Dream Diary: A Visit from My Zombie Grandma and the Lesson She Taught Me

I was visited by my dead grandmother two nights ago in my dreams. Ugh. It was awful. Well, actually, her appearance was awful, but the message she sent during this visit was nice. Before I explain, let me share a little bit about my grandma.

Grandma Sue

Grandma Sue

My dad’s mother, Grandma Sue, was very much into appearances. Her clothes were always wrinkle free. Her jewelry was perfectly polished. Her hair was so perfect that it must have taken cans and cans of Aqua Net to get it stay. She and her mother, my great grandmother, were both particular about their hair and spent a lot of time in the “beauty shop” as they called it. I’d tag along, listening to the older ladies gossip under the hair dryers while I colored or read magazines I really had no business reading at that age. When they weren’t gossiping, they were bragging about their children and grandchildren. I think Grandma Sue liked hearing the gossip, but not nearly as much as she liked the bragging part of her beauty shop visits. That lady lit up any time she talked about her grandchildren, especially. And if I’m being totally honest, since I was with her a lot, it was a nice confidence booster.

After my grandmothers went home after their beauty shop appointment, my grandfather would dutifully tell them that their hair looked nice. One or both of the grandmothers would issue a series of pseudo-complaints about how it was all wrong and still a mess but would ultimately wear their hair with pride. (At least, I think that’s what happened because it wasn’t like they went into the bathroom and made any changes.) After one iteration of this routine, my grandmother left to take my great-grandmother home. I turned to my grandfather and asked, “What did the beauty shop people do, exactly? Their hair looks the same to me!” My grandfather chuckled and said he could never tell a huge difference either but that we mustn’t tell the ladies anything other than how lovely they looked.

I tell you this because I want you to picture the stereotypical grandma, my grandma, and your grandma in your mind before I tell you about the woman who visited me last night. Because she did not have the perfect clothes, perfect hair, perfect anything.

She was a zombie. No joke.

I was in that gray area between being awake and being asleep. A purgatory of sorts in the living world, I suppose, where the mind is purging the stress of the day before sleep (or manifesting that stress into a waking dream) rather than a person’s soul purging their sins before entry into heaven. I could hear my husband’s heavy breathing, yet I was seized by paralysis. This feeling used to frighten me, but I’ve grown used to it. I tried to concentrate on relaxing my mind to match my muscles. Slowly, I felt myself begin to drift off.

That’s when she came.

It felt as if the bed was sinking down beside me, like someone was sitting at the edge of the bed. At first, I thought my daughter needed me, but I figured she would have spoken to try to wake me. Then, I thought, well, maybe I didn’t shut the dog’s kennel door all the way and she jumped up on the bed, except I knew that I had shut it. At this point, I felt a little scared as I struggled to wake up the rest of the way. Even now, I’m not sure if I did wake up and hallucinated what I saw next or if I fell asleep the rest of the way and began dreaming. Either way, my grandmother appeared, and as I said before, she did not appear perfect. Her clothes were torn and dirty, her hair tousled, as if she’d simply been just sleeping all the years she’s been gone and had a serious case of bedhead. Her skin was barely hanging onto her bones, and it was a sick greenish grayish color. The worst part? She only had one eye.

My heart pounded as she gently placed a bony hand on my arm. When she spoke, she sounded just like I remember. And when she spoke, she told me that I need to take more care in growing and maintaining relationships with people. She told me that our time with our loved ones is limited and that I need to make sure I’m not taking advantage of that time. Plus, she told me to remember that we need others. We need support and love and guidance. We’re not meant to be alone or to shoulder our burdens alone. This goes for joys, as well.

Sadly, as I grew older, I spent less and less time with my grandparents. My family moved to the city when I was around 10, and most of the trips  back to my home town were spent visiting my mother. (My parents were divorced, and my sister and I spent the school year with Dad, some weekends and summers with Mom.) For reasons I won’t go into now, we stopped visiting my mother when I was 15, meaning we visited our home town even less. She and my grandfather would come visit us when they could, but I still find myself not able to remember the last time I saw my Grandma Sue, other than at her funeral. She died when I was 19.

As the years go by, it gets harder to remember little things, like the sound of her laugh or the way she walked around with a washcloth, always at the ready to clean up a spill or wipe away any speck of dust that dared land in her house.  It gets harder to imagine the distinct pattern of the lines in her face when she smiled or the frown lines on her forehead on the rare occasion she had to scold me. I wonder what she would think of my children, her great-grandchildren. I wonder what advice she would have for me on things like parenting and working through the stress of having a chronic illness.

It has been two days since I had that crazy dream, and I’m still rattled by it. It’s the kind of thing that happens frequently when my nighttime medication isn’t at the right dose or if I’m not taking care of myself emotionally. Stress is a big factor for me when trying to manage my symptoms, especially those involving REM intrusion, like cataplexy, hypnagogic/hypnopompic hallucinations (dreams upon waking or just before falling asleep), and sleep paralysis. Narcolepsy comes with the ability to dream more vividly and more often than others, but that’s not always a good thing. All that dreaming is quite exhausting, actually, which is exactly why I take medication at night.

I think part of the reason my subconscious decided to have my grandmother visit me was to remind me that family and friends are an important source of support. It is all too easy to get wrapped in the day to day tasks of simply surviving to the point where we forget or put off working on our relationships with those who will not only help us to survive but will also make sure that we are thriving whenever possible. So, starting now, I’m going to start setting aside time to make phone calls, send notes, and visit my friends and family, especially those I left behind in Missouri and don’t see often enough.

So, thanks for the reminder, Grandma Sue. I love you and miss you. I hope you visit again soon, but maybe next time you could make a stop at the beauty shop first. 😉

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