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How to connect with the deceased through dreams

When I was a hospice grief counselor, I often met clients who dreamed of their deceased loved ones.

For most of them, the experience had a healing effect on their lives and gave them comfort.

For others, though, the dreams were nightmarish. These people had witnessed the decline of their loved one and consequently had unfinished business that left them feeling hopeless and depressed.

Dreams like this are called Visitation Dreams.

They are a universal phenomenon and when you know how to work with them, they have the potential to completely heal grief and restore hope.

So in this post I’m going to show you how to invite your deceased loved ones to visit you in dreams.

And then how to work with those dreams so you can move through the darkness and into peace.

Dreams are a road map for healing

Witnessing the death of a loved one is one of the most profound, and sometimes tragic, human experiences.

For those of you who have lost a loved one, you probably know what this means. It is an experience you had not asked for and it is certainly life changing.

Sometimes there is a lot of guilt, shame and even rage tied to a person’s death, often in the form of “unfinished business.”

When I work with hospice clients they often share stories about the trauma of bearing witness to their loved one’s physical, emotional and mental decline. Perhaps the illness, like cancer, spread to the brain, or because of medications, change the moods and personality.

As a result, loved ones might get hostile, scream and curse at the family. Other times it’s a dramatic physical decline when the patient can no longer walk, talk or engage with the family and the family feels helpless.

Sometimes there are suicides or ‘deathbed confessions,’ leaving the loved one confused, upset and betrayed with many more questions that are left unanswered.

Even just bearing witness to a “peaceful” or “ideal” transitioning can be difficult because we don’t want to let the person go.

Because the bereaved are often trying to cope with the reality of the death, their dreams often reflect this. Dreams of this nature might not always be comforting. They might even come in the form of a night terror in which the bereaved wakes up in a cold sweat and panic, with no memory of the dream. Or dreams may come in the form of nightmares, recollecting the time of the illness and death or just the emotional intensity of the loss.

But here’s something most people don’t know:

All dreams, even scary dreams, are part of the healing process. tweet this

Knowing how to work with them can be the difference between suffering through nightmares or travelling through the darkness and finding light at the end of the tunnel.

In other words, dreams are a map that can lead a grieving person through their journey toward healing, helping them explore all of their complex feelings and experiences in a safe and empowering way.

Dreams give people something to hold onto in the face of the Unknown.

And that’s good dream medicine.

What are visitation dreams?

A visitation dream is the experience of the dead visiting us in our dreams. This could be in the form of an in person visitation, a verbal message (simply hearing someone say “Hello”), a sensation or even through an animal or another form.

This experience also includes dreaming of those who are in the ‘transitory state’ between life and death and the dreams and/or visions of the dying themselves. Reverend Patricia Bulkeley and Kelly Bulkeley collaborated on an extraordinary book in Dreaming Beyond Death: A Guide to Pre-Death Dreams and Visions citing cases during Patricia’s time working in hospice. In many reports, the dying patient not only dreamed of dead relatives but actually saw them in the room in a form of lucid visions, welcoming them to another realm.

Overall, many people have reported healing effects after having a visitation dream, especially if the dreamer needs comfort and/or is questioning faith.

Dreams of making sense of the reality of the loss

Most often dreams are a reflection of how the bereaved felt about their loss and are trying to make sense of it. Here are some examples:

I see my husband but he is talking and smiling and laughing with friends. I call to him but he doesn’t hear or pay attention to me. I wake up angry at him.

I see my mother suffering as she was in the hospital. She has a plastic bag over her face and she is struggling to breathe. I try to remove the bag but then I wake up.

I am being chased by zombies. One of the zombies is my brother. I am terrified , confused and sad that he has turned into one of them.

Dreams can bring messages

Many of my clients have shared that they had wished they had spent more time with their loved ones or had said goodbye, which is why ‘Message dreams’ can be especially potent and healing.

Patricia Garfield writes beautifully of this in her book Dream Messengers:

You can also expect a “Goodbye” dream message to be delivered when you have been deprived of a chance to say goodbye in person. Sometimes people claim this message arrives in a waking state, with the deceased appearing at the foot, head, or side of the survivor’s bed. This dream message is often thought to involve extrasensory perception, as the dream may occur simultaneously with the death. In parapsychological writings, it is the most commonly reported telepathic experience and is referred to as a “crisis apparition.”

Here are some reports of “goodbye” dreams:

He looked just like he was before he got sick. He was smiling and told me he loved me. That smile! I nearly melted. I woke up feeling wonderful but missing him. I was afraid I would only remember him when he was sick. It was a comforting dream.

It was like she was in the room with me. I could literally feel her presence. I told her everything I wanted to tell her when she was alive and it was like a weight had been lifted. I knew she had heard me and that she loved me no matter what. All the hurt and betrayal washed away.

Ways to connect with deceased loved ones

In The Dream Messenger: How Dreams of the Departed Bring Healing Gifts, Patricia Garfield, PhD. writes, “Regardless of your beliefs about whether there is an afterlife or not, one thing is certain: you will dream about the person who has recently died.”

It’s important to know that you may not always remember these dreams. If you want to remember or encourage such dreams, you can try dream incubation (mentioned below).

How we grieve is as unique as a fingerprint, so finding ways to connect with deceased loved ones can take time. Here are a few suggestions to help with your practice:

First, engage the process. In my experience as a grief counselor, I have noticed that the more engaged a person is in the healing work, the deeper the healing can take place.

This includes getting support from family and friends as well as professionals who specialize in the field of grief. If you or someone you know is grieving, I suggest finding your local hospice/palliative care or community counseling services that offer individual and group counseling or a local dream counselor to work with dreams.

Because we are a society that has difficulty with death and dying, it is important to be educated about it. But also be gentle with the process. It can be a raw , vulnerable and terrifying place often described as a dark forest, a black hole, or a wilderness.

Dreamwork can help the bereaved move beyond this place. Here is what I suggest:

  • Incubate a dream.  This can be done in a few ways. Before bedtime, set an intention like “I wish to see my mother in my dreams tonight” or even pose a specific question that you wish answered by the deceased. You can write it on a piece of paper and place under your pillow or repeat the intention while adding strong emotion to it before falling asleep. Be sure to write the dream down when you awaken by keeping a pen and pad by your bed. NOTE: Be mindful before inviting in energies like asking for guidance and protection.  Robert Moss in his book, The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead: A Soul Traveler’s Guide to Death, Dying, and the Other Side, gives excellent advice on how to incubate dreams safely and effectively.
  • Hold a photograph or a memento that carries lots of energy and memory and allow whatever experience to arise. This practice is especially helpful if you have trouble sleeping and can’t recall dreams.
  • Look for signs. It could be a person that looks like your loved one, a song on the radio or even smells! I once was cooking a meal my grandmother made for me as a child. All of a sudden, I could smell her scent wafting in the room as if she was cooking right next to me.
  • Research ancestral practices. You might be surprised to find that many cultures honor their dead with specific rituals. For example, in the fascinating book, Dreams that Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination, Professor Amira Mittermaier explores dream incubation as practiced in Egypt today.

Overall, be patient.

Visitation Dreams might not appear right away. It may take days, even weeks. They may also come in ways you might not expect.

I’ve heard many stories of animals visiting clients both in dreams and waking life. One client shared that she kept seeing a bluebird come to her window every morning for weeks. It was her mother’s favorite bird and she felt comforted by these visits as if she was being held and watched over by her mother.

You never know how a loved one might visit you in your dream. Trust your feelings and your experience, and remember to ask for help if you need it.

Now it’s your turn…have you had a visitation dream? How did it impact your life? Please share your experience with us in the comments!

About the Author:

Linda believes dreams can transform individuals & bring communities together. Her research, art & therapeutic work run the gamut from spiritual alchemy to ancestral knowledge to altered states of consciousness. SF Dream Research Examiner SF Examiner and Empact Institute

A dream inspired journey to ancestral lands

“Although surrendering to our sacred longings can sometimes be quite a painful soul-stretching and soul-tempting process…our longing, with its unique quality and energy, is also a magical state to befriend, for it is a trustworthy guide.” – Frank MacEowen, The Mist-Filled Path

The sacred longing Frank MacEowen speaks of is what led me to embark on a six-month journey to reconnect with my ancestors and their lands. I can say from firsthand experience that MacEowen is absolutely correct: this longing is indeed a trustworthy guide. I followed it to some of the most profound experiences of my life.

My longing to go on this particular journey came through in a dream I had earlier this year. In it, my husband tells me he’s leaving me and I am shocked. How will I make it alone? I wonder. And he replies, “Haven’t you always wanted to see exotic places?” In the dream I remember I’ve always wanted to travel to Iceland. And so, in waking life I did.

Sacred longing comes from deep within; it’s in my bones, my DNA. Many of my ancestors were forced from their lands because of their spiritual or religious beliefs or because of war. They suffered immense trauma.  And their grief lives within me: the grief of being separated from their homeland, the grief of losing loved ones, the grief of having to hide who they really were.

I went to Europe for myself, but I also went there for my ancestors.

I didn’t know specific cities or counties where my ancestors were from. My decision to visit certain places was based on limited family knowledge and intuition, and this information led me to northern Scotland, the Inner Hebrides, western Wales, northern and southern England, coastal Norway, inland Sweden, and Iceland (not sure if I definitely have Icelandic ancestry, but I certainly felt at home there).

The longing of my ancestors showed me the way. And in each place, I was transformed.

Scotland opened my heart and helped me love myself more. There, the land and the ancestors prepared me for what was to come.

In England I came to terms with my divorce while sitting under an old tree in Meanwood Park in Leeds. I also had my first ancestral dream of the trip in Leeds, which I shared in this post. Surely, my Scottish and English ancestors suffered heartbreak and their longing led me to work on mending my own heart while in their lands.

From there I went to Norway where I experienced a true homecoming. From the moment the plane flew over the fjords and snow-capped mountains, I felt an intense sensation of belonging to the land.

It was clear my Norwegian ancestors felt a deep love for the fjords, mountains, and valleys there and their love for the land lived in me. When it came time to go I didn’t want to leave, and I stayed an extra three weeks. When I sat down on the train to Oslo on my final day, tears streamed down my face as I watched the hills and fjord disappear from view.

After Norway I traveled through Switzerland and Belgium, neither of them ancestral lands. During my time in these countries, although I was with friends and in new, exciting places, I felt a sense of disconnection for the first time. I felt unmoored. It wasn’t until I returned to Sweden that I once again had the sensation of homecoming.

Sweden provided a respite for me; I’d been traveling for three-and-a-half months and I needed a break. It was here I re-ignited my relationship with the ancestors and began asking them again in earnest for guidance. At that point, I wasn’t sure where I’d go next.

They led me back to England. There I incubated a dream about my next steps and I received one of the most powerful dreams of my trip, one that guided me to return to my birthplace, Colorado.

I had major family healing to do there, and sacred longing brought be back to my most familiar homeland to begin the process. I came full circle, leaving my ancestors’ homelands to return to my own homeland. The ancestors asked me to become a catalyst for healing the familial line. I accepted the call.

Are you ready to honor your sacred longing? If you are, hold on tight. You might be in for quite a ride.

About the Author:

Katrina's work involves illuminating the soul and reconnecting with nature through her artistry with a camera, talent with words, expertise in dreamwork, compassionate teaching style, and ability as a clairvoyant. Visit her here: KatrinaDreamer.com

The Ancestor Effect: Thinking about our roots boosts intellect and confidence

We all know that giving thanks is something we “should” be doing. But recently a clinical study reported that thinking positively about our family roots boosts emotional confidence and even intelligence.

The 2010 study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, comprised four studies that pitted those who think about their roots versus those who don’t before taking a battery of problem solving and intelligence tests.

In the first study, the subjects consisted of two experimental groups and a control. A third of the subjects were instructed to think about their deep roots from the 15th century, another third to think about their great grandparents, and the control group did no such preparation.

What were the subjects specifically asked to think about? They were told to imagine their ancestors, how they lived, their professions and their families, the trials they faced, and what these ancestors would tell them if they were around today.

Results indicated that both groups that looked back performed significantly better on the problem-solving test than the control.

The second study by the same research group then extended these findings with a less obvious direction: by having the experimental group construct a family tree before taking a battery of intelligence tests. In this way, the experimental group was not told exactly what to think, but still had to consider their ancestors to complete the activity.

Again, the group that meditated upon their roots performed better on the test scores. They also scored higher on a test of “perceived life control.” In other words, those who considered their pasts said they felt more control over their life, career, and ability to best adversaries than those who did not.

The group was still not satisfied with the conclusions. What is this ancestor effect? How does “ancestral salience” work? The researchers, comprised of social psychologists from Germany and Austria, conducted a third study to test if thinking about living ancestral relatives (grandparents and great grandparents) versus distant ancestors made a difference. The test scores of this group were compared to a control group that was instructed to think about a close friend who is still living.

This time, both family groups outperformed the friends group, but with no significant difference between the deep ancestral groups and the living ancestral groups. So the effect is not simply due to thinking about people you like and who happen to be alive.

In a final study, the group tested this “likability” factor within the ancestral groups. Subjects were instructed to either focus on negative or positive aspects of their ancestors, compared with a control group that did no meditations before a battery of tests. Again, both ancestral groups outperformed the control.

So even if we don’t perceive to like our ancestors, thinking about them still leads to a mental state that boosts intellectual performance and decision-making.

Tapping into the Ancestor Effect

So keep your ancestors close at hand. Every day, think about the people who are responsible for putting you on the planet. Consider their hard work throughout the ages, their resilience in tough times, and their ingenuity.

Make a family tree, and research your roots.

Even a simple five-minute meditation in the beginning of the day can instill confidence that spills over into your decision making and your ability to deal with the problems that arise today.

Making space in your home can focus this daily meditation and remind you of your roots when you go about your daily life. Find a photograph of a family member who has passed on and who you particularly admire. Frame it and keep it visible in a part of the house you see every day. Make it a daily ritual to give thanks by spending a moment looking at this photograph or some other object from the past. Even better, set up a shelf for ancestral remembrances and spend a minute a day looking upon it and thinking of those who came before.

Let the blessing go back in time, and fuel their strength, too. They are smiling upon us and giving us courage, even the nasty ones.

[1] Fischer, P., Sauer, A., Vogrincic, C., and Weisweiler, S. (2010). The ancestor effect: Thinking about our genetic origin enhances intellectual performance. European Journal of Social Psychology. 41 (1), 11-16.

About the Author:

Ryan's recent dream research focuses on lucid dreaming, sacred sites, the anthropology of dreaming, and sleep paralysis. DreamStudies.org

Dream Genealogy: A way to remember your ancestors’ traditions

My ancestors have lived on American soil for nearly 400 years.  They arrived in the 1600s, a group of Pilgrims and travelers in search of an uncertain future.

Some of them were English, but many were Welsh, and I often wonder about the way they lived before they ventured across the sea.

I’ve been especially curious about their traditional ceremonies and rituals, and the way they lived before they came into contact with Christianity.

In other words, when my ancestors were living closely attuned to the land, what were their lives like? Who were the indigenous Celts and Anglo Saxons?

Although those of us with European ancestry may never truly know our indigenous ancestors’ ceremonies and rituals, we may be able to remember aspects of them through dreaming.

In January 2011, I dreamed a detailed explanation of how my ancestors passed down their power from generation to generation.

In the dream there is a bar of soap in front of me.

I am told about a Welsh myth that details how men use this soap to capture their own power.

When the soap is nearly spent the small remains are incorporated into a new bar of soap. This soap is passed along to the next man who will use it to connect with the previous owners’ power in order to integrate it more strongly into the lineage so he can in pass it along to the next man.

It’s interesting to note that my dream used the term “myth” to describe this tale. This may be a dream clue that the soap aspect is not to be taken literally, but metaphorically. If so, then what might the soap represent?

When I mentioned this dream to Robert Moss he suggested viewing it in three ways:

Use etymology and explore the history of your dream words

Looking up the original meaning of words is one way to plumb the depths of your sleeping dream imagery.

The word “soap” is associated with the Old English “sape” which was originally a reddish hair dye used by Germanic warriors to give a frightening appearance.* I also have Germananic ancestors so this is a notable reference.

Review the ingredients and possible uses

Another way to delve into the deeper meaning of dream is to explore the ingredients in dream images. For instance, soap is traditionally made of ash. Some indigenous cultures, like the Yanomamö of Brazil, consume the bone and ashes of their deceased loved ones as an aspect of their death and grieving ritual.

Ash is also used to create a boundary around sacred space, especially where a ceremony and ritual will take place.

Contemplate a more literal perspective

Of course, the most common use for soap is cleaning. In indigenous cultures around the globe, cleansing and purification are practiced prior to entering into ritual space. Perhaps my dream is a call to cleanse myself in order to reconnect with the power of my ancestors.

Dreaming of Your Ancestors

As we near Samhain, I encourage you to incubate ancestral dreams. Simply create a question or statement like, “Ancestors, please share a message with me in my dreams.” Or “Ancestors, please tell me a story about Grandma.” Or “Ancestors, how can I heal _____ part of my life?”

You might also incorporate an ancestral altar into your incubation process.

Note, your dreams may not have actual ancestors in them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t responses to your question.

So, what will your incubation question be? Feel free to post it below.

Then, if you have any dreams, you can “reply” to your original question and share your dream.

Be creative and have fun with this incubation.

About the Author:

Amy Brucker helps people heal their ancestral wounds so they can free their purpose, passion, and inner power. She offers a one-on-one, private healing/mentoring program Healing the Ancestral Wound. See link "Work with Me" on main menu for details.

Dream Genealogy & Deep Ancestral Healing

“Dream genealogy” is a process that uses sleeping dreams and shamanic journeying to gather ancestral information.

I discovered this process several years ago when my dreams were urging me to explore my British Isles ancestry.

As a result, I unearthed a lineage filled with hope, war, death, and eventually rebirth.

It all began in 2007 at a workshop entitled “Reclaiming the Ancient Dreamways,” led by active dreamer, Robert Moss. During the retreat I had a very real shamanic dream experience, one that engaged my physical senses to an extreme I’d never experienced in the dream realm. It went as follows:

I am on the top deck of a ship that resembles the Mayflower. There is a misty dampness in the air that moistens my skin.

My ancestor, Jonathan Padelford (1628-1669), and an American Indian who identifies himself as Meeshkawa, possibly Wampanoag, are standing before me.

We touch hands and I can feel the warmth of their skin as though they are real flesh and blood. They speak rapidly, anxiously pleading for my assistance to help heal our collective lineages by reclaiming the ancient ways and honoring our ancestors.

We hold arms as a sign of fidelity and I vow to do my best to honor their request.

Their pleas and desperation are full of grief. So many lives were lost in battles, so many deceased souls lost in despair.

I awaken, full of tears.

When I returned home from the workshop I started researching my ancestors and their connection to the American Indians in the 1600s. As I followed the threads of every lead I could imagine, an old dream memory surfaced. The dream felt significant, like a key to my ancestral mystery, so I dug out a box of old dream journals, dusted off the covers and began to search. I was nervous I wouldn’t find the dream amidst my twenty years worth of journals, but as luck had it, I did.

Interestingly, it turns out I had the dream on September 6, 1991. It was the second dream I ever recorded in a journal devoted exclusively to dreams.

Thanksgiving Day Massacre

I am on a paddlewheel boat with a swing stage. White men are shooting American Indians who wear red face and body paint. Dead Indian bodies are lying everywhere on shore. From the boat I yell in despair, “What are you doing? These are people, too!”

I am devastated by the loss of lives.

In the next scene it is Thanksgiving. The Indians are now dressed like the white people, but when it comes time to eat they are sent to a basement that is dank and gloomy.  I go to the basement with them and we sit on the floor while we share a meal together. The white people remain upstairs.

In the last scene it is a year later and Thanksgiving again. The Indians are sent to the basement, but this time it is bright and warm with carpeting and furniture. We eat together again and I try to assure them that it will get progressively better. “Next year we will have a table,” I say.

Still in the dream, I have a vision of the future. I see everyone eating together, upstairs, at the same table. We are equals now, living in harmony as brothers and sisters. I hold the vision and know that I am instrumental in helping it come to pass.

After waking from the dream I was not certain if my dream self was a white girl or Indian. Of course, dreams are often full of paradox and oddities so it’s entirely possible I was both.

Regardless, the dream helped anchor my “dream genealogy” into waking life reality, giving me imagery I could use in my research. There were three aspects of the dream that felt significant:

  1. The Indians had distinct red face and body paint
  2. The white people were on a paddlewheel boat with a swing stage
  3. Thanksgiving was a central theme

The paddlewheel boat was an easy image to understand. In 1969, the year after I was born, my grandfather started a paddlewheel boat business and named it “Padelford Boat Co.” The first boat was named “Jonathan Padelford” after my 12th great grandfather, the same great grandfather I dreamed of at Esalen. On the waking life paddlewheel boat there is a swing stage, identical to the one in my dream. Considering this, I came to assume the white people on the dream boat were my ancestors.

As I researched my dream images, I discovered a clan of American Indians, the Wampanoag, who were known to early settlers as the “red men” because they painted their faces and bodies with a red pigment. This was exactly the image I had in my dream.

Not only did the Wampanoag live near my colonial ancestors in Massachusetts, the two lineages are intertwined with each other in deeply unsettling ways.

The Wampanoag, as you may remember from grammar school history class, are famous for the hospitality they bestowed upon the Pilgrims. The Wampanoag helped the Pilgrims survive their first harsh New England winter. According to legend, the two groups shared a harvest festival together, a feast of corn and other foods the Wampanoag helped the Pilgrims cultivate. It is said that this festival eventually became Thanksgiving.

In 1991, when I had the Thanksgiving Massacre dream, I was completely unaware of my ancestors’ involvement in the plight of the Pilgrims. In fact, it was only a few months ago that I discovered I am very likely a direct descendent of the Pilgrims who set sail on the Mayflower in 1620.  Not only that, but if the lineage proves to be true, my 12th great grandmother, Susanna White, whose family married into the Padelford line, was one of only four adult women who survived the first winter and subsequently experienced the famous Thanksgiving feast.

Susanna’s son Resolved was only a child of 4 or 5 when they landed in Plymouth, and he has the distinct honor of being the older brother of Pelegrine, the first white child to be born on this continent.

As I write this I feel an overwhelming surge of emotion welling up in me. It’s a mix of sorrow and awe that stirs my blood.

But sadly, Thanksgiving is not the only common history my ancestors share with the Wampanoag.

The following events would probably not be very interesting if it were not for what happened in 1675: My ancestor Jonathan Padelford died in 1660 leaving behind several children and his wife Mary. Mary remarried Thomas Ames and together they had several children.

When Jonathan’s eldest son, Jonathan Padelford the II, was a young man of 19, the trust between the Wampanoag and the colonists finally crumbled. The King Phillip’s War, named after the English nickname bestowed upon the Wampanoag Sachem (chief) Metacom, began in 1675 and lasted over a year.

It was the Wampanoag my ancestors fought against in a brutal battle that nearly decimated all involved. The King Philips war of 1675-6 was a bloody war, leaving few behind to tell the tale.

Of the several Padelfords who lived in the area, only two survived the war. Of the two surviving Padelford brothers, only Jonathan had children. I am his direct descendant.

The pain, the deep seated grief, was real and true for all people involved – Pilgrims, Wampanoag, Pequot, Nipmuc. And even though it was hundreds of years ago, the memory lives still in our bones, in our dreams, and can revisit us as though it was yesterday.

What this experience has taught me is that dreams are not only symbols hoping to be decoded. They can carry with them a legacy of pain and suffering that extends generations deep, living and sitting in our blood and bones until someone is born who is called to heal the ancestral lineage.

I honor all the ancestors, whether they were blood relatives or joined my destiny through bloody battles. I grieve deeply for my Pilgrim ancestors whose one dream was to find a place of their own to call home, and for the First Nations people whose home was destroyed in the process.

May their souls find peace.

About the Author:

Amy Brucker helps people heal their ancestral wounds so they can free their purpose, passion, and inner power. She offers a one-on-one, private healing/mentoring program Healing the Ancestral Wound. See link "Work with Me" on main menu for details.