How I Tried – and Failed – to Box My Grief Over My Mother’s Death
I had a vivid dream the other night. I was preparing to teach a class, but I couldn’t find my notes. As the time for the class drew nearer, I got increasingly stressed that I’d lost my window to prepare.
The Interpretation of Dreams
In and of itself, that dream isn’t all that unusual. I constantly have dreams that I’m taking tests I’ve not studied for, or have been cast in plays for which I haven’t learned the lines.
But in this particular dream, my notes were buried in a large suitcase filled with my late mother’s belongings. And every time I tossed out one item – her old raincoat, a set of sheets, a painting – another item would appear.
As the class I was meant to be teaching got closer and closer, more and more things from my mother’s past appeared. It got to the point where I couldn’t empty the suitcase quickly enough. I never found my notes, I missed my teaching deadline, and I had to cancel the class.
I’m a big believer that bad dreams can be good for you. So, I knew that this dream was trying to tell me something. After my mother passed away in June, I went back home to the States and emptied her apartment. But why was I dreaming about that now?
When I described the dream to my husband, he said, “It’s obvious. You’ve been working really hard lately. And you’re using work to stave off sadness about your mother’s death.”
He had a point. No sooner had I managed to achieve a modicum of balance in my work-life this summer, a tsunami of work hit in early September that has yet to abate. I’ve long used busyness as a tool for staving off all sorts of negative feelings and anxieties, so why not sadness over my mother’s passing?
You Can’t Box Grief
But I think there’s something else going on in this dream as well. As we edge towards the six month mark of my mother’s death, I’ve begun to worry: Will I forget her? A lot of this has to do with the fact that – because of the pandemic – we’ve still not managed to have a proper memorial service to celebrate her life.
Back in June when she died, my siblings and I optimistically thought we might manage a service by Christmas. Then, Easter. But with the latest news reports around vaccines, I’m now thinking it will realistically be next summer, at the earliest.
And because of this delay, I’ve found myself wondering lately if maybe we shouldn’t opt for an online memorial service as so many others have done. I raised this with one of my brothers the other day, who instantly killed the idea. He’d like to do it in person. And in talking it through with him, I realized that I would too.
In fact, I now recognize that planning the Zoom funeral was my way of ensuring that I didn’t forget her. But as my dream reminds me: I don’t need a funeral to remember my mother. She’s already here.
Pictures of her are strewn across my house. I wear her jewelry and read her books. And if I ever get so busy that I stop processing those reminders, she will come back to me in my dreams, to remind me that she’s still here.
So perhaps the dream was a reminder that you can’t box grief. You can try to set it aside, but it will always pop back up – Mary Poppins like.
Have you had any interesting dreams lately? What was their meaning? When it comes to grief, what is your best way of coping? Has it worked? Please share in the comments below and let’s have a conversation.