“Dear Toko-pa: Why can’t I dream about my late husband? I lived with him and loved him for 32 years and when he died suddenly in August, I thought my dreams would be full of him, but they’re not. When he was alive, I very seldom dreamt of him, but since he was there it didn’t matter. Now it does. Frank was an extremely able man, who could fix anything and had the curiosity to find out the answers to problems. Thanks for any insight you might be able to give me – my life has been pulled out from under me, Brenda.”
Dear Brenda: Though I can’t help much with dreams you aren’t having, I do believe there might be a good reason you aren’t dreaming of Frank.
A year and a half ago, I also lost someone very important. Annie was a friend, mentor, and very much a mother figure to me. After she died of cancer, I dreamt only once of her, but it was a dream I’ll never forget. We were in her sunny garden and she and I were embracing. I remember feeling so much love and grief confused together, there in her arms, and I never wanted to let go. Suddenly she began to growl at me like a vicious animal. I released her in shock, stepping quickly backwards and ultimately waking up.
Many dreams come from our blind spots and can be difficult to interpret on our own, but this one was instantly clear to me. Like a mother bear might growl at her cubs when they stray too far into danger, dream-Annie didn’t want me to hold on. She was protecting me from staying too attached.
She was like this in waking life too. In her self-penned eulogy, she asked her friends and family not to weep at her grave, since she was not there. She believed that death was a graduation and that when her spirit dispersed from her body, it would merge with all things. So the appropriate response was rather to celebrate.
But Annie was wiser than I on the subject. As far as I can tell, grief is unavoidable. It takes the time it takes and it puts us entirely out of commission while we do it. It comes in unexpected tidal waves that pull us right under for days, sometimes weeks at a time. But in some strange twist of paradox, it also opens us up to new life. Many people describe an enormous joy that comes alongside their grief. We are alive, after all, and death can awaken an urgency in us, to live more fully in the face of the inevitable. Indeed, it was through Annie’s death that I found the courage to move my life to the Kootenays.
What I would suggest for you, Brenda, is that you watch the dreams you are having. Share them with a friend or counselor if you can, and stay present with your grief/new life process. If Frank himself doesn’t appear in your dreams, his influence in your life surely will. Maybe you’ll even discover that the part of him that was extremely able and had a curiosity for problem-solving has been left behind for you to now inherit.