Dreams present to us parts of reality and of the psyche that we often overlook or don’t wish to see. They are concerned with the growth of the soul. The word for “dream” in Hebrew — chalom — is derived from the verb meaning “to be made healthy or strong.” Dreams tell us that we live up to a mere fraction of our potential and that there are great treasures to be found in the unknown portion of our being. If we heed our dreams, they can help us develop new attitudes toward ourselves and others. They can deepen our spiritual impulses, expand our emotional lives, and produce all manner of changes in our careers and relationships. —Marc Ian Barasch, from an interview with The Sun
I wonder about this, the notion that dreams present aspects “of the psyche that we often overlook or don’t wish to see” — because not only do I find that this is often true, I find that my dreams present these things, whether mundane or serious, through exactly the messenger I’ve been dying to see and communicate with for all of my adult life.
She’s been talking to me, via my dreams, on a regular basis since she died almost nine years ago. As I’ve written about before, these dreams are not always pleasant. In fact, for many months right after her death, the dreams were flat out nightmares. Night after night, I’d step into a room to face my mother, who had turned into a demonic presence with oxygen cords wrapped around her. And in one way or the other, this demonic presence who was and was not my mother would gleefully tell me that my mother was dead.
If I were telling a story, this might be the part where I’d wake up in a cold sweat, with a loud gasp. But in truth, I’d just slowly, painfully open my eyes, and stare at the bright blue sheets on the bunk bed of my college dorm room — the same sheets my mother and I had picked out together not more than two months earlier — and I’d feel a sharp, painful stab in my chest. Instead of having that moment where you wake up and think with a sigh of relief, “It was only a dream,” I’d wake up and be forced to remind myself, “That was not just a dream.” She was really gone.
I’d slide off the bed and begin the reality of my day.
It wasn’t fun. It was grief. The first inklings of accepting my loss wanted to attack me through my subconscious, it seemed. But even those nightmares, while unpleasant, heartbreaking, and downright terrifying at times, reminded me of the harsh reality I had to face:
My mother was gone, and she wasn’t going to reappear when I woke up. She was dead.
Because my heartbroken, panic-stricken 18-year-old-self did not want to face my new reality, I tried to escape these dreams. During the week, I’d read my books for my African American lit course until my eyes burned and I knew I could fall asleep as soon as I turned off the reading lamp. And every weekend, though perhaps not consciously, I would turn off the dreams in a different way — by shutting off my emotions with a quiet, but clear “Fuck you” through booze, ensuring that by the time my head hit a pillow, if I had any dreams that night, I wouldn’t recall them.
The dreams were persistent, though. Some nights we’d argue: I’d yell at her to take off her oxygen mask, because she didn’t need it anymore. She’d refuse. Other nights, I’d recite French presentations to her and she’d smile at me, tapping her feet as if I were singing, with the stupid oxygen tank tucked neatly under her knees, just as she’d put it when we were in the car together.
My favorite nights, she’d comfort me. Both hands placed on my cheeks, she’d look at me and say:
I didn’t leave you. Don’t cry. I didn’t leave you.
When I’d wake up, the bright blue sheets tangled around my legs, I’d initially feel comforted by the soft, cool fabric. But then I would remember. I’d kick the sheets off that now felt like sandpaper and stare at the white concrete walls of my dorm room, feeling angrier and more alone than ever.
I can’t remember when the nightly dreams stopped. Instead, it slowly transitioned to semi-frequent dreams, or what I now like to think of as visits, from my mother. At first it felt like torture, like every night she came back to life and then died all over again in the morning.
Of course, that was just my mind playing tricks on me. These days, I thrive on the dreams in which my mother makes an appearance. It’s like she’s acting in a brief, but much anticipated cameo role in my life. I love the new discovery I made through reading this interview — that chalom, the word for dream in Hebrew, is derived from the verb meaning “to be made healthy or strong” — because seeing her in dreams reminds me of my inner strength. So even if it’s not really her, exactly, in my dreams, it doesn’t matter.
Sometimes, we still argue, but I think that’s important. Because who better than your mother to remind you that you need to live up to your full potential, to develop new attitudes, and to expand your emotional life?
That’s exactly what she did for me when she was alive. So why not now?