On dreams of dead parents, delayed grief and Rihanna

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I Google a lot of things. See:

What is a 401k? When should I start planning for retirement? How many Ls are in Hillary Clinton? Why and how does one owe money on their income taxes? I’ve had the hiccups all day, am I going to die?

Some of these (often late-night, occasionally liquored up) web searches leave me feeling like a successful 20-something soaring through adulthood when, really, I’m just coasting.

A 401(k) is a retirement savings plan sponsored by an employer. Now. Two. If you paid less taxes during the year than you owed for your income level. No.

Others leave me suspended mid-air, free-falling down the Internet rabbit hole, grasping for a branch, a twig, and — more times than not — a Web MD landing page that doesn’t make me feel like I have three months left to live.

Last week, I googled:

Recurring dream a dead parent is still alive.

and the Internet gave me a whole lot of “Reply Hazy, Try Again”s.

What I gathered (besides the fact that I could probably use some professional therapy) was that, nearly two years later, I’m still grieving my mother’s death (and — though the dreams of my dad are far less frequent — close to seven years later, I’m still grieving his, too).

A few different variations of the Google search later and the Internet diagnosed me with delayed grief. (Another website referred to it as complicated mourning, which I personally prefer because it sounds more ~sophisticated~). According to a website called What’s Your Grief (which I can only hope is a play on the phrase “Whats your beef?”), there are at least ten types of grief: delayed being just one of them (hey! It’s the most common, too!).

The powers that be at What’s Your Beef Grief define complicated mourning [1] as:

When grief symptoms and reactions aren’t experienced until long after a person’s death or a much later time than is typical. The griever, who consciously or subconsciously avoids the reality and pain of the loss, suppresses these reactions.

Symptoms include: guilt (check), self-reproach (double check), panic attacks (sorry, roommates), and somatic expressions of fear such as choking sensations and hyperventilation (also recently Googled: “how to breath when it feels like there’s a tractor trailer on your chest”).

Treatment includes: therapy (duh), letting oneself cry (easy), and writing.


The dreams are always different.

Sometimes, she is right where I left her in New York Presbyterian, terminally ill and in limbo. Others, she is my hot date to the MTV Video Music Awards and we are sandwiched between Kimye and Beck for an exclusive first-look at the 12-minute interactive music video for “Bitch Better Have My Money,” complete with one (very realistic) holographic, half-naked Ri-Ri.

Sometimes, she is hiding out in our old shared bedroom, afraid to tell me she faked her own death because she left dad (who, mind you, is already dead) for a woman who worked at the gas station. Others, I am in that same bedroom, paralyzed, drenched in a cold sweat and unable to aid her as she screams for help from the couch downstairs.

Sometimes, she is sick. Others, she is cancer-free and taking me to see the new (totally non-existent in real life) Meryl Streep movie because all my friends forgot my birthday (fuckers).

In each dream, her death is addressed as “just a bad joke” that she either:

  • apologizes profusely for;
  • pretends never happened; or
  • makes fun of me for ever falling for.

And so, what began as “just a bad dream” became “just a few bad dreams.” By year-one-without-her, they had made themselves at home, serving as a recurring nightmare that — to this day — only ever ends with a swift reminder she is still gone. (Editor’s note: It’s not easy to wake up for work when, just seconds ago, you and your dead mother were catching up on last week’s Scandal over a pint of Half Baked). These night terrors — each as lifelike as the last — crave attention, and they demand it two to three times a week because, according to Google, I have yet to properly grieve.

Touché, Internet.

Since my mother died I’ve completely gutted our two-story house, splitting its shit equally amongst three new homes: my first big girl apartment, an overpriced storage unit and the curb. I’ve settled (most of) her personal finances, verbally assaulted at least two bank tellers and told one bill collector to go to hell. I’ve even closed a long-forgotten AOL account she was unknowingly paying $29.99 a month for (and hit a personal low when I very seriously told a customer service rep to “try the screen-name ‘Softgirl98′” [2]). I’ve organized not one, but two benefit concerts in her and my father’s memory while, at the same time, convincing hundreds of drunken 20-somethings to spare over $10,000 for cancer research. I interviewed Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, wrote an investigative piece on potholes and found this old photo of me from 1995:

SCAN0021 - Version 2

I even did my taxes.

But with the second benefit concert less than two weeks away (and abundance of free time on the horizon), it feels like I’m riding shotgun [3] in a car that’s doing 90, and headed straight for the Great Wall. It feels like, for the first time in almost two years, her death is real — and way more than just a bad joke.

Turns out, my subconscious has been flashing the seat belt sign the whole time.

(I guess I should buckle up.)

1. I want the world to know that — at this point in the piece — I mistakenly typed “sophisticated mourning” instead of “complicated mourning,” and, from here on out, that is what I’m calling it.

2. Or personal high, you decide.

3. Because, despite all of this, I still haven’t learned how to drive.

2 Comments on “On dreams of dead parents, delayed grief and Rihanna”

  1. My condolences, For both of your parents. I remember reading your post so long ago about your mother’s death and feeling that pain.
    Take Care Meghan. Seek professional help because maybe writing may not be enough and neither will the variety of web searches.
    Congrats on the money aggregated. I’m sure that will be put into Good use.

  2. Pingback: The second year without her | Meaghan McGoldrick

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