Dreams After Death

Aimee Liu
4 min readJan 26

The subconscious has its own way of saying goodbye

Photo by author

My mother died one year ago today, yet she remains deeply present in my life — largely through our dreams together, which seem to be multiplying. Most of these nocturnal reunions skip into oblivion as soon as I wake. When a dream is particularly vivid, though, I try to scrawl its contours in my dream journal.

Still half asleep in the dark, I’ll write blind before the movie in my mind flickers out. And somehow, these half-conscious scribbles are surprisingly decipherable. Like hieroglyphics, they provide just enough imagery — stairs, foliage, faces, signs — to bring the mental story right back to me. In this way, the recent dreams involving my mother have re-emerged like prose-poems from the subconscious — or some other metaphysical zone. Consider this one:

I’m back in my childhood neighborhood with Mom as my guide, photographing all the old houses before they’re gone. She reminds me who lived in which glass house. The O’Neils. The Steinmetzes. The Bigelows and Barkentins. All now gone, though she is here. We trudge through the woods, needing to catch up, to explore, to remember where the Amusement Park is before it, too, is gone.

We never had an easy relationship, my mother and me. I moved 3,000 miles away from her when I was 26, and for the next four decades I visited only once or twice a year. I phoned each week, but my mother did most of the talking and rarely asked questions, in part because her hearing was failing and she refused to get hearing aids until she was in her nineties. She adapted to email, which allowed more information to flow, but our interactions were what she liked to call “congenial.” Friendly and careful, but not exactly intimate.

We loved each other, but we had very different ways of loving. Hers brooked no criticism, and mine hungered for honesty and trust. That held us at an impasse, loving each other across a chasm of frustrated longing — on both our parts.

Aimee Liu

Author, Asian-American novels (Glorious Boy), nonfiction on eating disorders (Gaining), writing, wellness. Published @Hachette. MFA & more@ aimeeliu.net