Ask Me. Dreams about the Deceased, Part I

Here in Part I, we explore dreams in which a person who has died comes in a dream, first through a larger context lens. We also explore through the lens of an experience where the dream feels like a “visitation.” In Part II [go here to read it], we explore the possibilities of learning around dreams where a deceased comes in difficult, disturbing or upsetting ways.

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People often dream about someone in their life who has died. Sometimes the dreams come soon after the person has died, while we are fresh in the process of loss, sometimes years later. We, as humans, have been dreaming of the dead for as long as we have been dreaming.

We have also always wondered what it means. Is the person in the dream really the person? Have they returned to give a message? Is the person in the dream some figment of my own psyche? Why has this person come and why in this way and why now?

First, the Ledge to Leap From

When a dreamer brings a dream to me with someone in hers/his/their life who has died, I always open the conversation with this question, “What do you believe about dreaming of someone who has died?” or “What is your spiritual/religious belief about dreams like this?” or “Did it feel like it was really them, present with you?”

I always ask because it is important when opening any dream to be with the dreamer. Because opening a dream is always based on the dreamer’s beliefs, belief systems, fears, worries, stories, cultural influences, experiences. Because our dreams speak to us weaving all these beliefs, these stories, our experiences, cultural influences, historical memories into the dream.

Asking also opens the exploration about the dreamer’s own traditions and where she/he/they stand with those traditions. Asking also acknowledges that every culture and every religious/spiritual tradition has beliefs and theories about what it means when someone who is deceased comes to us in our dreams before going into a quick interpretation. These traditions we come from, no matter our involvement level with them, are part of the exploration.

Ancient Egyptians believed dreams came from the gods, ancient Assyrians believed dreams came from the demonic, ancient Greeks believed that dreams came from the gods or, if a deceased person, the actual person returned from the underworld to impart information. There are many ancient and living traditions that speak to having our ancestors visit us in our dreams.

For us “moderns”, we may hold such beliefs, or we may hold “scientific” theories about dreaming that teach that everything in a dream is some part of us, some kind of mirror. To put in another way, that the “visitation” is a psychological issue, not a spiritual one.

The first question, then, when you have a dream like this, is a consideration of your own beliefs. Considerations such as – What do I believe happens after we die? What does my tradition teach about dreams and visitation? What was my experience of the dream?

Dreams of the Dead with Direct Messages/Experiences

When we think of dreams with the dead, we often think of dreams where the “visitor” comes with a message or an experience for the dreamer. Dreams such as this:

My father, who died this year, came to me in a dream and just held me in his arms. He looked younger and healthy, like before his illness. The embrace was warm and joyful. I was surprised there was no sadness.

For me, the place to begin here is to be with the experience of the dream itself for the dreamer. Of the moment of the embrace, of the joy.  

To be with the fullness of the dream, of course, it is important to explore the dreamer’s relationship with his father when the father was still alive. Also, to explore how the father died, when and the experience.

If the relationship was relatively “healthy”, the way to work with the dream stems from this. If the relationship was fraught, difficult, or even abusive, then working with this dream is an entirely different experience. Perhaps there is healing, perhaps there is comfort.

No matter the relationship with the father, there is a tenderness to explore – the joy, the embrace, the lack of sadness.

No matter the belief of the dreamer – from if it is truly the father who has returned to a simplified psychological explanation – it is still an incredibly tender dream and experience.

If the dreamer believes that the dream is a visitation, this dream can serve as a deep reassurance and/or healing – that his father is full of joy, not sadness wherever he is. And that his father is present for him; that he can return to this embrace whenever he needs it. Whether his father always hugged him deeply or never hugged him at all.

The dream can also be opened to explore what the experience means to the dreamer in his present life. As in, where he is in relationship to his father’s death or where he is in relationship to being a father himself or where he is in relationship to his own spirituality.

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Dreams of our dead can also bring specific requests or information. There are many famous reported dreams – ancient and otherwise – where a dreamer is visited by a deceased soul with a request for something. In cultures where burial and burial rituals were important to the soul’s afterlife, for example, there are dreams of the deceased asking for proper burial or proper burial rites.

There are dreams where the “visitor” asks the dreamer to let others know they are “okay.” There are dreams where the “visitor” tells the dreamer something the dreamer did not know about them.

Again, taking our own beliefs about dreams as our anchor, we can also be with the simple receiving of the information and the dream, the receiving of the imparting of the information and open what it means to and for us.

What it means to us in a larger context and how it speaks to our relationship with the “visitor.” If a grandmother who is beloved visits us in a dream with information about her life, then we can be with both the tenderness of the “visit” and be open to what it means to have the information. And how that information relates to us and our present life.

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In Part II [go here to read it], we explore the possibilities of learning around dreams where a deceased comes in difficult, disturbing or upsetting ways.