Anxiety dreams common for the bereaved, but fortunately not real

  • A leg of lamb, in real life, not in my dreams!

    A leg of lamb, in real life, not in my dreams! Susan Anderson-Khleif

Posted7/3/2021 7:00 AM

I had a really weird dream recently. I was in a huge mansion hosting some event with lots of people but the caterers were amateurs -- they had not brought enough food. And not quality food. People there were very upset and did not even like the little food they found. They were milling about, complaining loudly; it was a mess.

Meanwhile, I was searching for my husband, Baheej, but could not find him. I was wandering all around from room to room, but he was nowhere to be found. This was very distressing.


I think many people have had anxiety dreams. Here is an example. This happens to other bereaved people. I read that one can remember lots of details of the dream after waking up, if one keeps still and keeps their eyes closed. It works. Well, we may not want to remember an anxiety dream.

In college, I did read Sigmund Freud's "Interpretation of Dreams." I don't think this dream had much to do with his interpretations! Basically, I like to cook and entertain, and always want to have enough food. Also, I am always longing for my husband, Baheej, gone nine years next month. So, its meaning is not very mysterious.

Many traditional cultures have their own ways of interpreting dreams -- more useful and often positive. Certain images are predictions of good luck or good fortune to arrive in the future, or indicators of upcoming happy events or good news. Actually, in Baheej's home culture in Nazareth, they had an elaborate method of dream analysis and it had nothing to do with psychiatry. It had everything to do with an understanding of human nature, social life and hope. That is nice and helpful; it cheers people up and prepares them to adjust and anticipate events.

Some dreams are actually "repeats" and somewhat amusing. I have a recurring dream in which I invite people over for a roast leg of lamb dinner but forget to defrost it, so no dinner is ready. For many years I had one recurring dream about fishing, which I did a lot of while growing up. In that dream the lake water disappeared and I could just walk out onto the lake bottom and pick up the fish I had been trying to catch. That was wonderful. Wish fulfillment, according to some dream analysis.

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And in many dreams, of course, I am searching for my lost Baheej. Or he is leaving and I can't stop him. Or he is just gone and I don't know where he went. Oh dreams …

So the point is: On top of everything else, the bereaved have to deal with anxiety and grief dreams. What to do? Oh, bad dreams, I try to forget them. Sigh … Open my eyes, move about, and they may just disappear.

It is a relief when I wake up and realize it was only a dream. These things didn't really happen. I am safe, after all. There are so many challenges in coping with grief, and dreams are just one of them. But over time, we usually get better and better at managing and coping with grief and long-term grief.

I hope everyone had a happy Fourth of July and only good dreams!

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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