Along with the many side effects of grief, what once were sweet dreams turned into nightmares. Dreaming about fake vacations, conversations, or encounters was always normal for me. After losing my dad, though, my dreams became all about him.
I have always dreamed about my family and friends, but never to the extent that I did after my father’s death. The dreams were almost all the same. My dad was almost always alive, but he was not himself. Sometimes he would be in the hospital dying, and in the dream, I would be struggling with the fact that he would soon be gone. Other times, I’d be with him, but he would be different. He wouldn’t talk, would act strangely, and was like a hollow shell of his former self.
When the dream was over, I would wake up with a massive pit in my stomach. Phew, it was just a dream. None of that is real, I would tell myself, glad that my nightmare was over. But as I slowly woke up, I would realize the truth: my nightmare was real.
At first, those dreams came nightly. Every single night I would have that moment of relief, and then terror when I remembered. Again, and again, and again. As time went on, though, they managed to slow down (Though it may have been due to my sleep deprivation, I'm not sure.), and I started only having three or four a month. But they affected me just as much.
I still have dreams like that today, but much less than I used to. I still wake up feeling the same way, and I haven’t found a way to stop them. So, I’ve come up with some coping methods to dreams about your loved ones:
1. Think happy thoughts before you sleep. This one may seem dumb, but it helped me a lot. I often dream about my dad’s death after I was thinking about it in bed, so I started thinking of happy things, such as my favorite people, things I was looking forward to, and others instead before I fell asleep, which usually worked.
2. Create a routine after dreams. Whenever I wake up upset about my dad, I push aside some of my to-do list in the morning and give myself about an hour to eat a yummy breakfast and watch one of my favorite shows, which I've figured out makes me feel the best.
3. Embrace your grief. When I don’t feel like watching something that will make me laugh, I take a few minutes to think about my grief and miss my dad. Then, when I feel ready, I get up and begin my day.
4. Talk to someone about your dream. You can talk to anyone you know about your dream, though it may be the most helpful to talk to someone who has gone through grief or knew your loved one. Relating to someone about grief and sadness, or even just sharing all of your pain can help more than you realize.
These four techniques have helped me through many nights, and I hope that they can help you too. Dreams are just like any other side effect of grief, and while you can’t completely get rid of the bad ones, you can cope with them. If you have any other ideas that could help others, be sure to comment them as well.
Written by Natalie Adams, the creator of Teenage Grief Sucks. Photo by Kinga Cichewicz.