression I do dream of Jeff, though mostly as a reflection of my everyday thoughts. He is seldom far out of mind, so it makes sense that he would appear in my dreams as a nebulous character.
There were times, though, that I had specific dreams about him, and those were terribly upsetting. One dream, for example, seemed to be about the end of his life when he was so often disoriented. He was trying to cook something, and he continued pouring whatever it was into the pan after the pan was filled, getting the food all over the stove, him, the floor, even me. I tried to catch his attention so he’d stop, and when I couldn’t, I slapped him to bring him back to reality.
I woke feeling ashamed. I’d never raised a hand to him, never even raised my voice, and yet, in the dream, I did both, and I couldn’t bear it.
Dreams about the dead seem inordinately real. Sometimes they feel like a visitation. Once I dreamt that he came into my room, stood at the foot of the bed and touched my blanket-covered feet, then climbed onto the bed, on top of the covers, and cuddled up to me. He was in his underwear, and in the dream, I knew he’d come from where he’d been sleeping, though I had the impression he’d been with someone, as if he had another life. He said, “I miss you.”
When I woke, I felt as if he’d come to see me one last time, though I have no idea what is true when it comes to life, death, and especially dreams.
Even when we know it’s a dream, what happens in the dream affects our waking life. Once I dreamt we were going somewhere on foot, and I realized that it would be cold before we got back, so I went inside to get a coat. In my closet were two of his coats — a jacket and a trench coat, which I have in fact kept. As I was pulling the jacket off the hangar, I remembered that I had gotten rid of most of his things after he died, and I panicked, wondering how to tell him that his stuff was gone. I left the room, and met one of the moderators of the grief group I had attended. He asked how I was, so I explained the situation, then I added, “It’s a good thing this is a dream, otherwise he would be really angry.”
When I woke, I was still glad I didn’t have to tell him his things were gone even though I had done what he wanted me to do with his stuff. The reason I still have his coats is that he wanted me to keep them since coats are always a good thing to have.
The most powerful dream came at about six months. After a restless night, I finally fell asleep in the early morning hours, and I dreamt.
I dreamed that Jeff was dead, but I woke to find him alive and getting well. It was wonderful seeing him doing so much better. I could feel the tension of grief seep from my body, and a quiet joy seeped over me.
I started to wake. In the seconds before full consciousness hit, I continued to feel the joy of knowing he still lived. And then . . .
The truth hit me. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. Then, like an aftershock, came the raw pain, the heartbreak of losing him . . . again.
I’d been feeling a bit smug that I was getting a grip on my grief so early in the process, and the dream caught me unaware. In the depths of my being, I believed that he hadn’t died.
It took me weeks to regain the equilibrium that the dream cost me.
When it comes to grief, it seems as the dreams are a facet of our reality. What we feel in the dream continues into our waking state. There is no separation. Even if in a dream we act a way we would never act, we still have to deal with the effects of those acts once we wake. If the deceased in the dream acts in a way they would never act, we are left to deal with that, too.
Although I would love to visit with Jeff once more, if only in a dream, I’m just as glad it never happens. Except for an occasional brief episode of grief, I am in an okay place, both physically and mentally, and any sort of visitation would upset that equilibrium.
Maybe that’s why he never visits me in my dreams. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s why I never dream of him.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.