When I’m a millisecond from falling asleep I have the most absurd thoughts that seem totally rational. You have probably had them to — it happens during hypnagogia, or the state between wakefulness and sleep.
Whenever I notice the hallucinatory sensations it’s because instead of transitioning to sleep I am startled back to being awake. I think because I notice just how absurd my ideas or sensations (if you’ve ever felt like your free falling, that’s related to hypnagogia) are — I'll think things like lions in top hats would make excellent train companions or I should start a store that sells clouds in jars with cotton candy toupees.
Twice now, in this state, I’ve heard my sister loud and clear. Which is both a true hallucination and at the same time, should be completely normal.
My sister, Alison, died unexpectedly nearly 6 years. When I was early in my grief I exhausted myself imaging her all the time. “If Ali were here she would be sitting in the chair and tapping her foot on the ground.” Or “If Ali were in this kitchen she’d open the fridge to look for seltzer and then be annoyed that I didn’t have seltzer.” Or “If Alison were here she’d copy what our mom just said but change it into a jingle and then sing it over and over for the next 3 hours.”
The thoughts were almost compulsive and unbearably draining. Her absence was so absurd, my brain was incapable of understanding her lack of of a physical presence. So it tried to fill in the pieces of what reality should be like.
This many years later, I think about her every day, but I no longer imagine what she’d be doing anywhere near the frequency that I had once done. At times I miss the debilitating nature of early grief because she felt so much closer. Everything about her felt deep…her presence, her absence, and the pain was the deepest of all. Though I miss that pain, I’m also grateful for the chance to live my life with a greater level of peace.
Though I was 34 when Ali died (she was 37), she still teased me in the same way she always had. Surprising me from sleep would likely have given her a big dose of delight. I have plenty of memories of waking up to see my sister staring at my wide-eyed, inches from my face. Mostly because she was bored and wanted someone else to share the early morning with. You’d think that behavior might be reserved for an 8-year-old, but she did the same exact thing two months before she died.
I know it’s extremely common to elevate the deceased to sainthood once they’re no longer living. I’ve never done that with my dad or my sister. Alison was one of my greatest champions but also probably one of my bigger sources of annoyance. In the years before she died our relationship was transitioning in a positive direction, we still poked at each other, I think more often than most adult siblings.
Though I know that her voice was part of a hypnagogic state and I don't believe that it was a sign from beyond, the fact that it was unexpected and a bit unsettling reminded me so much of her. I loved it.
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