The dream remembers

One night in January I remembered, in my dreams, holding my mother’s hand as she lay dying, the feel of her papery skin, and the growing distance in her eyes. The sound of her breathing as she laboured up that long hill, and the hope in my heart that she would soon see my father, waiting to greet her, on this day that would have been their 68th wedding anniversary.


When I woke and wrote my dream down, I realised it was her birthday, the second one since she died. It hadn’t been in my waking thoughts, but my dream remembered, and this happens all the time. I dream about a person, and when I come to record it, I notice the date is some kind of anniversary.

It happens with death days too. In Writing in the House of Dreams I told the story of finding my sister Su’s poems and letters among the boxes in my shed after we sold the family home. They had been in the attic for years, and I’d forgotten I had them. I spent the whole day reading them, and then burnt them on a bonfire, thinking about Su. Wanting to make a note of a few things she had said to me before I forgot, I went to my journal, wrote down the date, and realised it was the anniversary of her death.

Even when we don’t consciously remember or mark an anniversary, it’s there in another level of consciousness. It may not emerge in a dream, but it may colour our mood, like an old stain; a drop of wine on a party tablecloth, a bruise on the heart. A friend once pointed out to me that every late September I seemed to have a dip – ‘Isn’t that the time your sister died?’ she said.

Family anniversaries are held in our own mind and they’re also held in the family’s collective consciousness, fixed points like pins holding down the billowing fabric of all the family’s stories.

Culturally, we create new ones, like World Book Day, Remembrance Sunday, the May Bank Holiday, and they become shared moments in the collective mind of all our various tribes – in these examples, book lovers, the UK and Commonwealth nations, workers and children.

The days that have meaning for us give resonance to the thin melody line of consciousness, because even if we forget what day it is, the dream remembers.

Have you ever dreamt or thought about a loved one and realised later that it’s some kind of anniversary?

2 thoughts on “The dream remembers”

  1. Jenny, that is so encouraging. I do tell people that i don’t remember anniversaries. In fact I’d forget my kid’s birthdays if I didn’t put them on the calendar. But like you I dream about someone, think about them, something comes up about them, or I do feel really low and then I remember that it is the anniversary of their death.
    I have a dear friend who died in America – and I was going to tell you the date but it has escaped me – but I remember blogging about it one year that i’d felt low, thought about her and then her husband put up something on facebook about it being her “death date”. And it is helping me now because I feel very down at the moment and shouldn’t because spring is here big time but it is the joint anniversary of my sister’s and a close friend of ours who died within 3 days of each other five years ago.
    Thank you so much. This has been very healing just reading this X

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Diane – I found it affirming, too. We’re responding emotionally to so many parts of our experience all the time, whether we’re aware of it or not, so we can’t think in terms of how we should feel on account of it being Spring, or New year, or whatever, but only flow with how we do feel, until a different current comes. Feel better soon x

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