Dreaming is something that happens to most of us while we’re sleeping. Some people never remember their dreams, some people have lucid dreams that they can control once they realize they are dreaming, and sometimes our brains need to process something while they are dreaming. For those who have lost loved ones, dreams sometimes include their lost loved ones. I am one of those that during the last 18 years who has frequent unexpected visitors in my dreams.
While we are dreaming, it is common for the brain to try to process emotions or events from the day or past days. When we have lost loved ones, our brain spends time processing our daily thoughts about the death or our loved ones at night. My mom died unexpectedly almost eight years ago and my world fell apart. There were things that she and I had been currently fighting about and keeping from each other. A couple weeks after her death, she was in my dreams and in my dream we were able to talk about some things that I had been keeping from her. I woke up, texted my boyfriend now husband since some of it pertained to him, and both of us had this odd sense of peace. I know it sounds crazy, but our brains are crazy and are much smarter than we are. There have been studies that have been conducted that people have reported feeling more peaceful with their grief during their waking hours when they dreamed about their loved ones at night.
Now do all dreams give us a sense of peace? No. Those who experience what the DSM 5 is calling Complicated Grief can have dreams that leave them in more distress during the day. Although never formally diagnosed with CG, in the months that followed my mom’s death, I had experiences in which I woke up screaming and utterly distraught. It would take a lot of time and coercing to try to go back to sleep to try to recover from these dreams. These dreams still haunt me years later and the images can still take over my brain on the days that are tough. I urge you to seek help if you are experiencing dreams that are causing intrusive thoughts and interfering with your daily life.
Last night I unexpectedly had two visitors. Upon reflection throughout the day today, I do think that this is the first time that both of my parents have been in a dream together and most of the time it’s just my mom, my dad has only popped in a couple times ever. Since my dad died when I was nine and was in the hospital the last 10 months of his life unable to talk, it’s harder to remember his voice, the way he would speak to me, and I have no frame of reference of what my adult height would look compared to his constant 6’5″ gentle giant self. A little bit of back story: This year has been emotionally and physically draining with a lot of transitions and physical limitations that have festered in my own self and haven’t talked that much about. During this dream, full of lots of things that I have spent the day unpacking with my husband and a close friend, I have been able to find that peace again. Last night, I was able to share in my frustrations in my current life as well as some excitement of my life with my husband who my mom knew and loved and my dad never met. At the end of my dream, my dream self got to hug the figment of my dad. I haven’t even envisioned that scene since I was eight years old.
I’m not one to be a major interpreter of dreams. Most often, I forget my dreams within moments of waking up and go about my day as if my brain was not having a party like I envision it from the kids movie Inside Out. I like to think that my brain has more unicorns rolling around in it than more unpleasant things. However, I do think that dreams of our loved ones can mean something. There are times we wish we could just see their face, sit in front of them and talk again, and yes even get a much needed hug from those who loved us. My dream from last night, and unfortunately the night terrors from seven years ago, always have allowed me to think and process what I had been feeling coming up to whatever dream my brain gives me. Again, I urge you to seek help if your dreams of your loved ones cause you more daily distress than peace. I hope that the next time you have an unexpected visitor that they are able to help you figure out something you have been feeling or trying to process.
Source: Anne Germain-Katherine Shear-Colleen Walsh-Daniel Buysse-Timothy Monk-Charles Reynolds-Ellen Frank-Russell Silowash – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3929213/