Grief Journal of Dr. Donaldson: Dreams


Last night I had a dream, one of THOSE dreams. In the middle of the night, I awoke to sharp pain in my chest. This pain was flavored with sadness, loss and devastation. I started sobbing and doing what I could to self-soothe in the moment. I reminded myself that it was just a dream and to let the emotions flow through me until they stopped. I reminded myself that they WOULD eventually stop, and they did. Then, I attempted to go back to sleep and purposely thought of happy things with the hope that doing so might influence future dreams that night. It worked.

To say that this dream caught me by surprise would be an understatement. I remember the dreams of my husband after he died. They did not come to me until a couple of months after the funeral which was upsetting enough. I missed him so much and having him in my dreams was the closest I could get to him being with me physically. However, when I did dream of him, he was still alive or I was desperately searching for him and could not find him. Those were the worst! Waking up from those dreams were excruciating! As time went by, the dreams changed. If I dreamt of him, he was a spirit or ghost visiting me from beyond the grave. In those dreams, he was usually teasing me or up to his usual antics just like when he was alive. I still woke up from those extremely sad and anxious, but the pain had lessened. Then, as I continued to experience these dreams, they started to bring me some comfort, as though I had had a visit from him.

It has been many months since I last dreamt of my husband. I think that is why this dream was such a shock. In this dream, we were selling my house, a house I did not recognize but one in which I apparently had lived as a child up to this day. Selling this house felt just as painful in that dream as it did in reality when I sold the house my husband and I had bought together. I did not feel ready to sell it but felt that I had to sell it. People in the dream had already started taking furniture out of the house and memories from my life flooded me. Even though my husband was not at the center of this dream, the feelings of loss and grief were very vivid. I am not one to analyze dreams in the Freudian way. To me, the emotions present in the dream are more important than the symbolism. The emotions in this dream were clear: I am still grieving.

Sometimes, I imagine these grief dreams to be the work of some type of fairy. These are not the sweet, delicate kind of fairies from children’s stories. No, these fairies are the tricksters. Things can be going along smoothly with much healing happening, and one of these fairies delivers a “grief dream.” Then, during the following days, things feel topsy turvy, and all the familiar emotional characters return: anger, fear, sadness, helplessness, despair, etc. So, what can I do when visited by such lovely, hurtful reminders of loss? For me, these dreams remind me that I need to continue to honor my grief. How? Well, in the next few days, I will be more compassionate with myself. I will increase my self care by taking time to go for walks, to journal, to cry if needed, to rest more, and to talk to others about what is going on with me.

Thoughts for you:

These kinds of dreams may not be the most desired experiences of grief. However, finding the meaning in them, engaging in self care and using the dreams as a reminder of my grief and my love for my deceased husband are some ways in which how I cope. What helps YOU cope with such dreams?


Always remember, you don’t have to journey alone.

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