Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mourning Dreams

I am a member of several news lists and lists servers. Today on one of them a colleague described a person who had asked for his pastoral support. This person had entered into a relationship, one which she thought showed promise of growing and becoming permanent. She even thought that this might be a part of God’s plan for her. Unfortunately, the relationship did not last. My colleague asked for thoughts about supporting her. Her distress brought to my mind the mourning of dreams.

One of the things I find true of human beings, and yet often overlooked, is that we mourn dreams. That is, we imagine our lives in the future, and sometimes we imagine lives that we desire greatly. When those dreams are lost, we mourn greatly as well - perhaps as profoundly as we would have grieved had the events actually taken place and then been lost.

I notice that most with parents who lose a baby during pregnancy or at childbirth. They have hardly had a chance to know this child; but they know all too well the hopes they have had for this child. I knew it in my own divorce. For almost 20 years I have had a wonderful life with my wife; but when the first marriage was lost, so were many plans and dreams. I am proud of my sons. They are good young men: but when they left to live with their mother all those years ago, so did significant dreams about how I had wanted, had planned, to be their father. Indeed, since I do have my sons, and their mother is still alive, I find myself revisiting those dreams, grieving them all over again (albeit with less intensity).

I think we underestimate the importance of grieving for lost dreams. I speak often with persons in grief. They say, “I just want things back the way they were!” We appreciate those concrete losses, those persons, objects, situations that were treasured and how are gone, as a part of the way things were. Even those of us who work with grieving people regularly may not always think beyond that. But we are creatures of fantasy, we human beings. We may speak of living in the moment. We may imagine we are straightforward, pragmatic, feet-on-the-ground people. But in fact we all have our dreams and make our plans. We can hardly live without them. We cannot attend to our current needs without preparing for our future needs. And if we have the latitude, after we’ve thought of our future needs we will think of our future wants. Only a little of that, and we have moved on to hopes, to plans, to projections in which we, too, become invested. And when any of us is invested emotionally, we grieve that which is lost, whether it’s as tangible as a loved one or as ephemeral as a wish.

Cherish your dreams, and the dreams of those you care about. They are as real as they are fragile. If lost, they must be grieved, and grieved in full. Treat your dreams as the treasures they are. Treat with compassion those who have lost theirs.


Anonymous said...


Mourning dreams - the ghosts of what might have been - is a poignant subject for me. After my son died at three days old, I spent ten years in a depression I didn't even recognize. It nearly destroyed my life. I am just now able to grieve properly - in a constructive way, that is.

I write about it on my blog. Everytime I think I have it whipped, I think of something else. The main sorrow was resolved at http://www.prodigalson.us/2005/12/from-sackcloth-to-joy.htm , but there's always something else.

I'm going to be intereted in following your meditations. I think I'll learn from them.

Thank you and God bless.

ab said...

Thank you for this essay. I am struggling with so many things right now, most of all, an unrealized dream of love.

Your words have helped me, and I thank you.

I was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal church. Though I am incredibly spititual and a believer, I do not attend services regularly. I feel the need for communion. I miss the ritual, but the last time I went, everything was completely changed from what it was when I was younger. I will try again soon.

Again, thank you for writing about this, it has helped me, and I am grateful.


ab said...


I had to write about mourning dreams. You really made me think and I thank you. I referenced and linked to your post and blog. I hope that's OK. You can read it here if you're interested and/or have the time. Hope your knee is coming along well.