Dreaming of Dead Loved Ones

Earlier today I was listening to an episode of a current favourite podcast of mine. Shout out to the JV Club hosted by the wonderful Janet Varney. I’m a newcomer to the podcast so I have been working my way through the backlog of episodes and I’m just finishing up episode 34 at the moment. (This particular episode can be found here – http://www.nerdist.com/pepisode/the-jv-club-34-stephanie-escajeda/). If you are a fan of podcasts, or even if you aren’t but are open to giving them a try I would recommend giving the JV Club a try. In each episode Janet’s guests recall and walk us through their childhood and high school memories. Episodes vary on topics and themes and you never exactly know where a episode is going to go but that’s part of the joy. There’s more to it than that but this post isn’t meant to be a review of the podcast as wonderful as it is!

So I was listening to episode 34 and the guest was speaking about how her brother had passed away while she was in high school and how she had a difficult time letting him go. She then speaks about one particular moment of having a dream in which her brother essentially told her she needs to let him go and move on. It was a beautiful story and got me thinking about loved ones of mine that have died. Not because I was thinking of anything beyond that but I was just taking a moment to think about who I’ve lost and reflecting on those moments.

People who know me in real life know that my memory is real shit at times. I’m horrible at remembering people’s names, even people I have met and spoken with numerous times. I also have the fantastic ability of forgetting whole experiences. Such as attending a specific social event or going to a particular party. Yeah. For real. It has happened and I’m sure not for the last time.

Right, where was I? Ah, yes. So most recently–it’s been a few years now–and most notably I lost my grandfather on my dad’s side. Not like lost him in a lost and found sense, lost in the he’s dead sense. I’m 98.6% we aren’t going to find him now. Cue X-Files music. Did I also mention some people think my humour can be dark sometimes?

Anyways I was just reflecting on my times spent with my grandfather and a part of me was also wondering if I’d ever experienced anything like what was mentioned in the podcast and it took a few minutes but then it was like a physical slap to the face and I suddenly remembered, with scary detail, that yes, I actually have experienced something similar. It’s really odd how you can have zero recollection of something one moment and in the next second remember it so vividly and have it seem so fresh. Our brains are weird.

First some context. When my grandfather passed away I was living on residence and in my first year at university. Coincidentally this was also one of the worst years of my life as my depression was as full blown as it’s ever been. I went from being a honour student all throughout high school to being on academic probation by the end of my first year. I cannot remember much of this year which I think is for the best. Of what I do remember, I barely used to make it out of my room to attend classes and I slept a lot because I could never find the energy to do much else and it also gave me a reprieve from my perceived reality at that time. This is a VERY simplified summary but why I’m mentioning it is because in this year I was so very much in my own depressed world that I had little awareness of what was happening around me. If I had been paying attention I would have realized that in this same time frame my grandfather’s health had begun to deteriorate at a rapid pace. I also would not have been as shocked as I was when my parents called me before I walked into a final exam to mention my grandfather had been taken to the hospital and things didn’t look well for him. That was definitely a interesting exam to take after getting that news. For those on the edge of their seat, I somehow passed. I have some sort of sick pride in the fact that even though I was put on academic probation, horribly depressed and hating life, not attending classes or putting in much of an effort in anything related to academics, I technically still didn’t fail that year. Go me!

What I’m trying to get at is I had quite a bit of guilt and shame surrounding my grandfather’s passing as I felt like I wasn’t there for him as much as I could have been as I was selfishly wrapped up in my own issues. I no longer feel this way as I was able to work through things, take a step back and get some perspective. One of the things that did help was actually the dream I had,  which until yesterday, I had completely forgotten.

I’m aware of the concept of lucid dreaming and this wasn’t a lucid dream. I could not control my actions or my speech but many of the things I said were thoughts I had been having and was having during the dream. I cannot remember the exact starting point but essentially what happened was randomly my grandfather was alive again. Not in the sense that he had never died, we were all aware that my grandfather was dead but all of a sudden here he was in front of us, alive and breathing and his regular old self. There was shock and confusion, joy, more confusion, tears and lot of hugging and smiles. It was great. I have a pretty big extended family and I can remember visiting all their houses with my grandfather as the news spread that by some unexplainable rigamarole of events that we had all been wrong and he was alive and oh wasn’t it just wonderful that we were all wrong.

I would also like to note that the dream spanned a time frame of a few weeks or maybe it was a couple of months. I just remember there were long gaps of time. After the shock and confusion wore down we, and by we I mean my family members and I returned to our regular schedules. Like I can remember literally seeing and absorbing the knowledge that we were all just slowly going back to our lives of school/work/family/social life etc. The last scene or interaction I remember of my dream is the part that came back with the most detail actually, and it was of my grandfather and I just sitting in a room.

Quick context of who my grandfather was as a person. He was generally a man of few words outside of the rare occasion of reminiscing with friends or family at parties or something when he could be more talkative. He wasn’t the type of person who was the life of a party. He was mostly the observant type and in group settings would add to a conversation when he deemed necessary otherwise he was content to just silently sit and observe. When he spoke people listened. People looked up to him and sought him out, looking for advice.

I could feel a thickness in the air and almost had a sense of dread about why I was with my grandfather alone and on some level just knew everything had been building up to this moment. After a few moments of sitting together silently he quietly asked me why he was here and why he back here with everyone? And even as I scrambled for a answer, “I don’t know but isn’t it great there you are here? Look how happy everyone is, we missed you so much! Grandma missed you, your family missed you but now we have you back and it’s better now.” Even as I rambled on with reasons that weren’t really reasons, it ultimately sounded empty and just wrong. Not because the family didn’t miss him. Just in that moment I knew I was grasping at straws and no matter what I said, no answer that I gave would have sufficed because we both knew the real answer. He shouldn’t be here.

My grandfather had these beautifully blue eyes that over time became clouded and greyish. Unfortunately no one else in the family inherited them. You think out of 8 kids one of them would have, what a fail. I can remember him looking me in the eyes and telling me he didn’t belong here. That everyone was fine and even if that wasn’t the case it didn’t matter because he simply shouldn’t be here. There was no reason for him to be here.

He didn’t say it with any sadness but more so with a sense of pride. My grandfather did have a long and fruitful life, much more than I am sure I will ever truly even know. When I look back at his final days of consciousness now I can remember the state of peace he was in, he was awake long enough to accept what the reality of the moment was with 100% lucidity. He got to say goodbye to those he wished to which is already more than some people get. The last conversation I had with my grandfather before he slipped into his coma was with him at the hospital the night before we brought him home to live out his last few days. The visiting hours were ending and my dad and I made our way to the door to leave his hospital room and he asked my dad where we were going and why we were leaving him alone. My dad told him we would be back tomorrow and all the visitors had to leave. He asked my dad if I had to leave as well and told my dad to just leave me with him so he wouldn’t have to be alone yet.

My whole life I knew my grandfather as a proud self-sufficient individual and hearing him say these things, it was one of the very few times in my life I saw him be vulnerable. I approached his bedside and told him I was sorry that I had to leave but I would try and come back tomorrow with my dad. Then I asked him if he needed anything or would like me to bring him something from home, I wasn’t sure if he was even completely lucid enough to understand the question but before we left the room he asked me to bring him a slice of the cinnamon coconut cake I make sometimes. I’m a avid baker and my grandfather had a wicked sweet tooth so that was always a great part of our relationship. Whether he knew it or not when I look back on that moment I really treasure it because he gave me the feeling of being able to help and feel somehow useful in that moment. I wasn’t aware of it then but it helped me in so many ways at a time that I really needed it. Realistically his health was at a point by that time when he couldn’t eat solids nor did he have a appetite but he still made that request. I still think about him whenever I bake that particular cake and I’m not sure that will ever fade.

Concluding this post that has become much much longer than I had initially intended. In response to my dream, the cynical asshole side of me would say wow great job, you invoked a dream of your dead grandfather and got him to say things to you just to relieve yourself of misplaced guilt. Granddaughter of the year. On the other hand, and while I’m not a very religious person like on a good day I’m agnostic at best, the dream impacted me in that moment in a way that was very much spiritual. To explain how I think would be another whole post. I also understand it is hard to believe this all considering I had completely forgotten about it until recently. However now that I have remembered it I also can remember how much it changed things for me in those years after my grandfather’s death, in terms of my mental health and forgiving myself. Like I think I have to consciously remember that it’s not a real memory but it was a dream.

I don’t really have a tidy end to this post. I just wanted to record a forgotten memory of a moment that was actually really impactful in my life. Cause let’s be real, statistically it’s very possible I will forget this again in the near future.

Dreaming of Dead Loved Ones