I’ve always had a lot of dreams. And also a number of nightmares.
When I was little, those dreams were about playgrounds and neighborhood friends. My recurring nightmare was about a mean witch who tried to cook me in a pot.
As I grew, my dreams were about the good things around me (getting asked to prom by someone I liked), and my nightmares were about my fears (making a fool of myself at a school assembly). As my mom grew sicker, sometimes these nightmares were actually scary. Once she died, I often had nightmares where my dad or my sister would die too.
So I guess it’s not strange that I still dream in adulthood. Widowhood brought a new round of both dreams and nightmares – though, to be honest, they were mostly nightmares. I’ve had so many dreams about Shawn since he died that I’m not sure I could remember all of them. But I remember the bad ones, because they woke me up at night.
Shawn turning from healthy to sick, his eyes changing to yellow as they did at the end. Shawn playing with the kids and then falling over, close to death. Shawn dying, in my arms, as he actually did in real life.
It was brutal. The nightmares got so bad that I finally tried some alternative therapy, and EMDR managed to get me to a place where I could sleep through most nights.
But I still dream about Shawn, even now.
Since the spring of 2020, my dreams have been different. Falling in love changed my dreams about Shawn. Yes, I still have the occasional nightmare where I have to re-live Shawn’s death. But mostly, I have this new recurring dream:
I’m doing something normal, like making the bed or cooking a meal, and out of nowhere, Shawn appears. He looks healthy, and he’s smiling like it’s the best day ever. I’m super confused. “I thought you were dead!” I say, but I don’t go to him. “I’m not!” he says, also staying where he is standing, and then he gives me some reason why he is alive. Sometimes it’s that the cancer didn’t actually kill him. A few weeks ago it was that he was a spy who was forced to fake his own death. “But I watched you die,” I say, not believing him. “But I’m here!” he says, again, smiling.
In the dream, I eventually tell him about Chris. How I’m happy and in love and living a life that I want to live. And it’s a little weird – Shawn is never mad in the dream. He seems to be able to sit with my discomfort (at his newly-alive self and my admission that I’m living a happy life with Chris) and just say something like, “well, that’s how the world is now. But hey, I’m alive!”
Shawn is dead. I know that. And even when he shows up in my dreams as a quadriplegic-wedding-venue-host hiding out from being captured by the government (that was last week, and it helped him explain to me why I hadn’t heard from him until now), even then my dream-self knows that something is up. People don’t come back from the dead.
And yet, it’s a strange comfort to imagine that if he did pop back alive, I think he’d be exactly as I dreamt him. Happy to see me, tickled at the prospect of having risen from the dead, and respectful of the fact that I’d fallen in love and gotten remarried. Shawn was a realist.
It still feels weird to see him, so alive and so happy, in my dreams. It can be unsettling.
But I don’t want to go to an EMDR specialist this time. In a way, the dreams are also reassuring. Once, I called them nightmares. But that’s not what they are anymore.