Mourning In My Sleep: (Re)Connecting with My Ancestors

i have been mourning in my sleep lately. my grandmother, my mother, and dear my aunts janet and carmen have visited me in my dreams. they all passed in the past six years and admittedly, i struggled with providing myself the space to completely mourn them. there always seemed to be someone else in more pain and in need of that kind of space. so as a protective measure, i step into the role of caregiver. or i intellectualize the pain. or i simply go numb. can’t call out of work because you are in a helluva lot of pain. so my grandmother, my mother, janet and carmen have been creating the space needed for mourning in my dreams.

the visitations began with my aunt janet. in the dream, i am searching for a book she left behind as other family members are packing away her things. i dig through bags and boxes for the book but cannot find it. then when i am about to give up, i see her sitting on the porch. i sit next to her and we begin to make small talk. i then ask, “why are you still earthbound?” and turn my head to cry. then i managed to push down my emotions. she replies, “because my work here is not done.” then i wake up crying.

the next day, my cousin evy, carmen’s oldest child, calls me to tell me that she and her sister have finally begun to go through their mother’s things – a year after her death. “we have tons of old pictures of you, your mother and your brother. you have to come visit us.” 

a few days later, i traveled to philadelphia to see my family for the first time in over a year. as we sat around the table going through these photos, i felt all kinds of emotions. some painful and some hysterical. but they all answered questions i had about my family.

my grandmother lost her mother at a young age. my mother was forced to marry my father because she was pregnant at 13. in these stories, i realized that my mother was estranged from her mother as i was estranged from mine in my adult years. my grandmother wasn’t a hugger. neither was my mom. neither was i until the birth of my son.

i am still having visitations and trying to make sense of the direction janet is taking me. i am being patient and slowly providing myself the space to mourn while awake.

my late mother pictured here with my late aunt carmen. this picture was taken at my mother’s baby shower in early 1970s. my mother was 13 years old. they both passed from complications of cancer – my mother in 2015 and my aunt in 2020.
my late aunt janet (middle) pictured with my grandmother (left) and the man i knew as my grandfather (right) in 1980. my grandmother transitioned in september 2019.
my sister lisa was my mother’s firstborn. because my mother was just 13 years old, lisa was raised by my grandmother. we weren’t close. i didn’t even know she was married until i saw this pic.
picture taken some time in the mid 1980s. my brother nicholas (left) and i were at my cousin’s ruben birthday party at mcdonald’s. i remember loving this floral outfit. janet picked it out for me.
this is me pictured with the youngest of my grandmother’s sons, francisco. he and my mother were the closest. he passed away in february 1989. he was 28 years old. 
i have written about blanca, the youngest of my aunts, extensively. like my aunt janet, blanca did her best to protect me from the world. she died of AIDS-related complications in 1998. she was just 32 years old. before coming across this prayer card last week, i didn’t know the exact date she transitioned. 
this is my uncle josé sometime in the 80s. he and i seldom talked. i don’t remember him being to kind to me. he passed away from AIDS-related complications on january 19, 2001. he was 36 years old. 
when i came across the picture of my brother nicholas, i lost my breath. i had forgotten that he lived in florida for some time in an effort to escape the streets of philadelphia. he returned in early 2001. he transitioned a few months later. he was 21 years old. 
my lovely and amazing aunt janet was my yardstick – for everything. she nurtured my love for reading. she was my cheerleader and she was and continues to be a light in my life. janet became an ancestor on february 2, 2015.


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