People don’t like to talk about this subject. They say it’s too disturbing. But, worse is when it happens to you and you’re not expecting it, and then you believe you’re crazy. Sometimes we honestly believe we can see our child who died walking among the living. You didn’t lose your mind. This is all part of your grief, and it’s time people began talking about it!
When my sister died at age thirteen, I was devastated! I was only fifteen, and nobody had prepared me at all about death. Why would they? It’s something you don’t really think much about at that age. And, truthfully, death isn’t a topic that we openly discuss — especially the topic of child loss.
What happened to me for more than two years was normal, but I thought I had gone insane. I was too afraid to tell anyone about it at the time. Enough pain had come into our family when my sister died. My parents didn’t need to hear about me going off the deep end. At least that’s what I thought — that my mind was slowly losing all sanity.
My sister died on June 5, and very shortly after her death I began having nightmares. I would wake up choking and gasping because in my dreams I could see her reaching for me, and I was trying to get her — pull her back to me — but I never could quite reach her. And, I would see her dropping down into a deep, dark hole as she was calling out for me to help her. That’s when I would bolt up in bed breathless — unable to breathe. The nightmares were horrible. But nobody told me to expect this to happen!
After several months the nightmares became less and less, but something else happened that was terrifying to me. I could swear I saw my sister walking in crowds of people! In fact, on several occasions I would literally run up behind someone I thought was her and would tap the person on the shoulder only to have the person turn around and look at me with a look of shock! I would call out, “Mellie, turn around! I’m here. I’m here!!!” This happened not once, but many times — especially at school.
The feeling that followed was shock, then such devastating sadness. I just couldn’t believe that she wasn’t the one in that crowd! I’d walk away sobbing every time. It was like life was playing a cruel joke on me.
I’m sure I’m not the only one this has happened to, but I never hear people talking about this mistaken identity of their child, or as it was in my case, of my sister. I think it’s just too painful. But, I feel like it’s important to bring this out in the open because I know how terrifying it is to experience thinking you’ve seen your child or your sibling walking around only to find out that it was your imagination.
Grief is so hard on us and grief has so many different faces. In order to protect us from too much shock and too much pain, we can only absorb so much at a time. And, that’s why we go through this period of thinking we saw our child alive. It takes months — and sometimes years — to totally take in the reality of the loss.
I had visited my sister’s gravesite on many occasions. I knew she had died. Her absence was felt every minute of the day. But, it wasn’t until about two years after her death that I was finally able to understand the reality of what had happened.
Please, if you’ve had this happen to you, find someone you can talk to about it. You haven’t gone crazy. You’re not unusual or experiencing something that is out of the norm of grieving the loss of your child.
And, I beg of you if you have children who have lost a brother or sister, please talk to them about the possibility of them having similar experiences as mine. They’re probably too afraid to ask you about it and living with nightmares and phantom experiences is horribly frightening.
By the way, the nightmares and illusions do eventually end. It took me two years for them to subside. Occasionally, I will still have a dream about my sister, but it’s mostly about everyday life and she is usually in a family setting that is happy. I welcome those dreams.
I know this is a hard subject to talk about — very, very hard. But, I feel it’s necessary to bring this out into the open to help those who are experiencing this to know that this is one more step in this journey we call child loss.
Now when I think of my sister Mellie (Carmella), I think of blue skies and blooming flowers. I know where she is and I know she is surrounded by love and all things beautiful, and that calms my spirit and gives me a sense of peace.
I know that there is only one Carmella, and she is no longer here on earth. That doesn’t stop my love for her — not one little bit! That doesn’t stop me from missing her — that will never happen. But with reality comes a less terrifying grief. I now understand what has happened and now my mind recalls more vividly the happy moments spent with her, thank goodness!
May God bless each one as we travel this journey of child loss together. This is by far the most painful, difficult path you will ever take. I pray this has helped you to understand one more of the many faces of grief.
PS I experienced these same dreams and phantom experiences when my son died, but it wasn’t as terrifying because I understood that this was part of my grief journey. I hope that this writing has not been too difficult for you to read. It is my prayer that you will be less frightened by your grief experiences.