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.

December 17, 2012

Lessons from Linda

Filed under: Memory Eternal,My Sister Linda — Ann @ 5:49 pm

My Sister Linda

As I write this, my 64-year-old sister, Linda, has just been taken off life support (or, as the medical team called it, “transitioned to comfort care”). In what is probably a most extraordinary case of more fortune than I deserve, I have never before experienced the loss of someone deeply, profoundly close to me, and never before a member of my immediate family. My parents, thankfully, are nearing 90 years old and (knock wood) quite strong and healthy.

One thing I have learned from the past few days is that you learn from death, or near-death, from the moment it enters your awareness. I’ve been on this planet for many years and yet, in the span of over 48 hours, since I first found out that my sister collapsed and was in a coma, I have grown in awareness at exponential rates. Some of the lessons learned — in fact, most of them — are too personally painful to discuss.

But one thing can be revealed: I now know what I will no longer say to others who are grieving. Because for most of my adult life, when someone I knew lost someone they loved, I wrote on the carefully chosen sympathy card, “May sweet memories bring you comfort” or variations thereof, believing that would actually be the case. And maybe that is true for others. But for me, I’m learning that memories of Linda do NOT in fact bring comfort — they only bring fresh pain, a new wave of tears, and a ferocious stabbing sensation to the heart. Who could have known this? Please don’t misunderstand: I don’t mind if people say it to me, because I know the sentiment is manifested love and shining intention, which I accept with a grateful, humble heart. But it’s something I will no longer be writing or saying to others because now….well, now I understand.

Perhaps someday memories of Linda will indeed bring comfort. Right now, the only thing that gives me comfort is, well, nothing. Nothing except the fantasy of turning the clock back a week when I was certain I’d be seeing my sister on Christmas Eve, and we would be exchanging big hugs and how are yous and I love yous and all of the comforting rituals.

I’m just beginning to learn, and this is one thing I know now that I didn’t know before. It’s something my big sister taught me.

Powered by WordPress Hosted by Sonic.net