Psychiatry & Psychology--General/Dreaming About Death

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Question
Hi, over a month and a half ago, my grandma died. Since I was little, I saw her nearly everyday. Two years ago, she moved to another part of the state, and I saw her less than once every three months. She was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer as soon as she moved. Along with numerous other complications, she was paralyzed from Guillain-Barre Syndrome. When in remission, she began walking again and broke her hip. At the hospital, she found out that the cancer had spread throughout her body. Around two weeks later, I stayed with her. I took care of her (with 5 other family members). I was there for two weeks when she died. I was in the room when she passed. I remember most of the details vividly. I stayed for another week or so after helping plan the funeral and then returned to normal life. For the past few weeks, I've had trouble sleeping. I lie in bed for hours before I can sleep. When I sleep, I have dreams about being at my grandma's deathbed. Sometimes the dreams differ from reality, and sometimes she passes away in a completely different way then she actually did. There are some dreams when she looks as healthy as before the cancer and is walking, but, by the end, she has died. Whatever way, all my dreams involve my grandma and her death. I dream these at least 3 times a week and generally get less than five hours of sleep every night. I am only fourteen. Is this some sort of post-traumatic stress? Why can't I sleep, and why do I have those dreams? Anything will be of help, my deepest thanks, Raymond.

Answer
Hi Raymond,

Thank you for your extremely thoughtful question about, death of a loved one.

The answer is that you are correct, these symptoms are a form of PTSD.  It was wonderful and kind of you to be so devoted to your grandmother and brave to hang in there to be with her when she passed.

But if you have read about PTSD you know that observing the death of a close friend or loved one is most often the trigger.  That fact that it was your sick and elderly grandmother does not matter, the witnessing of her gradual decline and passing was very stressful.

There is nothing wrong with you and nothing to be alarmed about as far as your dreams.  Death is one of the greatest mysteries in life and dreams are a way that our minds have of working out intense and complicated situations and feelings.

I know it is disturbing to you, but it is just a consequence of the your kindness and devotion to your grandmother.  Your symptoms should begin to abate sometime between three and six months after your grandmother's death.  If for any reason the dreams remain as intense and sleep disturbing as you describe them now, you might want to get some cognitive behavioral therapy to help you work through them more actively.  But I would wait a little longer and see what happens before getting alarmed.

Best always,

Dr. Andrew Elmore

Psychiatry & Psychology--General

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Andrew M. Elmore, Ph.D.

Expertise

I can answer questions about: Stress. Headaches. Stress-related Disorders. Anxiety/Panic Disorder. Depression. Psychopathology. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Personal Problem Solving. Life in General. Relationships: Love, Friendship, Business Partner, Coworker, Family,Child/Parent. What makes us tick. The use of psycho-pharmacological agents in combination with psychological treatment. How to deal with evil people in your life. How to improve your outlook under duress. How to control stress. How to control mood. How to control headaches. I cannot answer: Questions about Eating Disorders. Questions about computers.

Experience

30 years in private practice as a psychologist in Manhattan. Dealing with people from almost every conceivable ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and as many character types as exist in this country. Dealing with patients from 8 years old to 90 years old. Pioneer in biofeedback and the treatment of stress-related disorders. Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine since 1982. Treatment of stress-related, anxiety and depressive disorders with biofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy. Developed personal problem solving, an extremely precise form of psychotherapy. Relationship therapy for couples, families, parent/child issues, business partners, coworkers, employers, and dealing with psychopathic individuals in your life.

Organizations
American Psychological Association. Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Biofeedback Certification Institute of America. New York Academy of Sciences.

Publications
The journal, Psychophysiology. The book, Expanding Dimensions of Consciousness. The journal, Headache. The journal, Biofeedback and Self-Regulation. The journal Psychiatry Digest. The book, The TMJ Book. The book, Dental Phobia. The network, CNN. Parade Magazine. The newspaper, Newsday. The Manhattan TV station, WCBS. The national news program, The CBS Evening News. The newspaper, The New York Post. The national TV program, The Phil Donohue Show. The magazine, The New Yorker. The magazine, Glamor. The magazine, Redbook. The magazine, Health. The magazine, Bottom Line Personal. Web MD. The website, Healthology. The magazine, Newsweek.

Education/Credentials
Ph.D. SUNY at Stony Brook, 1979. B.A., magna cum laude with Honors in Psychology, Illinois Wesleyan University, 1974.

Awards and Honors
Who’s Who in Medicine and Healthcare, First, Second and Third Editions, 1997-2000. Appointed to the Training Faculty of the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (BCIA), 1993. Senior Fellow BCIA. New York Academy of Sciences, 1987. Who’s Who in the East, 1983-present. Who’s Who in Frontier Science and Technology, First Edition. Citation Paper Author. Eleventh Annual Meeting of the Biofeedback Society of America, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1980. Biofeedback Society of America Scholar, 1979. Co-author, USVA Grant, “Variables Affecting the Experience of Pain in Migraine,” USVA Medical Center, Northport, New York, 1977-1979. Biomedical Research Fellow, Department of Biomedical Engineering, SUNY at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York, 1978. NIMH Predoctoral Fellowship, 1976. BA, Magna cum laude, with Honors in Psychology, 1974. Danforth Fellowship Nominee, Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, Illinois, 1973.

Past/Present Clients
Most of my clients are my private patients. However I have provided many seminars, lectures and workshops for: Columbia University. The Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Museum of Natural History. The UJA Federation. The university, CW Post. The College of New Rochelle. Equinox Fitness. Travelers Insurance. AutoOne Insurance. Chubb Insurance. Metropolitan Life. Allstate Insurance. State Farm Insurance. Encompass Insurance. The public relations firm, Porter Novelli. The investment firm, Capital Re:. The Estee Lauder corporation. The law firm of Irwin Abrams. The National Insurance Crime Bureau. GEICO Insruance. Beth Israel Hospital.

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