January 28, 2013

In The Dream

Filed under: My Sister Linda — Ann @ 8:35 am

My sister, Linda, with our Mom (left) and her daughter & granddaughter. Mother's Day 1996

Last night I was with my sister, who died last December 17th. That is to say, I had a very vivid dream that I was in her apartment and we were hanging out together. My brother Larry, who is alive and well, was there in the dream, too. In the dream, I looked at my sister knowing that, just as in real life, she had collapsed and gone into a coma last month, but in the dream she had survived it all. In the dream, I was hugging and kissing and holding her, telling her how much I loved her, and how glad I was that she was alive after all.

In the dream, as in real life, my sister’s day-to-day experience was challenging. In the dream, she had no front door to her apartment. She explained to Larry and me that she was in the middle of remodeling, but my brother and I exchanged glances, certain that something more sinister had happened. And then, as Larry and Linda and I talked, suddenly there was a loud cracking noise from her kitchen, which had a back door. She nonchalantly explained that it was a “homeless crazy guy” who “does this” (meaning, breaks in) every now and again. She went to the kitchen and I followed her. As I arrived, she was very calmly handing a scary-looking guy a glass of milk, which he drank gratefully before handing her the empty glass and leaving. I thought, “These horrible things happen to her, but she knows just what to do to handle them. Wow.”

Then the dream shifted and I was driving home from my sister’s apartment. I was on a freeway driving at maximum speed or more, when suddenly all of the oncoming vehicles started driving straight towards me. I was dodging the cars and simultaneously wondering, “Did some prom just end, and everyone is driving home drunk?” Then I realized that no, this was a severe earthquake, as my own car started skidding madly across lanes of traffic. At one point I was careening directly into a guardrail and, in the dream, I knew I was going to die and I anticipated the pain and darkness. Then my car circled out of the skid and I realized I had made it out alive.

Then I woke up. And when I woke up, I could only remember the earthquake part of the dream. Shaken, I woke Neal up and started to tell him about it. And for a fraction of a sliver of a split second, the part of the dream where my sister was still alive and I’d been with her and told her how much I loved her, and hugged and kissed her and held her, seemed real. Because then, to my horror, I realized it wasn’t real and that, in real life, my sister is gone.

And I wailed. “MY SISTER! MY SISTER!” and started sobbing with my entire body, harder than I’ve cried since learning she died. As awful as it was, I sensed it was important as well. I called to mind some research or other which proved that the tears we cry when we peel onions are very different from the tears we cry from emotion. In the latter case, several chemicals are released through our “sad tears,” among them one called leucine-enkephalin, an “endogenous morphine” –endorphin — that reduces pain and works to improve mood. As I cried, I visualized my sorrow leaving my body…little globules of grief, helping me to process loss, helping me to make sense of this new world without Linda.

But this morning I began wondering, Why did I have such a dream to begin with? I remembered some dream research I’d done as an undergrad, and did some Googling.

According to G. William Domhoff, a research professor in psychology and sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of “Finding Meaning in Dreams – A Quantitative Approach,” last night’s dream was the fairly typical dream of a mourner. Referencing a study by dreamwork psychologist and Harvard professor, Deirdre Barrett, Domhoff writes that the first category of “dreams of deceased people” “…contained dreams in which the dreamer was amazed or upset to see the deceased loved one alive. Barrett called these ‘back to life’ dreams. They tended to occur within a few days or months of the loved one’s death. They often contained a mixture of intense positive and negative emotions. They seemed to involve the kind of denial of death often found in early stages of grieving.”

That’s what the experts say, that my dream was a manifestation of my grieving process. But the only way I could calm myself back to sleep last night (after changing my damp pillowcase) was by interpreting the dream as having been given an opportunity to tell my sister how very much I love her, and how grateful I am for her, and I also believe it was her chance to hear it from me and know how true it is, from whatever plane of existence she presently occupies. Science may disagree. I don’t care.

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