Unsettling Dreams: Grieving In My Sleep

I’ve always had vivid dreams.

That was a problem as a young child because often I couldn’t tell where the dream ended and real life began when I woke.

Many, many nights I’d cry out from my bed, begging my parents to come save me from whatever monster followed me from my dream.

I pretty much grew out of that as I got older and learned to be very careful what I fed my mind-especially right before I fall asleep. I don’t watch horror movies, dark so-called comedies, violent dramas or anything that my brain might twist into scary or disturbing shapes in the dark.

After Dominic left for Heaven, I once again experienced a season of uncomfortable dreaming. Only one or two of my dreams were actually awful, but I would often wake feeling out of sorts, a bit “off” or vaguely aware of something just outside my consciousness that was sure to frighten me if I could see it clearly.

That season passed and only very rarely was I troubled with those kinds of dreams these past few years.

But since my mama joined Dominic, I’ve had at least one disturbing dream every single night.

I can remember some of them-like the one that woke me at two this morning-but not all of them. Even when I can’t recall the exact sequence of events, they all have a similar theme: Someone I love is in peril and I can’t save them or something I hold dear is lost and I can’t find it.

And that awful feeling of helplessness follows me when I open my eyes.

It doesn’t take a PhD to interpret these dreams.

Grief is leaking out in my sleep.

All the feelings I’ve become so good at pushing down during waking hours since Dominic left us are growing stronger again in the wake of my mother’s death.

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The lid my conscious mind keeps screwed on tight is no match for the power of the unconscious.

Off it pops and all the sad, scared, anxious, helpless, longing, fearful emotions stirred up by losing one more soul my heart loves come flying out and swirl around until they create a perfect storm of awful to parade across my mind’s eye while my body tries to rest.

I think I’ve only had one night of more than three hours uninterrupted sleep since the week Mama was hospitalized.

I’m trying all the old tricks of carefully tending what goes into my brain each day. I’m feeding myself healthy and wholesome images and words. I’m ending each day with prayer and asking God to give me sweet dreams or no dreams at all.

I may have to revisit some of those old feelings.

I would rather face my fears in the daylight.

I don’t want them to leak out at night.

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Emotional Overload and T.M.I.

There are so many ways child loss impacts relationships!

Some of the people you think will stand beside you for the long haul either never show up or disappear right after the funeral.

Some people you never expected to hang around not only come running but choose to stay.

And every. single. relationship. gets more complicated.  

When your heart is shattered, there are lots of sharp edges that end up cutting you and everyone around you.  It’s pretty much inevitable that one or more relationships will need mending at some point.

I know I said (still say!) things that wound others.  Most of the time it’s because I’m distracted or hurting myself and my mouth begins speaking before my brain is fully engaged.  Sometimes, though, it’s because I’m in pain and (frankly!) I want to transfer some of that pain to someone else.

Misery DOES love company!

Often other people in my life will say or do things that wound me.  Some of the folks are part of my inner grief circle and I know that it’s unintentional or they are having a pain-filled day like I am.

A few are extended family members who are either blissfully unaware of the ongoing pain and drama of child loss or are too caught up in their own lives to give it a thought.

Some of them are friends who think by now I should have toughened up and are no longer willing to extend extra grace and try harder to be tender.

Sometimes it’s acquaintances or strangers who don’t have a clue.

Whenever someone pierces my armor and inflicts pain, I have a choice:  Do I suck it up and take it or do I say something and try to reconcile?

There are days when I feel strong enough to just overlook it.  But I know if it represents a pattern, sooner or later the pressure will build and I’m going to blow.  And that’s not good for either one of us.

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There are days when I absolutely, positively have to address it.  That’s when I need to be careful of overloading another heart with too much information (TMI).  See, it’s easy to make one person the target for all my strong feelings.  It’s easy to do an emotional and informational “dump” on whoever happens to be handy or whoever is the least intimidating.

That’s unfair and unhelpful-for them and for me.  

So when I decide to open my mouth and address a specific situation with a specific person, I need to keep my margins clean and only say the things that pertain to THAT instance.  I can’t bring up every single thing the person has done in the past or things that they haven’t said or done but which have made me more sensitive to certain words or actions.  I don’t need to burden them with all the details of MY bad day or week or month.

Instead I should talk about my own feelings in relationship to them and their actions or words. 

“I feel like _________when you say________” gives vent to my emotion without accusing another heart.  I need to leave room for them to share what they were/are thinking and feeling too.  It can’t be one-way conversation if I hope to have a two-way relationship.  

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Any stressful life circumstance makes us all more vulnerable to offense.  And child loss is certainly stressful.  It’s stressful in ways others can’t see or comprehend.  It alters the way a parent sees and experiences the world.

It makes everything harder.  

Relationships included.  

I want to be full of love, grace and mercy, not overrun with bitterness, anger and offense. 

So I have to be mindful of what I say, how much I say and when I choose to say it.

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Repost: Emotional Bankruptcy-I Can’t Spend the Same Energy Twice

I wasn’t born with an “I don’t give a hoot” gene.

When I commit to a person, a project or a problem, I’m all in-no holding back.

That’s why this side of Dominic’s leaving I’ve been very cautious about making commitments. But in the past year I’ve begun branching out and joining in again.

In many ways it has been a positive experience.

In other ways, not so much.

Read the rest here:  Emotional Bankruptcy: I Can’t Spend the Same Energy Twice

Anxiety and Child Loss

I am much, much better than I was the first two years after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  

I’ll be honest though, sometimes all it takes is the tiniest trigger to make my heart race, my hands shake and my eyes well with tears.

It still surprises and frightens me that anxiety is so close to the surface. 

But I guess when your world has been shattered violently and utterly by what you never imagined would happen, that’s a reasonable response.  

Read here Why Anxiety is Part of Child Loss.

 

No More “Quiet Mouse” For Me

Believe me, I’ve imposed my share of“Quiet Mouse” on my own kids through the years.

Raising four close-in-age siblings, sometimes that was the only way to make the last five miles home without losing my mind.

But the premise of the game is really this:  I’m bigger, I’m stronger, I’m in control and you are not-so shut up.

Even if you have something important to say.  

Even if you feel like you will burst wide open if you have to hold it in.

No excuses allowed.  Just. Be. Quiet.

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Peace at all costs.

I’ve been a quiet mouse for most of my life when it comes to standing up for myself.

Now, advocating for my children or for someone unable to fend for themselves-that’s another story.  But somewhere in my formative years I embraced the message that the most important thing in the world was to keep the peace.

Even if you have something important to say.

Even if you feel like you will burst wide open if you have to hold it in.

No excuses allowed.  Just. Be. Quiet.

But all this emotional turmoil I’ve been feeling since Dominic left us has uncovered layer after layer of brokenness, pain and untold stories.  His death lifted the lid on the vault that had been sealed for decades.

Emotions are flying out like genies.

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And I’ve come to understand that peace at all costs-when the costs are borne by a single individual in a relationship-is not peace. 

It’s slavery.

I also realize that not every friendship and family tie is a mission field on which I must spill my life’s blood to prove my love for Jesus.

Sometimes laying down simply enables bad behavior and encourages bullying and disrespect.  

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I want to walk in love.  Always. 

But love does not mean I must allow other people to walk all over me.  

I don’t plan to. 

No more “Quiet Mouse” for me.

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OOPS!! How in the World Did I End up HERE?

My front yard is full of juvenile squirrels.  They love to chase one another round and round-playing some version of “king of the hill”.

I’m used to hearing their chatter and seeing them jump from branch to branch, tree to tree.

But yesterday I saw something I’d never seen before-two young squirrels were clinging desperately to the phone lines that stretch between two power line poles.  They were twisting and turning, grasping for a foothold and completely flabbergasted to find themselves in such a precarious position.

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I looked to see how in the world they might have ended up there.  Sure enough, there is a crepe myrtle tree with branches that just graze the phone lines.

I’m pretty sure the silly young things were chasing each other and didn’t realize that they had jumped from the safety of a tree to the danger of the phone line.

As I was watching them I thought about how I can find myself in a very similar situation.

Grief is not a single emotion-it’s a whole suitcase of them!  I can’t help feeling them.  In fact, I NEED to feel them if I’m going to do the work grief requires.

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But if I allow myself to be led by my emotions, I can quickly be drawn away from the safety of truth and find myself perched precariously on the high wire of my feelings.

Once there, my sole focus becomes maintaining my balance and I lose sight of where I want to go.

In my scramble to keep my footing, I can sacrifice relationships.

I can take offense when none was intended.

I give offense because I’m angry and wounded myself.

I can allow sorrow to cloud my vision so that I can’t see the real beauty that still remains.

I need to remain aware of where my emotions are leading me so that I don’t end up somewhere I don’t want to be.

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I’m not nearly as nimble as a squirrel.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step Back, Don’t React

It is possible not to react to every single thing someone says or does.  It is possible to scroll past social media posts that get under your skin and not look back.  It is possible to ignore a snarky comment or an unhelpful piece of advice from someone who ACTS like they know what you’re going through but really has. no. idea.  

Now if you are new on this journey, you will read these first few lines and think, “Is this woman crazy????” 

I felt EXACTLY the same way in the first months and even through the first couple years in this Valley.

But, I will tell you this:  the sooner you can embrace the habit of practicing the pause, the sooner you will begin to feel like you have some control in your world again.

And isn’t that one of the things we crave after the tsunami of child loss sweeps over our lives-order, control, a sense of purpose and direction?

It’s hard. 

Really, really hard not to react against every arrow shot into my wounded heart.  Even when I know it was an accident and the offense is collateral damage, it still hurts.

But I’ve found that if I just take a single, deep breath I can put a bit of distance between the oomph of the impact and my reaction.  And there is actually power in choosing to ignore offense.

Because then I am in control, not the person lobbing the arrows. 

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So what do I do in the split-second it takes to draw in that preparatory breath?  I consider the source.  I think (quickly) about my ongoing relationship with this person, what’s happening in THEIR life and why they might have said or done what they said or did.

Is it ignorance?  Is it sloppy choice of words?  Is it due to stress in his life?  Is she just worn out and not thinking?

And I decide:  is reacting to THIS particular exchange worth damaging the relationship?

Is it worth the negative emotional energy that I will have to expend?

Is it something I can overlook and move past?

Most of the time the answer is, “yes”.  I CAN let it go.  It’s not that big of a deal.  It is not a fair representation of our relationship and it is certainly not worth ruining a friendship.

I’m not just doing THEM  a favor.  I’m doing ME a favor.

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I’m not “letting them off the hook”.  I may actually revisit the issue later on, when emotions aren’t running high. 

But I have learned that I only have so much emotional energy to expend in this Valley.  So much of it is already absorbed in carrying the missing and sorrow and reining in my own outrageous feelings that I just don’t need to waste the rest on trivial things.

So I don’t (most of the time). 

Practicing the pause helps me do that. 

It gives me control. 

There is far too little of that this side of child loss.

So I will take what I can get. 

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