There are more things in heaven and earth

This is a ghost story.

I had a rotten day last Monday. I was leaving for a work trip the next day and I had so much to do. Packing, cleaning, trying to fit in some exercise, and of course looking after my kids. I also had an unfortunate conversation with someone who made me feel like an idiot and really knocked my confidence. And I was feeling guilty because the work trip meant that I was going to miss my 5yo’s first sports day at big school. He also had a bad day at school that day and was upset when I picked him up.

After dinner, I collapsed on the sofa to cuddle up with my kids until it was time for the bedtime routine. I suddenly had a terrible feeling. An aching and heaviness spreading from my shoulders, across my back and down my legs. I shortly found myself running to the loo. I had some sort of stomach bug. Perfect. Perfect timing.

That evening I had booked myself a manicure. My manicurist comes to my house after the kids are in bed, sorts out my nails and is very good company in the process. I had been looking forward to it all day, but now I was ill I needed to cancel it. Worse, it happened so soon before she was meant to come that I had to turn her away at the door. Another embarrassment for the day.

And so, feeling downtrodden and physically ill, I removed the peeling shellac from my nails myself, leaving them as plain and stripped down as I felt. It was times like this that I normally would have called my grandma, who died in April. She would always listen to me unload all of my fears and heartaches and worries on her, with no judgement, and with no feeling that I was imposing on her. I felt very lonely indeed when I reached for the phone for the millionth time since she died, and stopped short, when I realised there was no one on the other end.

I called a friend instead, cried, and went to bed. Sleep was not forthcoming given the need to constantly rush to the bathroom, but over a course of hours, I eventually fell into a fitful sleep.

My dreams were normal at first, not exceptional. But then I woke up. I thought I woke up. The view I saw was the door to my bedroom, the bedside table, the light switch – the same as always. But then someone started to walk into the room. I couldn’t see who it was in the dark.

I was scared. Who was coming into my room in the middle of the night? My husband was in bed next to me, fast asleep. I tried to scream but at first I couldn’t. With a massive effort I finally managed to make a noise – a weak “aaahh” “aaahh” that sounded more real than the image I was seeing.

As the figure continued to approach my bed, I thought that it was actually someone I knew. It started to feel less menacing. I thought it might be my next door neighbour, but I couldn’t figure out why she would be coming into my room.

The figure sat down on my bed, and suddenly I began to see her shape. Soft grey curly hair, giant glasses. She grasped my hands and suddenly I knew. “Is it Grandma?” I said, talking in my sleep. It was her. “Grandma!” I spoke again, aloud, joyful.

Then, a stroke on my arm from my husband, and I was awake, and she was gone.

My husband was only half awake so I just told him I had a weird dream and to go back to sleep. But it wasn’t just a weird dream. It was powerful. I know that I talked aloud in my sleep – that is why I woke my husband – and it is not something I normally do. I was aware of struggling to speak as the dream was happening.

I had been in that twilight state between dreaming and awake, and my Grandma’s face and the clasp of her hands had felt oh so real. It was not like a normal dream where pictures and scenes run through your head, you may talk but it’s more like watching a movie of yourself than actually being you. In this dream, I was self-aware and everything I experienced was palpable.

So what actually was it?

A ghost? A dream? An illness-fuelled hallucination? Or was it really her?

I’ve been wishing to dream about her since she died. Not the sort of dream I had. Just a normal one, to see her alive and healthy again. But she’s been conspicuous by her absence from my dreams. Perhaps because of her prominence in my waking thoughts.

I’ve read some “woo-woo” websites about ghostly sleep visitations and lost loved ones. These sorts of experiences are not all that uncommon. And the biggest thing they have in common is that the person who experiences it cannot simply dismiss it.

Perhaps it was just a dream. But in my heart I think that it was really her. Coming to see me when I needed her.

This post may seem someone off-topic to my blog, but really it isn’t. Because my blog is about family. Whether my grandmother really visited me in some intentional ghostly way or whether it all came from my own mind actually doesn’t matter. What matters is the way it made me feel. Safe, not alone, important. This is what mothers do for their children.

My grandma was the only mother I ever knew, and though I always knew that I would have years of life without her, she is with me still. Earlier that day, my loss had felt bigger than big, but my dream reminded me that whatever force had bound us together in life can never be broken by death.

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Mindfulness and coping with grief

Trigger warning:  the topics of losing a loved one and teenaged death are discussed in this post. 

I am going through a tough time at the moment. My grandmother, who raised me in my early years, is very ill. She is unresponsive in hospital, and it’s looking like I’ll never get to speak to her again. So although she is not completely gone yet, I am already missing her. I will probably be writing a few posts about my grief and in tribute to her when the time is right. In the meantime, I asked the wonderful Hayley from Mission: Mindfulness – the blog to share some thoughts on how to cope when we lose someone who means the world to us. Hayley’s thoughts here are helping me every moment that I wish I could hear my grandmother’s voice on the phone.

A guest post by Hayley from Mission: Mindfulness: the blog

Dear Reader,

Nicole wrote to me a few weeks ago asking me to write a guest post for The Mum Reviews blog. Nicole is a blogger buddy of mine who I didn’t want to let down, and I was honoured to be asked. I really wanted to write something that fitted with her remit of mindfulness and suffering a loss, yet I was fearful of writing such an important post. I am certainly no therapist and not an expert in grief management, but said I’d have a think and get back to her. And then yesterday I knew what I wanted to write, so here it is.   

********
Today was the usual busy morning at our house.  Porridge being served.  Bread being toasted.  The radio blaring out.  The kids were, well, just being kids really …

And then suddenly an unexplained and unanticipated sadness hit me – coming from what seemed like nowhere. I was transported to a different place and time. But, as I tuned into the song on the radio, I recognised what was going on. Oasis’s “Masterplan” had started to play. My chest felt like I’d been squeezed too tightly in a big, unsolicited hug, and my eyes prickled in the familiar sensation I feel when tears are close.

Although nearly 20 years ago, the power of music was able to vividly remind me of a tragic event. A time when the fragility of life became palpable to me.

The time when my older sister’s boyfriend was suddenly taken from the world in a tragic car accident.

We’d all had a fabulous summer – working and playing together. It was the era of Britpop, and some of us were enjoying the twilight of our teenage years, while others were embarking on the beginning of their 20s. I recall the new Oasis album had been playing A LOT as we drove around the country roads of Lincolnshire, causing great debate. Some of us loved it – Adam, my sister’s boyfriend, being one.  Others of the group were not so sure.

That I remembered all of this as if it were yesterday is testament to how powerful music can be. At that moment, the sadness of losing Adam seemed as raw as it had at the end of the 90s.

And yet Adam had not been my sweetheart. Nor my son. Nor my grandson. Nor my  brother. Nor my best friend. And so I can only begin to imagine how many times, and how intensely, this happens to people who were these things to him. And as my thoughts overtake me, whisking me away from my residual feelings, I wonder: how did they cope?

Of course it would be crude to speak of a hierarchy of grief. Yet in reality it seems that the rawest of emotions come when a person is taken from us too young. By this I don’t just mean someone of a similar age, or younger, to the beautiful Adam, but even someone much, much older who still also seems to have so much life and living left. That sense of injustice and anger which mixes with the deep sadness of the grief must be an almost overpowering blend of emotions.  Understandably these can lead to very dark thoughts.

Until recently it has seemed the norm in our culture – in keeping with the idea of the British “stiff upper lip” – not to allow these thoughts and emotions to consume us. Rather, to distance ourselves from them as quickly as possible, to distract ourselves, or worse still for our “inner critic” to take over and berate us for not “coping” as we perceive we should.

Instead, Rumi, the 13th century Muslim poet (much quoted on Mindfulness courses and retreats) offers a different perspective. The suggestion is to allow these feelings and thoughts to freely come and freely go.  Without judgement.

To be with them for a moment or two. If that feels okay at that particular moment in time. To view these thoughts and feelings as passing guests and treat them accordingly.

This principle, so important to mindfulness, is eloquently described in Rumi’s poem The Guest House. 

The Guest House

Translated by Coleman Barks

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Wishing all who are going through difficult times at the moment much love.
Hayley xx

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Tammymum