Paging Dr. Freud

I would certainly never tell him about this while he is a child, and maybe I’ll never tell him, but the fact of the matter is that I have recurring nightmares about Monkey dying. And it’s just as awful as it sounds.

Sometimes I go for months and months without it happening. In the past I’ve even gone a year or more. But they always come back.

The only time I’ve ever dreamed about Chickadee dying was after our car accident, and they faded away after a few months. On the other hand, my nightmares about losing Monkey started when I was pregnant with him. That means I’m coming up on a dozen years of waking up in a panic, convinced my youngest has succumbed to dangers from which I failed to protect him.

Why it happens, why it’s just him… well, I have a few theories. Some are more “woo-woo” than others, and I don’t suppose it really matters. But last night was the worst yet.

When I was a child my recurring nightmare was always one in which something terrifying was happening and I was unable to scream. I would open my mouth and FEEL like I was yelling with all my might, but no sound came out. The most terrifying part was not actually the absence of sound, but that each and every one of those dreams centered around an internal debate about whether or not I SHOULD scream. And once I’d finally decided that yes, I should, I couldn’t. As I panicked and yelled without sound I would realize that it was a dream, and that I wasn’t waking up. It always seemed like forever until I wrenched myself awake.

Something about sort-of-knowing-it-was-a-dream-but-being-stuck always made it scarier, somehow.

The dreams of losing Monkey are never ones in which I know it’s a dream. It always seems terribly real until I jerk awake, at which point I slowly relax into “oh thank GOD it was just a dream” and eventually go back to sleep. And while I’ve been having this nightmare for years, it takes different forms each time, so it’s never “oh, right, I’m dreaming about a car accident but I’ve had this dream before,” either. Each time it feels real, each time it’s a kick to the gut, each time I’m both surprised and elated to wake up and realize it was a dream.

Last night, though, I knew it was a dream. Except that I didn’t. I would say, “This is a dream, I’ve had this nightmare before” and everyone looked at me with pity and concern. They would speak to Otto in hushed tones, and he would come sit with me and hold my hands. And as I looked around it slowly dawned on me that no, I wasn’t dreaming. My baby was gone; my daughter was now an only child; I had been holding it together because I knew it was a dream but really I was just delusional with grief.

“I thought it was the DREAM,” I cried. “I’ve had that dream for YEARS. THIS IS THE DREAM. He can’t be gone. It’s not real. Is it real?” And there was more murmuring and pitying looks and I crumpled to the ground, trying to explain to Otto that I had dreamed this for years, it couldn’t really be happening, and he wouldn’t look me in the eye.

Last night I caught Monkey in a very purposeful and elaborate lie, which is new territory for us with him. I handled it badly. Among the other useful things I said during the ensuing conversation was “Shame on you, Monkey.” And my words cracked his little heart, because he already WAS ashamed; I didn’t need to say it, and doing so made everything worse. In the nightmare, time wasn’t warped as it so often is in dreamworld; it wasn’t some random day and time, but the morning after our encounter, and he had died in the night and now I wailed that the last thing he’d remember me saying to him was “shame on you” and now he was gone and I could never, ever take it back.

When I finally rose to consciousness and realized it was just a dream, I had that lingering unease that couldn’t be shaken off. I lay awake for the next several hours, silently reminding myself that Monkey was okay.

This morning with him was uneventful—he was not only very much alive, but apparently unscarred by my careless comment the previous evening—and by the time he left for school I felt almost normal.

Coincidentally (or not), I had an email from a dear friend about our current schooling conundrum, reiterating that we will figure it out and everything will be okay.

I worry about both of my kids, of course. And they both have their challenges. It’s logical to assume that whatever mental calisthenics my unconscious brain enjoys, it is because Chickadee is more like me (and therefore, I feel like I “get” her) and Monkey is less like me (and therefore more angst-provoking as I never know if I’m getting it “right”) that I tend to catastrophize when it comes to him. I know this.

Still, I’m looking forward to the day when I realize it’s been years since I’d dreamed he was taken from me.


  1. Jennifer Joyner

    Wow, that must have been terrifying…and to have it happen over and over…yikes! I had a dream the other night that I left the kids in the van with it running while I went to knock on the door of a friend’s house. From the porch, I watched while two men jumped in the van and took off. The dream scared me so much that I forced myself to wake up…heart pounding. That’s the first time I’ve ever had such a dream; I can’t imagine having those kinds of nightmares all the time.

  2. karen

    Mir, i don’t think any of us has a clue what joy, what love, what pure terror parenting is going to bring on us until we’re in the heat of it. I’ve had horrible dreams too, and surely it stems from our fears and our guilt. You should have no guilt… am I the only one who doesn’t think it’s terrible that you said “Shame on you!”… I think you made a clear statement that lies are shameful. There are big consequences of telling lies sometimes and your message was necessary. As just a reader of your blog I know my opinion is just that, a random opinion… but I do think you are your worst critic, you are too hard on yourself. Your children are lucky, so take the compliment and just sit with it instead of the snort and rejection.

  3. Carla Hinkle

    What an awful, awful dream. Because that’s how horrible things feel like when they happen, I suspect — an awful dream one can’t wake up from. Ugh. I’m so glad Monkey was there to hug and scold this morning.

  4. Megan

    Horrible. And don’t you just HATE the powerlessness thing? You can’t stop the dream, you can’t predict it, you can’t recognize it… stupid minds with their stupid sub consciousness and their stupid ability to hit you where you’re most vulnerable.

  5. Mary Fran

    I sometimes even daydream about losing one of them and I actually start crying real tears. I asked my Mother-in-Law if the fear of losing a child ever goes away. She gave me that knowing look and said, “Sorry, no.” Her baby (my husband) is 43. Sigh.

  6. Tracy

    When people ask me, “What is your greatest fear?” Before I had children, I’d say, “Death” and now, I say, “Having to bury one of my children.” Even though I’ve never dreamt about it, I can so relate to this today. Thanks, Mir.

  7. TC

    Weird (and evocatively painful to read). Not your dream (well, yeah, that too) but the fact that I’ve long had a recurring nightmare about N…but not about his older sister, Em. (My dream involves him being sexually/physically abused behind a door but screaming for me to help, and me being unable to find which door he’s behind, or being held back somehow while he’s dragged, screaming, away.)

    I can never sleep afterwards. I can’t let myself. Even just typing that made everything in my body tense up.

    I’m not actually a person who’s paranoid about that sort of abuse or anything. It’s clear to me, though, that it’s not about that as much as my fear that he needs my help–is screaming for it–and somehow I’m not giving it to him. And clearly, you’re afraid of losing Monkey, in some way that doesn’t have to necessarily be death.

    Wish I knew how to fix those problems, so both of us could go to sleep at night and not fear the possible re-emergence of those awful dreams.

  8. Em

    I feel the same way about my son (my middle child) and I have come to the conclusion it was because I tried so long to get pregnant with my oldest and he just kind of happened. Too easy. Surely I hadn’t earned him. Add to that the fact that he is really, really GOOD. I mean, always. I swear, he tempts fate by just always being the kind of calm, well behaved, hard working kid that the world needs to grow to adulthood. Of course, that is not to say I would not be devestated if any of my children were gone. Maybe it is normal to have one that you fear more for? Are one of your more “woo-woo” thoughts that some greater power makes you worry more about Monkey because he is somehow more at risk in the great plan? And that if you can find the moment in time, all Marty McFly like, you can make him safe? No? Just me? Let’s say that normal thing again. Nothing but normalcy here!

  9. dad

    I believe this is the universal, mother of all, basic fears. It doesn’t dissipate with time. Luckily our brains addle with age and we get confused with other matters.

    Maybe you should borrow some money from the kids therapy fund.

  10. Kristie

    Wow. Just…wow. I have two kids and I have never had this dream…and I can’t say I’m not thankful for that. I have other weird dreams but never one in which one of my children was harmed. It must have been hard to share with us. Thank you.

  11. becky

    I have those same, brief thoughts when I am awake & it seizes me w/terror every time. If I’m lucky, I’m alone & people won’t see me burst into tears.

    I’m so sorry that you have these dreams. I can imagine how terrible they are.

  12. Kristi


  13. Heather

    I’m sorry you have this awful nightmare :( I’ve had one or two about my sister dying, or a friend, but I can’t imagine recurrent ones about losing a child. That would be so scary.

  14. Anonymous

    I too have had those dreams, mostly about older son. When I was pregnant with #2, after a devastating miscarriage a year earlier, I dreamed he would be born without eyes every night for a month. It was exhausting.

    One thing I have connected is that I usually have these dreams when we are in a major transition of some sort…when son #1 started going to daycare, after I lost the pregnancy, when I was about to plunge into being the parent of TWO children. They tend to back off after the change is past. Best of luck, and may tonight’s slumber be much more peaceful.

  15. Debbi

    Super big hugs to you!! That is every mothers worst fear. Sorry that you experience those dreams :-(

  16. Randi

    OMG, I’m so glad to see someone else who has these dreams! Not that I’m glad that you have them, but that I’m not the only one! I always have nightmares about something happening to my daughter, and it actually makes me feel guilty because I wonder why I don’t dream about something happening to my son. Like because my daughter is the youngest, she’s the most vulnerable? I don’t know, but I hate them! I, too, have had many nights when I was up for an hour or two, constantly checking on the kids from a nightmare.

  17. annette

    I wish I had something profound to say, because I wanted to do my internet Freud accent, “Vell, ’tis perfectly clear my dear…” But, alas, I’ve got nothing. Have the dreams always come when you were anxious about a decision regarding him?

  18. Lucinda

    I honestly believe recurring dreams are often about some issue we haven’t dealt with. No surprise I’m sure. I hope you figure out what it is with Monkey or that your bad dreams simply go away. Hugs to you. (and prayers)

  19. Laura

    I was a particularly angsty teen and I would have similar dreams the night after a big fight with my parents. I would dream that they died but only I knew they were alive. I had to fight my way to their casket and tell them I was sorry and they would magically come alive. It was F.R.E.A.K.Y to them and to me and eventually I stopped telling them because they would get totally weirded out.

    I worry about my youngest dying all the time. I think it is because I can’t have more children and if something happened to him my oldest would be an only child and I couldn’t do anything to change that. I also had a really scary delivery with my youngest (breech, cord prolapse, emergency c-section) so I had a legitimate reason to fear losing him. Still, it isn’t the happiest thoughts in the world.

    Isn’t it amazing how our kids just worm their way into our psyches? My Dad has told me of many nights when my mom will wake him up crying in her sleep. When she wakes up and is able to explain the crying it is always over a dream of something happening to my brother or myself and we are 29 and 35, respectively.

  20. J from Ireland

    That is an awful dream, you poor thing. That is my greatest fear, the death of one of my children. I too can’t wait for the day you never have these nightmares again. Best wishes.

  21. Shannon

    You are not alone. Not only does the dream come for me when I am vulnerable, but sometimes when I am awake participating in a normal activity. The realization hits that it could all be snatched away and I am powerless to stop it. The tears come and I feel as if my heart has been ripped out.

    Hugs Mir. It might never go away, but we’re all in this together. Mom-Love and strength to you. Hopefully it will help when the fear is at its worst.

  22. Headless Mom

    I have never had those dreams, but they sound awful. You deserve chocolate. Or wine. Or both.

  23. Erin

    I’ve had those dreams about my husband and oh, how hard they are. I hate the feeling you have during them and almost worse is the reliving it after you awaken.

  24. Sheila

    My heart was in my throat the entire time I read this. Before I was a parent, I had NO IDEA that the joy and the fear would both be doled out in equal measure as we watch our kids grow.

  25. mamaspeak

    I hope that in sharing it, maybe some of the realism of it might dissipate and/or it will fail to return. Both doubtful, I realize, but who knows, right.

    I rarely remember my dreams ever. Shoot, for a really, really long time months, maybe years, I was lucky to get to the state of sleep in which you dream, so you know, nothing to remember. Not really a better place either. I know I there now, because I’m not a zombie all the time, but I can’t tell you anything about the last dream I had or when I remember having one. I suppose, in this case, that’s a blessing.
    (((hugs))) I just do all my fretting during daylight hours. Don’t worry, I’m not missing out on it, I’m sure.

  26. Brigitte

    Ooh, even as just a dream, that brought tears to my eyes. I feel lucky that I always know it’s a dream and wake up when a dream even STARTS to get scary.

    Then again, my horrible daytime imagination seems to uncontrollably picture every worst possible scenario whenever my daughter is out of my sight for more than two seconds or so. I’m always so happy to see her alive and healthy again!

  27. Meg

    Gahhh. I’m with Headless Mom. Wine and chocolate for you. Or preferably wine-flavoured chocolate.

    (and I hate hate HATE that moment when you’re telling a kid off, trying to get through, and you say something not unreasonable and it’s the final step over the line and they tip over into tears and you feel like a complete heel……… I made my 5 year old cry her little heart out not long ago and I still tear up thinking about it. She deserved to be told off for what she did, but that doesn’t take away from how upset she was and how bad I felt for making her *that* upset.)

  28. elz

    Ugh, just ugh. I have super scary-real dreams about losing my husband. It started when we were engaged and scared the c-r-a-p out of me. My priest thought it might be because I found someone that I loved completely and entirely and the thought of that loss was terrifying. I think he’s partially right. I still get those dreams from time to time and it always freaks me the heck out. All of that worrying has to go somewhere and our ego/id/unconscious is where it likes to live I guess.

  29. Aimee

    Oh no. How scary. I *hate* dreams like that. I feel sort of sick just thinking about you having a dream like that. Like elz, I sometimes have dreams about losing my husband, and they are completely terrifying and real-seeming, and they take me hours and hours to shake.

    I don’t know what to say, really, except to hug that Monkey extra close today and remember that it’s okay to be human.

  30. Heather Cook

    I have a similar dream… but it’s more like I’ve misplaced my children. I’ve put them somewhere and I can’t find them and I know they are sitting there waiting for me and I can’t get to them because I don’t remember where they are. But I know they will just sit and wait and wait and eventually die… morbid, huh? I figure it’s something about disappointing your children…. but I wake up shaking and crying and usually have to get up and have a tea or go lay with them because there’s no going back to sleep after that….


  31. Katie in MA

    I almost never dream about my children. I have probably half a dozen dreams every night – all of them horrible nightmares – but I can count on one hand the number of times my children have been there. The last few times I’ve thought in my dreams, “Get out, you’re not allowed to be here,” like I’ve banned them from my nightly terrors.” I wish I knew how I managed that trick because I’d gladly teach you. I’m so sorry, Mir – I know how terrifying it is.

  32. kathy

    I don’t have that dream and to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I can put words to what I have felt all 8 years of my youngest’s life about her, becasue that might give more power to that feeling and I REALLY DO NOT want that. Suffice to say I know your feeling. I have not had the dream, but I have had a similar feeling about the youngest of my 4. It is incredibly unsettling and I very much hope it is ridiculous. Because i simply will not entertain the possibility.

    Yeah, vague as hell, but I ain’t giving it more power with words.

    But I do feel your pain.

  33. amy

    Have you ever noticed a correlation between something that happened during the day and then having the nightmare? I have a recurring nightmare that I am drowning (always in a different body of water and one time under ice), but tend to only have it on nights where I’ve been very overwhelmed during the day. Our subconscious is so very weird. I could totally do with not dreaming at all!

Things I Might Once Have Said


Quick Retail Therapy

Pin It on Pinterest