Recurring dream
February 15, 2013 3:07 AM   Subscribe

I keep having the same dream over and over. Has anyone else had this?

So it's 6am and I am laying in bed after what seems like my millionth dream about my mom, who passed away a little over a year ago. A few months after she died I would have basically the same dream every night for weeks--she was always alive in these dreams, and although I knew she was dead it was almost like she had been given some more time but I knew she'd have to "go back" soon. Sometimes she looked well, but most of the time she was frail like she was at the end. I figured these dreams were my subconscious way of dealing with her loss. I entered grief therapy shortly after and the dreams slowly faded.

Now over a year later they're back, and so frequent I can't even keep track. It feels like one a night for going on weeks now. The setting is usually my childhood home, and sometimes my mom talks to me in these dreams...tonight she said she was feeling better and was trying to regain her strength. A few weeks ago she told me she could see me from heaven.

I guess I don't know what my question really is...I don't mind the dreams but some part of me feels like there's something I need to address that I am missing completely. I also wonder if anyone else has had this experience. Thank you.
posted by thank you silence to Religion & Philosophy (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
. I also wonder if anyone else has had this experience.

Dreams about people that died that were close to them? I'm pretty sure almost everyone that's lost someone close to them. You miss your mom and you're thinking about her. There's nothing wrong with that, and nothing that you need to address necessarily, unless it's really disturbing to you. It'll probably come and go over the years, depending on what's going on with your life.
posted by empath at 3:32 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Anniversaries of the death can very much trigger more grief, as can other losses, even if they're not deaths. (I think you're saying the one-year anniversary of her death just happened?) That seems very normal to me.
posted by jaguar at 4:16 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I haven't dreamed about anyone who's died, but I have had recurring dreams (well, nightmares in my case).

I chalked it up to the thing I was dreaming about just affecting me really hard emotionally (it was something I was ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIED of), to the point that my subconscious was working really, really hard to try to deal with the fear even when I wasn't aware of it.

I would try a little self-interpretation for this. However, I do not mean to get one of those dippy "what your dreams mean" books where they tell you what each thing in your dreams is a symbol of or anything - I honestly don't believe that those things are as one-size-fits-all for people. Instead - try this; first write down everything that happened in your dream, step by step. Then - go through each thing in the dream and ask yourself, "so what does this mean to me?" Like - for the one with your mother saying she was feeling better and trying to regain her strength, you'd ask yourself "Okay, what would it mean to me that Mom said she was feeling better? Okay, and then what does 'regaining strength' mean? And what specifically would it mean for MOM to be regaining her strength?"

Sort of, brainstorm/free associate that. What you're doing is basically playing word-association with your own brain - trying to figure out exactly what kind of symbology that your own brain has come up with all on its own. Some of it may be pretty obvious ("Mom saying she's watching me from heaven - gee, that's kind of obvious") but some of it may surprise you.

And please don't think that there's something wrong with you that you're having these dreams again. People process grief in a lot of different ways; your grief therapy probably helped you cope with your grief to a point that you could go on living, but you just may have had some more processing to do beyond that, is all. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:19 AM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

I had a dream that repeated for nearly 20 years while I looked at it every which way as to its symbolic psychological meaning--and it resolved immediately when it finally dawned on that the circumstances I had been dreaming about had really happened.

We do that, those of us who have perhaps had a little too much therapy. Life ain't all in the mind!
posted by zo219 at 4:29 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're not alone; I regularly dream of loved ones that have passed.

If you're at all able to dream lucidly, see if you can initiate a conversation with her. Once I asked my grandfather if this dream was really him or if it was just a dream. He looked at me kinda funny and the dream immediately ended and I didn't dream of him again for six months; I felt like I might've crossed some sort of awareness line or something.

It's just me, but to this day I believe he really was there in my dream communicating with me. And in dreams since, we talk about all kinds of things but NEVER EVER EVER do I directly question him about his existence.
posted by tigerjade at 4:30 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

My mom once told me about a recurring dream she had after Dad died, in which he'd come back and tell her, "I can stay for only one day." The first time, Mom spent the dream panicking, and before too long Dad said, "well, the day's over and I have to go." The second time, she decided not to repeat that mistake, and went about planning the perfect day for them both - but planning took so long, she didn't have any time left to spend with Dad. And so on. Eventually she had one of these dreams and was able to relax and just spend time with him. The dreams stopped shortly after that.

Dreams about a departed loved one are bittersweet: they make the grief feel that much fresher, but they're also the closest thing to getting that one more day. I wish Dad would show up in my dreams more often.

I have had recurring dreams of a more quotidian nature (the teeth-falling-out one, the naked-in-public one, and the back-in-school-but-have-forgotten-everything one), and I've found that if I have the same dream long enough, eventually I'll be able to solve the problem in-dream. I'm not sure whether that's reflective of my mental progress in waking life or if my subconscious mind just eventually gets it. If these dreams give you trouble, think about a couple ways in which your ideal version of the dream would play out. You may eventually be able to steer the dreams in that direction.

I'm sorry for your loss. Grief often sticks around for a long time in some form or another, even when things feel mostly normal.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:35 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

My mom died 16 years ago and I'm still having those exact dreams you describe, they even take place in my childhood home. They're bittersweet to me but its always crazy to me how emotionally worn out I am when I wake up and I'm usually a little off for the rest of the day.
posted by shornco at 4:40 AM on February 15, 2013

Yes, I have had this a lot; with relatives of mine who have passed away but the most intense case was that of a friend of mine who died.

In the dreams, the settings would be different, but in each of them, I would want to tell him I missed him and some other things that I never had a chance to in real life; but I would be tongue-tied and unable to tell him what I was thinking. Then one night I dreamt that we were sitting side by side in his car (where we had spent many actual hours together when he was alive) and I gave him a hug and was finally able to say all the things I needed to. And then after that I did not dream of him again.

I guess for me at least it was a way to process what had been a very traumatic experience. But I like to believe that I was really able to tell him how much I missed him.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:52 AM on February 15, 2013

Have you written down your dreams? That could be a concrete first step to processing them. EmpressCallipygos is right on about interpreting them for what they mean to you; especially the emotions and memories they trigger.

I'm in a sort of analysis that's often imagined to be strict dream interpretation (Jungian, fwiw, though my analyst is the post-Jungian sort), and indeed, there's no such thing as Tree = This, Dog = That. It's what things in the dream mean to you, the dreamer that's important. Dreams are great in therapy because they can trigger things you might not consciously hearken back to otherwise, but it's not the dreams themselves that are the focus in dealing with them; it's what you bring to the table that is.

Also seconding that this is grief. You clearly cared a lot about your mother and her well-being.
posted by fraula at 5:07 AM on February 15, 2013

I've had these dreams, about my dad, who died almost twenty years ago. For me, they often come at times when I am unusually stressed about unrelated things, and the stress subconsciously activates the grief. This may not be the case for you, especially because your mother passed away fairly recently, but may be something to keep in mind in the future.
posted by dysh at 5:45 AM on February 15, 2013

Did your mom die suddenly or in a very tragic way? When I have recurring dreams like this, it's because I felt like I never had a chance to say goodbye and move on in my real life, but my dreams often give me that chance to relive one last moment with that person.

While I may not show it on the ourside, or think about it consciously, deep down inside, particularly when I sleep, I still grieve for some of my losses.
posted by nikkorizz at 6:05 AM on February 15, 2013

My mom died 16 years ago and I'm still having those exact dreams you describe, they even take place in my childhood home. They're bittersweet to me but its always crazy to me how emotionally worn out I am when I wake up and I'm usually a little off for the rest of the day.

My father died about two years ago and I have what I call my "zombie dad" dreams which are basically similar to what you describe

- take place in my childhood home (the one my dad moved out of when I was eleven)
- my dad was alive but would not be for long, for some reason
- I wake up discombobulated

Mine have shifted somewhat over time. They used to be really bittersweet ("Oh all the things I would have told my dad who died unexpectedly!") and now they're a lot more realistic ("Oh remember how dad was taking terrible care of himself and was sort of a pain in the ass to us nearly constantly?") and I wake up significantly less out of it and more sort of happy to be where I am, which is a weird feeling in and of itself, but better for me.
posted by jessamyn at 6:54 AM on February 15, 2013

This is not uncommon. The fact that the dream is vivid and meaningful to you means you spend more time rethinking it when you wake up--which actually increases the probability that you'll dream it again (I believe there was a study on this, but I'm sorry, I don't have the link).

You were right about betting the dream was your subconscious dealing with grief. I would bet money that there was something that happened now in real life that triggered you and started up the dream again. The anniversery of her death? Did you run into an old friend or family member that you associate with home/mom? There was likely something--you might not have been bothered by it or given it a lot of significance at the time--but your subconscious did and these dreams happening again are its way of trying to process everything. I think once you realize what it was that triggered you and address those feelings in the waking hours, the dream will fade again.
posted by Eicats at 7:16 AM on February 15, 2013

I have recurring dreams under certain circumstances, some of which I have identified. So if I wake up from a certain dream or dream type I can think "yup, I'm stressed" or "spring weather starting up".

Some time back I was having the same dream over and over with the same level of exactness (or so it seemed to my dream mind) that I started seeing a small symbol in the lower right-hand corner (like one of those opaque channel logo things you see on tv), marking it as a "repeat".
posted by mikepop at 7:17 AM on February 15, 2013

My mom passed away not long ago - well, a couple of years, but it doesn't feel very long. I don't dream about her every night, but I DO dream about her a lot. It happens most when I'm feeling upset or stressed about something - I think my subconscious is pulling up thoughts of her as a comfort mechanism.

I'm not big on religion or spirituality, but I do find it somewhat comforting to note that these are the moments she'd most want to take care of me... and there she is. :)
posted by kythuen at 7:39 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is really common. I was young when my dad died, so these kinds of dreams would really stress me out, but I've come to accept them as nothing more than a nice chance to "see" someone I wouldn't see otherwise. The best part, for me, is all the little details that the brain socks away--the way someone sounds or smells. Details you wouldn't remember in waking. I think that's pretty cool. The human brain is amazing.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:44 AM on February 15, 2013

I'm in agreement with those who say sit down and write out your dream in detail, but I want to suggest that after that, you write a letter to your mom. Tell her all the things you would like to say to her. Thank her for raising you/teaching you/whatever she has given you. If you have any reproaches for her, mention them, if need be. Tell her you're glad she's stronger, and you're happy she's reached heaven. If you believe that you will see her after death, tell her that, also. If not, tell her you were glad to see her in your dreams, but now you have your memories and your pictures of her to remind you. At the end of the letter, say good-bye.

If you continue to dream about her, try being a listener somewhat disengaged, knowing that you've said goodbye, and that you miss her, but you're at peace with the fact that she's gone.

I'm suggesting this, because it sounds like you may have things you wanted to say to her. If so, any dreams after that may be less puzzling to you.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:41 AM on February 15, 2013

All the time. I have these dreams all the time. I think a lot of people do.

There's an absolutely fantastic essay by Dawn Powell called "What Are You Doing In My Dreams?" about her dreams of dead relatives; it's collected in the anthology Dawn Powell At Her Best, and I think you might find it resonant.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:49 PM on February 15, 2013

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