Recently, I had a disturbing dream that on the surface sounds like a nightmare. In the dream, I saw my mother’s corpse. It wasn’t in a coffin, but placed on some kind of shelf. Then she woke up and began moaning and talking.
I remember in my dream trying to tell myself it was just a dream, as it is recommended to do to wake yourself from a nightmare. But instead of Mom going into full zombie mode on me, the dream took more of a domestic drama turn. Instead of being chased by a flesh-eating monster, I faced a chilling dilemma: how would I manage caring for my mother again? As with most dreams, there was no satisfying conclusion but lingering questions about housing and financial issues.
At least I know why I had such a bizarre dream. There was a story in the news about a woman in Detroit who had been declared dead but was found alive in a body bag hours later at a funeral home, where she was about to be embalmed. The images of the bodies of COVID-19 victims being stacked haphazardly in storage rooms and sheds has also haunted me.
It was a disturbing dream, but it intrigued me more than frightened me. This scenario has been played out in books and films but considering it from a caregiver’s perspective presents more practical questions than supernatural ones.
Today marks nine months since my mom died. It’s hard to believe that I’m already coming up on the one-year anniversary.
Certainly, life marches forward and I have been propelled forward with it, but I still think of my mother daily, and often, it is about those last tough years when she battled illness, and not of the better times.
I’m writing essays about the caregiving experience so it doesn’t surprise me that these thoughts are in my head. This week, I had a vivid dream about Mom, in which she was very much alive. I first saw her in a bathtub, and it was a bit scary for a moment, a la that scene from The Shining. But the dream didn’t take a nightmarish turn after that. Mom just kept popping up, alive and well, and I was puzzled and felt the need to keep her hidden.
I read a bit about what a tub can symbolize in a dream, and a lot of it made sense. One site said that it can symbolize emotional instability, vulnerability and the ups and downs of life. A bath can also symbolize a cleansing, both literally and figuratively.
Another major takeaway from the bathtub symbol in dreams is that it means one needs to let go of a burden they have been carrying. It can mean the need to shake off troubles and relax.
Hmm, okay subconscious mind, I get the hint! I’m going on a week’s vacation soon.
I’d be curious to know about any significant dreams you’ve had while grieving, or any dreams you’ve had about dead relatives. I find dream analysis fascinating.
Mom is having her second major surgery of the year tomorrow. Of course, she’s having a great deal of anxiety about it. Major surgery carries plenty of risk factors that can lead to death, and as you get older and have other complications (like Mom’s blood clots) that potential brush with death seems even more real.
This morning, Mom wanted me to wake her up so we could go for some pre-surgery blood tests. I stopped in the bathroom first, letting her get a few more minutes of sleep. Suddenly, through the door, I heard a plaintive plea:
“Pat! Pat! Pat!”
Pat was my Dad’s name.
I rushed out of the bathroom and Mom realized that she was having a dream and it was actually her daughter in front of her. She said she was having a dream about Dad, and had mistakenly called out his name instead of mine.
Perhaps Dad is sending supportive and loving energy from wherever he is now. I know he wouldn’t want Mom to suffer, and would do whatever was in his power to make her better.
The dreams of Dad continue for Mom. She will dream of conversations with Dad, but not remember the exchange of words when she awakens. She has hit a plateau recently, at least on an emotional level. She told me last night that she thinks she doesn’t have much longer in this world. Of course, none of us know our exact time of death, but I have a feeling it’s wishful thinking on her part. While she has made great strides in her recovery from surgery, life with a colostomy is not a great quality of life. Some manage better than others, and certainly, Mom has become quite independent in managing it, but it wears on her emotionally.
So I think because of that, she is clinging to Dad’s memory more than ever. She told me how often she feels Dad’s presence at home now. I know some people claim to see dead loved ones before they depart. I certainly don’t discount those experiences, but there’s no way to prove whether those visions can predict death or not. I think Mom is lonely and sad and her 40-year relationship with Dad still brings her comfort, at least in the memories before his dementia took hold.
I had my own mourning dream of sorts recently. I watched this ridiculous (yet adorable) Swedish commercial about cats that can fly, and it made me dream about my sweet kitty that I had to put to sleep earlier this year. In my dream, he wasn’t quite flying, but he was levitating quite well. (Maybe another Hover Cat in the making!)
It made me realize that those who have departed still linger in quite imaginative ways in our memories.
As I’ve written about before, Dad had high hopes of becoming a Hollywood movie star. I recently came across this wannabe actor/actress directory, full of head shots of mainly babies, with a few adults thrown in for good measure. I’m not sure why Dad ended up in the baby directory, it seems like there would be stiff competition with all of those adorable infants and toddlers!
Anyways, I wonder what happened to those other people who were part of this directory. Obviously, the babies were placed in the directory by proud parents (and maybe a few stage mothers.) Did any of the children grow up to become actors or models? And for the adults, did they continue seeking fame or did they give up the dream? I’m not sure exactly when Dad gave up his dream of acting. It was probably years before I was born, because he was already a bit older (age 42) by the time I came along.
And like many of our dreams, there may not have been a defining moment for Dad, where he decided to give up his dream of becoming an actor. For many of us, our dreams simply get shoved aside, as life’s responsibilities, jobs and families take up our time and energy. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the chances of becoming a Hollywood movie star are pretty darn slim.
But even if those dreams remain unfulfilled, our yearnings are part of who we are. Now I understand Dad a little better.
I’m not sure if dad’s vivid nightmares began before or after the haunted hotel experience. Growing up, I remember both my mom and I being frightened by the screams and moans my dad would make when he was suffering from a particularly bad nightmare. I’m sure it was not fun for my mom to be awakened by my dad’s thrashing and yelling. She said sometimes it would take her quite awhile to wake him. He then would bolt upright in bed, wide-eyed and with sweat lining his brow. “Oh, that was a bad one,” was a typical response.
When he could remember the dreams the next morning over breakfast, they usually consisted of the “bad man chasing me” variety of nightmares. Dad was usually a pretty calm, quiet kind of guy, so when he exhibited the kind of fear he did when he was having a nightmare, we knew he wasn’t being dramatic. The bad dreams didn’t happen that often, maybe a handful or so a year, but I can definitely recall waking my dad up from a bad nightmare on more than one occasion in my childhood. It was a bit of a role reversal in the family unit, as usually it’s the parent that has to soothe the child and convince them there’s not a monster under the bed.
It does make me wonder if Dad continued to have nightmares as his dementia progressed. If so, was he able to comprehend that it was just a dream and not reality?