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

Die and Become! Death in Dreams

Die and Become! Till Thou Hast learned this, Thou are but a dull guest on this dark planet. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There was an antiquated belief that if you dreamed you died in your sleep then you would actually die in waking life.

Of course, this is an old wives’ tale but there is something unsettling about witnessing death in a dream.

And something wise.

Let’s face it, death is a taboo subject in our culture. And many of us are ill-prepared for that final journey into the unknown.

But engaging with the ‘symbolic deaths’ like our shadow or darker parts of ourselves that need to go can be a powerful experience.

When we face death in this way, a new part of us can be reborn.

Alchemy: Death symbols as shadow stuff

The Alchemists actually rejoiced when death showed up in dreams. The more repugnant the better. The Alchemists actually rejoiced when death showed up in dreams. The more repugnant the better. For them it was the prima materia or ‘first material’ before being separated into the four elements: earth, fire, air and water. Death is one of the most powerful tools for personal empowerment, transformation and healing. It was where the “gold” was located.

Dr. Carl Gustav Jung rediscovered that bridge between alchemy and psychology and thus voraciously collected alchemical works of antiquity, uncovering the treasures or “gold” buried underneath the complex symbolism.

Jung discovered the alchemical processes like mortifactio or putrifactio (death and decomposition) were prevalent in working with prima materia or shadow stuff. Dreaming of rotting corpses, decomposed material, worms, swamps (even decapitated heads!) were seen an indication that you were ready to work on part of the self that were rigid and needed transforming.

This symbology also included the dreaming of fecal matter.

Poop dreams

What could be more poetic than a poop dream? That icky act we would rather not speak about was actually celebrated by the Alchemists. It represents what we need to let go of–what is repulsive and shameful— unconscious material that needs to be looked at and transformed. (see also Ryan’s article on urine dreams).

Excrement is fertilizer after all and what is more potent for growth than that!

Sometimes animals were the prima materia in dreams like the (gold!) dung beetle who feeds partly or exclusively on feces. As the holy scarab in Egyptian mythology of death and rebirth  who is tied to Khepri (“he who has come into being”), the god of the rising sun, this is a poweful energy of transformation.

An example of a poop dream I received recently:

I am with two young girls and we are entering a building that is made for healing. We try to find a bathroom but it is not private. There are people here and the stalls have no doors or privacy. Then I find that the door to the bathroom leads to another door that is more private bathroom.

We can all go in together. The toilet is almost three feet above the ground and I climb on top and to my shame fill up the bowl with poop! What’s even more mortifying (Alchemy!) is that I cannot flush it down. The girls come over to investigate which makes me uncomfortable though they are not. They want to help.

I realize that I pushed the half flush button (which is black) like you find in Europe and I needed to push the full flush, white button. I push it and it works! The girls are happy and I am relieved…

Looking at this dream, I realize that an uncomfortable area in my life is asking for help or assistance. I often feel vulnerable and overly concerned for the other which often results in me not fully communicating my needs (half flush) and the need to fully commit and speak my truth (full flush). The young girls feel like the budding parts of myself (prima materia also includes dreams of children) that are becoming conscious of this material and are supporting me. In alchemy the black and white usually indicate an integration is taking place.

Kill or be killed

Sometimes it is too difficult to “own” our shadow stuff –both the flaws and the gold which might not necessarily be mutually exclusive. And that part needs to be “killed off.”

Robert L. Johnson writes so eloquently of this in his book Owning Your Own Shadow: “Curiously, people resist the noble aspects of their shadow more strenuously than they hide the dark sides. To draw the skeletons out of the closet is relatively easy, but to own the gold in the shadow is terrifying. It is more disrupting to find that you have a profound nobility of character than to find out you are a bum. Of course you are both; but one does not discover these two elements at the same time.”

This projection of shadow stuff is powerfully illustrated in our dreams when we decide to commit, witness a murder or become the murder victim ourselves.

It is important to note who or what is doing the killing, paying close attention to characteristics. If it is a vampire, are you dealing with lifeless, bloodsucking energy in your life?

How about a family member or a childhood friend? Perhaps there are parts of life or patterns that need “killing off” in terms of character traits/people/situations/habits that no longer serve.

Once we face our fears and become conscious, we can “transform the energy.”

Initiation Dreams

Perhaps the dream is something bigger than you: A spiritual calling into the larger Mysteries that may require a sacrifice.

Such “Big Dreams” include death and rebirth themes or visions like being swallowed by a sea monster,  dismembered and put together again or struck by lightning, drowned or burned alive!

And still others, their rite of passage may have been an illness, accident or near death experience that evoked strange dreams, prophetic visions and spontaneous healing abilities.

Overall, initiation dreams can be scary for most people who fear making dramatic life changes that often may call for a sacrifice in the form of jobs, loved ones and belief systems or a complete change in way of life.

Preparing for Death

The most profound reason we might dream of death is to prepare for our own.

Tibetan Buddhists view death as a natural state and envision the afterlife just like a dream. This is clearly illustrated in the most famous text of Padma Sambhava in the 8th century A.D. The Tibetan Book of the Dead  or the Bardo Thodol is an actual guide book to prepare the dying for the afterlife.

The Bardo Thodol teaches that once awareness is freed from the body, it creates its own reality as one would experience in a dream. This dream occurs in various phases (bardos) in ways both wonderful and terrifying.

So whether we like it or not, death is all around us and a fact of life. But hopefully when Death comes knocking in your dreams, perhaps you will be ready to answer the door and welcome her with open arms and a change of heart.

Remember our dreams will always guide us towards our fears so we may face them and grow from it.

Have you witnessed death in a dream?

In what form?

How did it affect your life?

Please share your experinces and thoughts with 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