Q. I got married 30 years ago. It was not a great marriage in that he never really respected me and could be verbally unpleasant. However, we had many wonderful times together and I do not regret the marriage at all.
After eight years, we separated (his choice, I was devastated) but kept spending time together. He was diagnosed with cancer and I still went to medical appointments with him, which he welcomed, and he kept asking me for help with various things (for example, doing his laundry, which I did happily). He divorced me nonetheless and died several months later. It’s been more than 20 years and I still have dreams, fairly often, in which we are about to get married again. Sometimes there are very elaborate wedding preparations, and I try to think I am happy about it, but in my mind I am thinking “NO! Not a good idea.”
I live now with my cats and never want to marry again, so why do I dream that I am remarrying my dead husband?
A. Dreams are chaotic and I will not pretend to understand them. I have a lot of dreams about my late mother (she died nine years ago), where we are in familiar places, mostly department stores or my former apartments, and have strange conversations. I like these dreams, even when they’re stressful and about her illness, because it’s a way to remember her — and to remind myself that grief is not linear. If someone is in our lives for a very long time, they don’t go away.
My mom dreams have been more frequent since 2020. Maybe it’s because I see less people. It could be because these years have made me think about important moments from my past. Perhaps this strange time has been a contributing factor for you.
I know your marriage was complicated, and clearly there’s resentment about how it all went down at the end. Maybe the wedding symbolizes stress, grief, or a time when you could have taken another path. Again, I can’t interpret. But you seem to be haunted by these dreams — specifically the wedding piece of it. I wonder if, this many years later, it might be worth joining a bereavement group where you can meet people who’ve lost spouses to understand the complicated ways grief can creep up over time.
Your marriage was unique in that it was over by the time you lost him, but I’ve been to support groups for caregivers and was reminded that even married people who adore each other have complicated relationships. There’s always a nuance. I doubt you’d be the only person who had trouble in your marriage.
You could also talk this through with one mental health professional. I bring up the group setting because it can be healthy — and revealing — to be around others. Do a Google search to see what’s available. You can also ask your primary care physician for ideas (assuming you’re not already in therapy).
Maybe your brain is trying to process why you gave so much and got so little from your deceased ex-husband.
Your dreams allow you a do-over, one where you have a healthy marriage with mutual respect and no cancer. Dreams can be random, but the fact that you have frequent ones about your ex suggests that you haven’t moved on, 20+ years later. You don’t have to remarry, but I hope you’ve taken the time to focus on your friends and interests. His illness maybe robbed you of closure, but you deserve to move on from this.
You can’t control your subconscious but you can stop giving him headspace during your awake hours.
Your ex was your most recent “love.” That’s all your subconscious has in the bank, hence you dream about him.
Why are you so determined to be alone? You don’t have to get remarried but why won’t you let yourself find some companionship?
I still dream of my ex. I figure that is just the way it is going to be, because he was a large part of my life. I would suggest a group of people to talk with, not necessarily a therapist. If you start talking about it, that will help you with sorting out things in your mind.
Most likely your cats are whispering these things into your ears while you sleep.
Send your own relationship and dating questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast at loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.