Alarming nightmares

For the last six years, I have experienced a wide variety of what I call “widow dreams”. Some are more upsetting than others, but they are rarely (and in fact, almost never!) panicked nightmares. And, for the most part, the dreams don’t impact my overall sleep patterns.

At the same time, since widowhood began my once healthy sleeping patterns changed. Yes, for the past six years I have had more than my fair share of sleepless nights. Mostly, the sleepless nights come when I’m stressed out or upset about something – but I always sleep well when life is good; when I’m mostly happy.

To cope with the widow dreams and the restless sleep, I have created several coping mechanisms and safety nets to protect myself from the really bad nights. Only as the bad nights are so rare now – especially the nightmares – I don’t always carry a “coping kit” when I travel away from home for a couple of nights. (I always bring it for longer trips.)

My coping kit, if you wondered, is my iPod containing soothing music, some mint hand lotion, a couple of bags of mint tea, and some mint sweeties. Can you spot the minty theme?

I have been so proud of myself, being able to cope with mild widow dreams whilst spending weekends with friends and I really, really thought that I was learning to live without my coping kit altogether. In fact, I have been telling myself that it’s a sign of healing and strength that I feel comfortable when I leave home without it.

Only I’ve just returned home from a short PhD retreat where I was catapulted back to the night Paul died, and I’ve been unable to sleep ever since.

It happened the first of the two nights when the building’s fire alarm went off in the middle of the night. It was a loud, shrilling beeping noise and when it began I sat straight up in bed calling out for Paul. I reached for him and scrambled out of bed to call for help. I was so frightened. It took a few moments for me to realise what was happening, and once I did I made my way out of the building with the rest of the occupants, shaking the whole way as my mind processed the situation.

I stood away from the crowd whilst we waited for the all-clear because I didn’t want anyone to see me shaking and crying. After all, I was the only woman and I didn’t want the 30 or so men to think I was afraid of a little fire alarm.

The rest of the night was spent waking up over and over again, reliving the nightmare of Paul’s death. And the next day, I tried to constantly distract myself because the moment my focus waned, I began having mild flashbacks. When I went to bed, I did so hoping that I’d be able to sleep. But I couldn’t. I was exhausted and my nerves were on edge. And the nightmares stayed with me all night long.

I’m now back home and am feeling a little more relaxed and calm. But I am so afraid that it will take a while to completely rid myself of these nightmares again.

But at least I have my coping kit nearby.

Sadly, I think the whole experience has reminded me that grief doesn’t just magically go away. It’s reminded me that grief can creep in when you’re least expecting it.

It also makes me realise that I need to keep my coping kit in my overnight bag, just in case. Which I suppose is OK and it doesn’t mean I have to use it. After all, I always carry a small sewing kit with me “just in case”, so why not carry some minty salvation, too?

I’m heading off to bed soon and am hoping that I’ll find at least a short spell of happy dreams. Like the happy version of this one! (Wishful thinking; it’s what I do!)

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