Thursday, April 30, 2009

On Comfort in Dreams

Among the many frustrations brought about by my grieving process has been my lack of dreams involving my wife.

I tend to have random periods of about ten days or so when I have vivid, often bizarre dreams on any number of topics. I have also had a few rather endearing dreams, the most recent of which involved some really great bonding time with my two brothers. These dream cycles are often more frequent than not, so it’s not the lack of dreams themselves that frustrates me.

It’s the fact that she is so clearly absent from them.

In my conscious memory, I can recall two dreams involving her and both were very similar in nature. She is here. Not back-from-the-dead here, but instead not-yet-dead here. We are generally traveling in some sort of vehicle and I have the distinct impression that we are running errands around our town. It is a seemingly normal day and not at all like our actual last day together.

But it is our last day together.

You see, in both of these dreams, I have somehow been given the knowledge that she is going to die, but am completely powerless to stop her from doing so. And I am suddenly aware that our seemingly normal errands are actually my vain attempt at finding a way to save her even though I know it is impossible.

There was a tv show when I was younger that I used to love to watch. At the beginning of each episode, the main character would receive what appeared to be a normal daily newspaper. Its contents, however, foretold a tragedy that would occur the following day. So he spent each day of his life attempting to avert the next day’s tragedy. What I loved about that show was precisely what has plagued me about my dreams. He was able to stop his tragedies, while I was left to sit idly by and watch mine unfold.

Helplessness is an awful feeling, even in slumber.

I could spend paragraphs (and hours) speculating as to why my dreams have turned out this way. My best theory is that it is my subconscious mind living out the helplessness and guilty feelings that I refuse to give a voice to during my waking hours.

Aside from the feelings of helplessness these dreams have awakened in me, I can’t help but be upset by the sheer lack of dreams about her. For two people who had as good a marriage as we did, it would stand to reason that the surviving spouse (and how often are we doing well just to survive?) would dream about the other more than a couple of times in as many years.

But that may have finally changed.

Sunday morning I awoke feeling more contented than I have in a very long time. After another night of vivid dreams, I typically feel restless and irritable. But Saturday night’s dream was different.

It started with me flying into a European country. I believe it was initially Germany, but I think it somehow morphed into France along the way. For some reason I had to land there, then rent a car and drive across another country before arriving at my final destination in a third country. The second country was the Czech Republic, with my final arrival being in Italy. Geography has always been a strong suit for me, so I’m pretty certain that those three countries are not connected in a way that would allow me to drive from start to finish without crossing more than one other border. Ah, the idiosyncrasies of dreams.

I have never been to Europe. I have never flown across an entire ocean. I have never stepped foot off of the North American continent. I have only left this country twice. Once to visit a town we share with our northern neighbor; the other time to pay a similar call to our neighbor to the South. I at least understand the Italian connection. Last week I finished reading the second of two completely unrelated books that contained significant plot-lines which occurred in Italy. My current car book takes place, again by sheer coincidence, almost entirely in Italy. (My current house book is set on a boat in the Pacific Northwest). But I digress.

In the dream I had to head to an airport in whatever Italian city I was visiting to pick up my wife. (How she got a direct flight into Italy, I’ll never know). So I have vivid memories of the anticipation of seeing her mixed with the excitement of exploring new countries by land, albeit alone. In this dream she is also not-yet-dead, but we have apparently not seen each other for some period of time due to circumstances that were left unclear throughout the dream.

Apart from the outlandish circumstances of this dream, the rest of the dream was very normal. I don’t exactly recall the moment we met at the airport, but I remember another extended journey by car to wherever we were staying, only this time it was together. We boarded in a very expensive hotel and spent the entire weekend doing all of the normal things a normal couple would do on a normal weekend away in a foreign city.

Keyword: normal.

The most vivid memory I have in the dream came upon checking out of the hotel, which was also where the dream ended. We were rushing around the room frantically as it was past time to check out and I was concerned about being charged a fee. I distinctly remember picking up what must have been our dirty clothes from the weekend and stuffing them into a suitcase. Then I looked around the room and made a statement about how I couldn’t understand how we had accumulated so much over the course of a weekend and wondered aloud how in the world we were going to get it all back home. Then I reminded her that, at this rate, there was no way we were going to be able to avoid the late check-out fee. The entire time she was patiently reminding me that it would all be okay.

It was such a completely typical moment in our marriage. Though we didn’t travel to exotic destinations, we did do our fair share of traveling and the pattern was always the same. I would get completely stressed out about how I was going to get everything home (it mattered not whether we were traveling by car or by plane) and that we were going to be late leaving. She would do her best to remind me that things were going to turn out fine and that it wasn’t worth letting my blood pressure reach its boiling point.

Although it has taken over two years for a dream like this to manifest itself to my subconscious mind, I think it was just what I needed. I have become accustomed to my new normal, as I like to call it, and am generally fairly content in the lives my daughter and I now lead. But it was so nice to be reminded of the comfort and joy and sheer normalcy of the time I had with my wife. I tend to miss different aspects of our relationship at different times. But I always miss the comfort we had with one another.

I guess that’s why I waited a few days before I posted about this dream. I was hoping against hope that I might be able to post about more than one such dream, but alas, they have eluded me the past several nights.

But tonight is a new night.

And if not tonight, then perhaps tomorrow night


  1. I had a similar experience earlier in April (ironically, the "anniversary" of the night Mike died). And I had that same sense of comfort and rest when I woke in the morning. I hadnt felt that good in weeks.... It was as though I really did see him. And it was the same thing--just a normal moment. We werent doing anything remarkable in the dream, just hanging out in my house--which was becoming our house--and that felt so good. Because it was normal. Though, it was definitely one of those ones where we both knew he'd died and we both understood that he'd come back for some reason.

    I used to have those not-yet-dead dreams A LOT. And the same thing as you, with the forknowledge that he was going to die. I remember a few of them specifically where I was driving him to a cardiologist to get checked out (cuz he died of a genetic heart condition called cardiomyopathy). I was trying to stop the inevitable. It never seemed to work though. And I know it's because of my feeling of helplessness in his death...

  2. I actually had a dream regarding Roger a few nights ago. But not a pleasant one. I blogged about it too. I have had both dreams where is alive and we are "normal" and dreams where he is dead. Ugh...

    BTW, I also watched that show and loved it.

  3. Mars Girl - Some days I'd give anything for another one of the not-yet-dead dreams. I still haven't watched many of our home movies, but even when I do, I know that they can't capture the essence of who she was like a dream can. A video will only remind me of her voice and mannerisms, but in a dream, I can actually feel what it was like for us to be together, even if the dream reflects a hopeless situation.

    Of course, another dream like last Saturday's is welcome any time.

    Star- I actually read the blog about your dream after I posted, but forgot to leave a comment (sorry, I got side-tracked reading a few of your other recent entries I had missed). Because I've have dreamed about her so seldom, I am trying to regard any dream, even the helpless ones, as a gift.

    I hope that your dreams of Roger are only good ones from here on out.

  4. I always find it amazing reading your posts and other's like it. Dreams have been something I have craved during this time. I have always been a...weird sleeper. Sleep walk, sleep dreams are sometimes so vivid that I mistake them for reality in conversations. Then I get the "that never happened" look from friends.

    The first night after my husband dies, I remember just praying that he would visit me in a dream. I remember having the sense that he was saying, "hold on. I'm really busy right now."

    I have had several of the "he's still here and i know what is going to happen", or "I know that it is a dream" dreams.

  5. Powerful post. My heart breaks for you and all the people who have lost their loves :(

  6. Chillin' with Lemonade - I understand what it is like to crave the dreams and not get them. I am holding on to the ones I've had and holding out hope that there are still more to come.

    Madeline - Thank you for your kind words. It is unfortunate that there are so many of us young widow/ers out here, but at least we are finding comfort in knowing we are not alone in this.