‘Mummy?’ It was Benjamin calling out to me early one morning this week, ‘Ya? I’m here, in my room.’ I could then hear him shuffling and moving in his bed, shortly followed by his baby elephant stomping on the landing and into our room. He’d had a nightmare, I could see it on his little face, all pinched and flushed, quite near tears. He told me about the giant monster-robot that had been outside our house, in the field behind it, near the row of poplar trees. But it was getting closer and he and daddy were frantically trying to find a way to get it to stop moving forward, toward the house, but they couldn’t. Finally, the enormous monster-robot was right outside the house, about to smash it’s way in, when Benjamin remembered that this was a bad dream and he could stop the dream by shutting his eyes tight and then opening them again, he’d be awake, safe in his bed. My old trick too.
As he told me his nightmare and I cuddled him and made encouraging noises and ‘oh dear, that sounds scary’ statements, he gradually relaxed. Then he picked up his dinosaur-lasergun, left on our bedroom floor from the day before and began to play with it. I thought that was the end of our conversation about his nightmare, but then he asked me to explain to the dino-gun about death. ‘Mummy? Tell dino-gun what happens when you die.’ Alright I said, well, when you die, you’re not breathing anymore and you don’t speak anymore and you don’t think anymore. You don’t feel anything anymore, nothing hurts anymore. You don’t eat anymore, or drink anymore ‘Or poop anymore!’, yes, that’s right. ‘And granny is going to die first, then daddy, then you, then me. Because I don’t have any wrinkles yet. Granny has lots though!’, yes, that’s right, but even she will probably get a few more before it’s her turn to die (sorry granny!). But dino-gun won’t die, at least not like people, or plants, or animals. He may run out of batteries, but those can be replaced. Only living things can die. Sometimes living things get hurt or sick, and doctors, or veterinarians, or tree surgeons, can give medicine or fix what’s broken. But not always. ‘Like the hedgehog we tried to save?’, yes, that’s right, like the hedgehog we tried to save.
Benjamin’s nightmare, I believe, was a dream about death. His eventual death. We are hard wired to know about our own mortality, a good proportion of us spend most of our lives trying to get away from this knowledge. Of course, with Covid 19 consuming a lot of our conversation and attention, I’m not surprised he’s been thinking about death again lately. I don’t believe in shielding Benjamin from the fact of illness and death. You can read about some of those conversations here and here. I never ‘shush’ him or tell him ‘don’t worry about that’. He can equally tell me his dreams, and nightmares. He can ask me about death, or tell me he feels sad or angry, just as much as he can ask me about sex, or tell me he feels happy or excited….just so you know, if you haven’t got there yet, the death and sex chat go together quite often…and usually at night, when you’re most tired!
Benjamin’s dream reminded me of my reoccurring nightmare when I was little. It was about a huge, hairy, dark monster, that would be lurking for me, or chasing me, usually in my house. I had it all the time, or at least it feels that way. One night, as the familiar nightmare began to unfold, something changed. I suddenly stopped and faced my monster. Turned out, he wasn’t so scary after all and all he wanted was to be my friend and protector. I climbed into his huge, hairy arms and we hugged. After this, I never saw him again, he was gone.
Recently, I had another dream which had the makings of a nightmare. It began with me being in the cellar of a house, it was meant to be my house. The floor was dirt and it was pitch black everywhere. Then a pile of rocks moved away and revealed a dark tunnel, leading even further underground. I got a torch and shone the light down the tunnel and could see that there were stone archways further down, leading off in different directions, it was very very dark. I decided to go down the tunnel and when I went through one of the archways, I was suddenly in a vast, soaring palace. I was huge and glowing with golden light. I was no longer my self as I am now, I was aware that I was a child and I was a princess. This was my kingdom. There was a woman there, urging me to stay. I knew that she was extremely powerful. She kept telling me that everything I could every need or want was there. She was terrifying and beautiful and she was gleeful that she had got me there. I felt frightened by her, but also exhilarated by what she was saying, I wanted to stay.
Embracing our mortality doesn’t have to be scary or morbid. It can be a friend and protector. It can help to keep things in perspective. It can help to remind us that our lives are momentary, and not much of it is in our control, but this can be liberating and free us up to seek our own truth. To be an adventurer of our own depths…head into the darkness, and find there’s a vast golden palace and ancient, powerful wisdom hidden there.
I will be encouraging Benjamin to face his monsters from now on. Teaching him that they may not be all that they seem, that they may just be friends in disguise, with an important gift to give him.