A Child’s Dream of Death

“Mom, I had a bad dream. I had a dream that you died.”

And with that I bolted upright at 4 AM on Friday morning, not nearly enough hours of sleep under my belt.

My nine-year-old son was standing in the doorway, looking vulnerable, scared, and much smaller than he does in daylight hours.

He had never had a dream like this before—at least none that he could remember or thought to tell me about.

He asked if he should go back to bed. I asked him what he wanted. And for the first time in many years he crawled into the tiniest space in our bed, barely fitting but exactly where he needed to be. He held my hand and drifted immediately back to sleep.

DSC_0032And I stared at him—then at the ceiling, the wall, out the window, listening to him breathe, feeling his grasp, sometimes light other times more forceful, on my hand; and I wondered what he was thinking, what he was dreaming now, what precipitated this moment, what he was “working out” through his dreams.

Thoughts of my own mortality necessarily darted around, swooping in and out of my sleepy consciousness. I contemplated what my presence meant and means to my children, what my absence, my death, would mean–not thoughts I was planning on having 90 minutes before my alarm was set to buzz on a Friday morning but thoughts clearly worth considering.

It’s so easy, I think, to minimize our worth in someone’s life. Days are relentlessly busy with working, with cleaning and cooking and laundry and checking things off never-ending to-do lists that relegating our positions to those of scullery maid, chauffeur, and/or human ATM seems not only simple but natural.

But my son’s dream reminded me that no matter how natural these thoughts may be, they are erroneous—and deceptively so.   We do matter to others, to our children—not because of our ample cleaning skills, drivers’ licenses, or available cash flow but because we’re here—with them—because the thought of our not being here gives them nightmares.

Gives us nightmares.

And more than enough to think about.


3 thoughts on “A Child’s Dream of Death

  1. I remember so clearly the moment I realized my mother could die. It was so sudden and random. I was 10 and washing my hands in the bathroom at home. I just fixated on a bottle of aqua net hairspray (c. 1989) and went into a trance. I realized that she could die and that death was real. I was so unsettled. I eventually uprooted myself and ran to her in the livingroom and threw myself at her, crying and trying to describe this event. She held me and reassured me until I guess I fell asleep. Bottom line, I still remember this event vividly. My experience taught me that the discovery of mortality can happen at any time, and thank goodness my mother was there and did all of the things that make mothers so invaluable.

  2. And we wonder when worry starts knowing how useless it is and how little control we have over it. The reality of our parents mortality hits us, and the fear of not knowing what that means for us should such an event occur. And the subject of death which we feel unnecessary and perhaps out of our own fears, have avoided, needs to be dealt with. Yes it could happen; but if worry about alll the conditional elements along with the actual elements of life, we would have much time to enjoy life with its limits, So, a hug and reassurance, a gratitude for the concern and maturity, and onward we plod, hoping we are preparing our charges with resilience and hoping our love is enough to sustain them until other loves support them.

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