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Alive in My Dreams: Grieving During Sleep

Flickr Creative Commons/Devin SmithI dreamt I was walking out of a bar because I didn’t know anyone there and everyone appeared to be leaving. Outside I saw my friend Don speaking to someone. From the steps of the bar I dove into his arms and hugged him. He hugged me back and laughed. It sounded like him. It felt like him.

He turned to leave, and I took his hand. It felt like his hand. The sky was pink and purple like the sun was setting somewhere behind us. I said, “Wait, I have to tell you something before I wake up. I love you.”

“It’s so embarrassing,” he told me, like he didn’t want to talk about his suicide.

But I said it again: “I love you and I miss you so much.”

Then I woke up.

I’m not sure what made me sadder; the fact that my old friend killed himself three months ago or that I had woken up just as I said I would.

It’s not the first time I have dreamt about Don, but it is the first dream in which I knew I was dreaming and that he was deceased.

Since his death in May not a day passes that I don’t think about him, but it’s usually happy memories. There’s not a big gaping hole anymore. There’s not a painful void that feels like it could never be full again.

Our grief has evolved. Now when my fiancé and I talk about Don, we talk about what we loved. What he would say if he were here. What he would have liked.

But Monday morning when I awoke from that dream, it was as if I had lost him all over again. I stood in the shower for I don’t know how long, just dumbstruck. The dream, the memories had been so real.

I still have dreams about my older brother like this, too. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2006. Every so often I dream that he is his old self. We sit and we talk in my dreams and he is the same old friend I used to know.

The thing is, my brother is alive. And I have learned to cope with my grief by hanging my hat on his happiness. No he doesn’t leave the house, yes he still has delusions and paranoid thoughts, no he can’t work. But I can say: He is happy. He is thriving in his own way.

Don’s death was so sudden and his sadness a surprise to us all. No one knew the extent to which he suffered from depression. It never occurred to us that he could be sad because he was so funny, so cheerful and carefree. He kept all of us smiling.

It’s not unlike Robin Williams. We lose people who make us sublimely happy to suicide and we may be left thinking, “I should have been more grateful. I should have told him and thanked him for all that he did for me.”

But there isn’t something we should have done. That kind of faulty thinking gets us into trouble. You can’t carry the burden of someone else’s life and take responsibility for their actions.

When I dream about Don, the loss feels compounded. In my mind I keep thinking, “He’s gone? But I just saw him.”

But the truth is that I am blessed with a wonderful memory and a very vivid imagination. I try my best to remind myself that still seeing him in my dreams is a beautiful thing.

When it comes down to it, I’d rather run into him there sometimes than not at all. I’d rather have mornings where I’m keeping his memory alive because in those moments I feel so appreciative that I knew him and that he was such a positive influence on my life.

I will never be able to explain to my emotional brain why he’s gone. I can’t tell my heart where to put all this love I still feel. I guess that’s the nature of loss. But I can choose to let these dreams put wind in my sails rather than bring me down. “I saw Don last night,” I’ll say one morning. “How about that?”

Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Devin Smith

Alive in My Dreams: Grieving During Sleep


Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review. She is also the cohost of the podcast Excuse Me, I Have Concerns where she discusses personal boundaries, personality and other psychology topics.


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APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). Alive in My Dreams: Grieving During Sleep. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 6, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/alive-in-my-dreams-grieving-during-sleep/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 7 Sep 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.