Mum’s been living in a garage in the boot of a car, watching chick flicks on DVD for the past two years. I ask her, exasperated, when this is going to end. When she’s going to come back and let people know she’s alive, ‘there are a lot of people who miss you.’
‘I need to watch Mean Girls and write some copy!’ she snaps, hitting the DVDs to the floor and then climbing inside the boot, shutting it behind her.
I’ve been having different versions of the same bizarre dream since Mum passed away. Ones where she’s trying to go to work, or hiding on the boat in Arrested Development, or angry with me for disturbing the ghosts in the attic. It’s the strangest thing, a repercussion of grief that I didn’t know existed.
I imagine that my dreams are probably my brain’s way of processing that my Mum is gone. It spends my sleeping hours taking a look at the situation and creating bizarre simulations in an attempt to understand what has happened. Even at my happiest I have these dreams, and they’re bittersweet. Sometimes I wake up with a smile on my face, other times I find them distressing.
I’ve come to accept them over the last year or so, but at first I found them incredibly difficult to deal with. I am a big fan of sleeping – it’s an enjoyable way to spend time. I love a good nap, a lie in. It’s peaceful, cathartic, wonderful. So to find my sleep disturbed to such an extent was awful: I’d wake several times during the night, struggle to sleep again, drag myself through the day and spend hours tossing and turning. I felt like a zombie. It was clear that I’d have to make some sort of a proactive change to my habits if I wanted to go back to enjoying sleep again.
The ritual of bedtime
I ensured that my bed was for sleeping in. Not for sitting in, writing in, hanging out in. Bed was for the end of the day, and that was the rule. I created a ritual for myself: making the bed at the beginning of the day, switching on my happy lamp half an hour before I went to sleep, reading in a warm glow that definitively marked the end of the day. I added more routine to my daily life (waking up at the same time, eating at the same time, going to bed at the same time), and found that my body started to adjust to this schedule.
I started listening to meditation apps, and even did a course at the Manchester Buddhist Centre. My favourite app is Deep Sleep by Andrew Johnson (partially because of his dulcet Scottish tones). I listened to it so often that I soon learnt it off by heart, and found that my sleep was more restful and likely to be dreamless.
Sharing my dreams
I spoke with my sisters about my experience and was surprised to discover that they were having similar dreams. We shared them together, laughed about them, got upset about them – and it helped me to normalise what I was going through. I more I shared the dreams – the more I found that it was a normal part of grieving, and that a lot of my friends had stories of their own. It was healing to share them together.
I started swimming in the hope that it would tire me out and work the stress out of my mind. As I’ve mentioned to many friends, you can’t think too much when you’re swimming, or you’ll drown. If I have a lot on my mind, I’ll work through it with exercise – so that my head isn’t mulling it all over by the time I get to bed.
None of this got rid of the dreams. I’m not sure I want them to go – I think I’d miss holding on to those hours where I get to hang out with Mum in some shape or form. However, it did ensure I was more relaxed and able to function day to day. I had more energy – and found it a lot easier to cope with the grief.
I imagine that a lot of people go through a similar experience to this: waking up in the morning, exhausted with having to deal with the emotion of seeing someone you’ve lost, of missing them – of then having to get up and go, when perhaps you just want to sit down and have a good cry about it. Like every other aspect of grief – the best I can do is attempt to manage it in some shape or form.
As usual, if you want to chat about any of this them please feel free to drop me a line.