Last night I dreamt about Grandma (Dad’s mom, she of the pill suitcase).
Do you ever dream about dead people? No, that sounds a bit too Sixth-Sense-ish…I guess I should should ask, “Do you ever dream about people who have died?”
But wait…I really do mean “dead people.” Because when I ask, “Do you ever dream about people who have died?” it sounds as though in the context of the dream they are still alive, in some incarnation of their if-not-younger, then at least not-yet-dead self.
But in my dream about Grandma, I knew she was dead, even though she was right there in front of me, walking and talking and, OK I’ll admit it, complaining.
She was mad at me, you see. Pissed off, to be exact, that I hadn’t thought to send her a beautiful bouquet of Easter flowers.
“But Grandma,” I protested, “I’ve never sent you flowers for Easter!”
Never during her life, I meant. And certainly (obviously!) not since she’d died.
But that didn’t matter to her. She was still upset, fuming in fact, and threatening not to speak to me anymore.
And in my dream, that didn’t seem weird.
It’s not the first time I’ve had that oddly dualistic but somehow completely normal feeling in a dream of “here I am talking to someone, who I know passed away years ago, and it doesn’t at all seem strange that they’re right here in front of me, seemingly alive and well, but dead.”
But it’s not usually with Grandma. More often, it’s Mom.
In the heart-breaking months after she died, I dreamt of her often. And whenever she made an appearance, I knew she was dead, but I was just so happy she was there.
And who knows? Maybe she was. Not a dream, exactly. Definitely not a ghost. Just…there.
Even now, 18 years later, I dream about Mom from time to time. Last week she showed up in a bizarre dream about my best friend’s wedding (which she didn’t, in real life attend (already being dead and all) but to which she most certainly would have been invited had she still been alive). It wasn’t bizarre because my dead mother was there as a wedding guest–that seemed perfectly logical in that illogical dream-like kind of way–but because my best friend had chosen six girls I’d never even heard of to be her bridesmaids, while I was relegated to driving the limo. In any case, I was surprised but thrilled to see that this time around, instead of the close-cropped salt-and-pepper chemo fuzz she was left with at the end of her life (and that she’d continued to have in every dream I’d had of her since), Mom was sporting a full head of thick hair in the red tones she’d always preferred.
I don’t need Freud to tell me that I have some unresolved guilt about not being a very good grand-daughter. Or that nearly two decades later I’m still working through the grief of losing my mom, but might finally be getting closer to remembering her for the woman she was instead of the cancer that took her. (Or even that it’s been too long since I saw my best friend and it’s time to set up a coffee date.)
I guess I’m just fascinated with how a dream can seem more like a visit. And how the conscious mind can deny what is real and true so fiercely (“she can’t be dead,” “she can’t be gone”) while the unconscious mind can reconcile what seems to be two opposing, impossible states with one bittersweet duality: she’s here, but she’s dead. But she’s here.