Sunday, November 15, 2009

On Interwoven Dreams

It is not uncommon for me to dream.

It is also not uncommon for me not to dream.

What is uncommon, however, is for me to dream about my wife. I am closing in on the three year mark and I believe I am up to six dreams of her in total. I’d say it’s an average of one every six months, which is true, but misleading as two dreams occurred on consecutive nights. In the first couple dreams she was back, but I knew that she was going to die and was powerless to stop it. In the other three dreams she was also “back”, but the moments of which I dreamed were normal moments we could have easily had when she was actually here (with the exception of certain details of the third dream of the five, which I wrote about here.) As you have by now guessed, I had the sixth dream quite recently, but you’ll have to read a bit further before we get to that.

Friday night I fell asleep at some late hour in the overstuffed leather recliner with both the tv and the lamp still burning up electricity. I do not usually sleep comfortably in the recliner, but there are still periods (though increasingly shorter in duration and further between), when I opt to remain there at night rather than face my empty bed. When coupled with the incessant noise created by the tv, it’s a wonder my mind was able to formulate dreams that night, let alone clearly enough that I would remember them.

My dreams throughout the night bordered on psychotic – the kind you have when you eat too much greasy food just before dozing off. But two were so lucid and so very different from all the others, that I could not help but recall them the next morning.

During the first of these dreams, I was dating someone. For those of you who are new to this blog, I have not dated anyone since my wife’s death, nor have I thought about it a great deal. I am not one who dwells on such things or seeks them out. I am as content as I can be alone, but am becoming increasingly accepting of the idea that I could possibly be happy with someone else someday, if and/or when that time comes.

And that was the beauty in this dream. I think for many of us widow/ers there is a tendency to want to replace what we had with our husband/wife/fiancé if and/or when we do meet someone else. During those times that I have pondered the general idea of dating, it has crossed my mind that it would be easy for me to do the same. But in my dream, at least, this was not the case. Sure, she had some of the same qualities as my wife, namely a similar hair color and a beautiful smile. But she mostly possessed qualities that made her unique unto herself. She was not a “replacement” for my wife, but was instead someone I could care about (and love?) for who she was alone.

This dream showed me that someday I could possibly love someone else. I don’t think I’ve entertained that idea up to this point, and might not have now, had I not had it forced upon me in my slumber. In fact, I think I’ve spent more energy the last few years resigning myself to the idea that I might just be single for a good many years.

I don’t remember many specific details of this dream, but I do remember being blissfully happy. And it felt really good.

Cue dream two. The initial details are a little fuzzy, but at the beginning of what I remember, I have just come off my first date with the dream girl when I somehow find out that my wife is still alive. She is in something of a comatose state and resides in an abandoned house in the town where I grew up. She is being kept alive by her own sheer willpower and the grace of God – no machines whatsoever. And no one has been privy to the fact that she’s been alive all this time until now.

So at the outset of the dream I am forging my way into this abandoned house, which has no useable entrances and has become quite treacherous to enter over the years. After climbing over, under, around, and through all manner of debris, I come to a room where she is lying on a bed, quite still, but also seemingly quite comfortable. At this point the dream takes on a fairy-tale-like state and I swoop in and save her, so to speak.

But some of the fairy-tale ending is missing. While I am incredibly happy to see her and know she is alive, I am as concerned about showing her what has happened during the last two and three-quarter years as I am about having her back again. I even remember specifically taking her to each of the rooms I’ve painted in our house, hoping she’ll be pleased with the colors I’ve chosen.

And in the back of my mind lurks the date from which I have just come. During the dream I remember being relieved that things had not gone further with the dream girl, but also wondering what might have happened had my wife not miraculously been found alive. It is enough to create chaos deep within a man.

While the details of these dreams did not match up completely, I can’t help but think they are related. And though I generally do not put much stock in dreams having meaning, it seems that in this instance they almost certainly must.

Like the fact that I must be inching closer to the prospect of dating, whether it happens tomorrow or in ten years. And the fact that I could someday embrace a relationship with someone who is very different from my wife. And the fact that I can choose to do this, knowing that I am as content as I can possibly be with my current circumstances.

I think what surprised me the most about these dreams is that there was a level of guilt evident in the mix. I don’t know if I have written about this here or not, but a few days before my wife died, we had a conversation during which she asked me to make her some promises. Her health had declined very quickly and though I don’t think either of us believed she was going to die at that point, it was necessary for us to say some things to each other. The one thing she asked me that I could not promise was that I would marry again. And here’s why. I told her that even (though hard as it was to imagine at the time) if I ever managed to fall for someone else, I could not guarantee that someone else would ever fall in love with me. I don’t believe in making promises I can’t keep. So instead I told her that I would keep myself open to the possibility.

I guess that’s what I’m trying to do now. I was just naïve enough to think it wouldn’t be hard.

And, for now, it was only a dream.


  1. What a great post. I bet you did find yourself in quite a dilemma there. Is it wishful thinking, guilt about wishful thinking, the subconscious coming forward to say "it" is ready, the subconscious remembering your promise ....???? Or just a dream? I reckon it is more than just a dream and suspect that what you have said is exactly what it signified.

    After my Mom died, my Dad remarried (2 years later) and shortly after that, I had a very similar dream about my Mom suddenly reappearing, well and ok, and it was just as you described ... no one till that point knew she was alive! I was ecstatic to see her and ran to hug her ... but as I reached her she disappeared ... and I woke my late husband up screaming for her.

    Was my subconscious battling ... i.e. did I feel a little guilty for accepting a stepmother? I don't know.

    I think your wife was very loving and selfless to tell you to remarry <3


  2. i agree with Boo. excellent post. i think dreams are important. i do know that medically if we do not arrive at dream state within our sleep cycles it causes harm. maybe dreams are a way for us to find see how things play out. nightmares could be like Grimm's fairy tales, the original ones that were pretty gruesome and taught valuable lessons.

    it's interesting that in your dream of your wife alive, she takes on a Sleeping Beauty aspect. innocent, fragile, good. that is what she is to you in reality. she gave of herself to you in giving her blessing for you to move on and find happiness. she knows you will choose wisely, a woman who will care very much for your daughter and love her beyond end.

    the guilt as you expressed it might be your resistance to believing anything as good as your marriage was could ever happen again. but you are young and the loneliness can get debilitating. just to have someone to talk to. just to have someone look up at you and smile like you are the center of their world. it's intoxicating. your youth lends itself to, and from your other postings it seems that others want this, for you to start dating.

    i think it is your life and when the time comes you will be ready. your dreams are working for you, for you to see what might be, what was, and how it could transition. you are a good person struggling to continue your life and not be stagnant. you have a growing daughter and in her you see the movement of life. you want it for yourself however it comes.

    i think we know best what is right for ourselves. trust your instincts. you don't have to do anything until you are ready. it will always be your decision and for right now, yes, it's only a dream.

    take care and if we do not speak before, i hope you and your daughter have a calm and peaceful Thanksgiving.

  3. Boo - I actually had a similar dream several months after my dad died when I was nine (though I don't know now if it was after my mom began dating again, or before). In the dream he would return to our house regularly to get a haircut, but made my siblings and I promise not to tell my mom. Who knows what it meant. Dreams are a strange vehicle for our subconscience sometimes.

    I think my dreams the other night were a mixture of all of the elements you mentioned above.

    WNS - The good news is that I am not lonely. Yes, I miss her. Yes, I will always miss her. But I have worked hard to be as content in these circumstances as I possibly can. I think that is the only way I will be ready to date if/when the time comes.

    I am still constantly amazed at the number of people who think you cannot find contentment after being widowed. I had a woman tell me just the other day that "she's just praying that I'll find someone". I know she means well, but our society has a couples mentality and seems to be uncomfortable with all singles, regardless of their circumstance.

    Obviously it would be great to have that again, if only for some of the reasons you mentioned. But I need to be okay with the fact that it might not happen. And (more importantly?) so does every couple-minded person I know!

    Thanks to both of you for your insight. Hearing from others who "get it" does wonders for my sanity.

  4. I find it really amazing when I read these blogs by widows that we all have very similar dreams... I have also had the dream of having the forknowledge that my husband is going to die and trying to save him from it... I've also had the dream of him coming back and trying to fill him in on the last eight years of my life... Lately those dreams of him coming back to life are filled with a sense that he does not belong here now... that even if he did come back, he doesnt fit in my life anymore. Which makes me feel very sad.

  5. Mars Girl - That's sort of the feeling I had in the second dream the other night. I was definitely glad to have her back, but I wasn't sure how she fit in after almost three years' absence.

    My Mom shared with me tonight that she still has dreams like this on occasion (and she was widowed almost 23 years ago and has been remarried for 20) and they usually end up with her feeling like he doesn't fit into her new life either.

    It's a hard place for any of us to get to in this journey, but it's probably a very healthy step.

  6. It must signify some sort of mental acceptance of things...

  7. What a wonderful post. I think our dreams often communicate feelings that we are needing to sort out. They don't always make complete sense, or follow logic, as we may not be ready to put them completely into words.

    Michael asked me to do the same as your wife did of you. He would often make reference to my next partner, as if it was a given. I always asked him not to do this, but understood why he did. He wanted me to know that he did not expect me to grieve the rest of my life.

    I think it is expected that we would feel guilt about the thought of loving someone new. As the survivors we live with the pain of loss, yet we also have the need for intimacy. I am far to new to this, at the same time I have lived for the past two years knowing that Michael was going to die, and that I would be left alone.

    I think your dreams are perhaps just telling you to remain open to the possibilities. Sounds like you are keeping to your promise.

  8. Mars Girl - I think you're right. It just surprised me that it's been happening without my conscious knowledge...

    Dan - That's all I can do (keep to my promise). I don't want to rush into anything, but I also don't want to be closed to the possibilities if the "right" person comes along. If there's one thing grief gives you, it's plenty of time to think about every facet of this "new" life, even the ones we might not be ready to tackle just yet.

    You are the only one who will know when it's time to pursue another relationship. One luxury I have been afforded is that people often talk about when I'm going to date, but only amongst themselves. I usually hear about the conversations from mutual friends or co-workers. Just don't be caught off-guard if it happens to you soon - I found out someone wanted to set me up just three months after my wife died. People don't seem to understand that we need to experience our grief and that the period of intense grieving differs for each of us.

    It's hard to write these things, knowing the kinds of hard days you are facing right now. When things are at their worst, please try to hold on to the hope that they will one day become more bearable.

    Hang in there.

  9. Ugh. I dont like when people make references to dating. At least not so soon. I had someone tell me AT MIKE'S WAKE, "Don't worry, you're young. You'll find love again." That's WAY TOO SOON to bring that up!!

    Fortunately for me, I'm further down the road... I'm eight years out... And I've had my share of dating... It's kind of a depressing experience. Though, I have to say, I think I probably started dating too soon. I briefly dated a guy just six months out from Mike's death; that was a disaster. You're totally wise to wait because I think I was not fully ready to be with anyone fully until about three or four years out from Mike's death... I know I really ruined one potentially successful relationship by not being ready...

  10. This was a great post and those were very powerful dreams.

    I am about 21 1/2 months into this. At first, my dreams about James were centered around him leaving me or wanting to leave me for someone else. Or, he had been transferred for work, usually to Australia or Russia (I don't know why those places), and I couldn't get a hold of him because of the time change.

    I haven't dreamt of James in a long time and lately my dreams have been of me dating other people. I have had two dreams lately in which another man has told me he loves me (same man in both dreams).

    I don't feel guilt in my dreams, but I don't think I am quite ready to pursue something yet either.

    Funny what our minds do to us, isn't it?

  11. Thanks for sharing.

    I've only had three dreams of Daz in these past two and a half years-but all were so poinient that they defied my normal dreamstate.

    The latest one had me realizing that HE was so different-and in my dream he had very different clothing/hairstyle/etc than his normal well groomed self-that there was no way I could stay with him , and it was time for ME to move on.

    I woke up feeling a bit guilty over making him the bad guy, but I recognized the dream for what it was-a reaffirmation that I could make choices in life that wouldn't have to include him anymore. It was both liberating and sad at the same time.

    Good to read that many of us in some sort of the same timeline have the same kind of dream in some way. The human spirit is an amazing thing, isnt it?

  12. Mars Girl - I think it's hard for any of us to know. I'm just lucky in that I apparently give signals with my facial expressions and/or body language that warn people that it's not open for discussion with me (as far as being set up or when I'll "be ready"). And I think people are more willing to boss around a widow than they are a widower. Just another of our many stereotypes in society, I guess...

    Heather - Yes, it is funny what our minds do. I think that these sorts of dreams are to help prepare us for if/when the time is right (in this case, to date). It can be hard to think about, but death caught me unprepared. I'm not about to let dating do the same!

    Susan - These last two posts have really struck a chord with people. It is amazing that so many of us in similar, yet very different circumstances, find ourselves thinking on similar things.

    I'm glad you also saw your dream for what it was, hard though it may have been to do so.

  13. Terren in VirginiaDecember 3, 2009 at 5:16 PM

    Thanks for the insightful post. I'm a young widower as well and have been fascinated by the infrequency of dreams that I have of my wife. Seems like I used to dream of her often when she was alive, but there's still part of my brain that can't handle it (been 1.5 years). As with many things of this experience, it's always helpful to hear from others.

  14. Terren - Thanks for stopping by. I don't post on here nearly as often as I want to, but I know that reading blogs of other widow/ers has helped me and I'm glad I could do the same for you.

    My dreams continue to be infrequent, but I cherish each one I get to remember.