Dreams of the Dead

When I was completing my PhD, and during the time I was undertaking data collection, many participants or ‘co-researchers’ reported, amongst other happenings, dreams of the deceased which were of a helpful and reconciliatory nature.  These dreams all had distinct elements and were of a type and nature which according to those who experienced them, different to other dreams they usually experienced.  They were different because they were experiential in that the dreamer felt they were not ‘dreaming’ at all but instead were involved in a participatory event which allowed them to communicate and engage with the deceased in a profound and meaningful way.

For example, Ruth* experienced a number of dream visitation engagements with her partner Tom* during which she was able confront and work toward resolving a painful issue which had come to light after his death.  In addition to engaging with Tom, Ruth  was also reunited with her father (whose death had followed six weeks after Tom) during which he provided much needed advice.  Ruth describes these dreams in terms of “there’s a sense of being in them and being in that place” and “there’s a sense of being able to be conscious about what you’re doing and where you’re going”.

Heather’s* dream visitation engagement also appeared to be one of resolution.  Having experienced disturbing and distressing dreams for many years which featured her deceased father, Heather experienced yet another dream during which he threw carrots at her.  Upon waking and being particularly perturbed by her father’s behaviour, she spoke out loud to her mother requesting clarification for the carrot episode, and possible intervention. “I said out loud … would you mind asking why he was throwing carrots at me”.  She believed the intervention worked because, “it never happened again”.

Mary* reported her first dream visitation engagement with her husband Mark* as something which she “remembered as if it was in front of me”. Mary heard Mark say to her “I’m okay and its okay and it’s not your time but I’m here waiting”. Mary has experienced subsequent dream visitation engagements where her interaction with Mark has been less direct and relatively more subtle. In these dreamscapes, Mark always appears to be hovering quietly as a silent presence in one of the corners of the bedroom.

June’s* dream visitation engagements with her father, which occurred during a period of extreme professional and personal stress and anguish, provided welcome support and encouragement. During this very difficult period June came to the conclusion, “that dad was working for me to help me with this
situation”.  Sally* relayed that she had had many dream visitation engagements with her father who “always seems to be telling me something”. As for June, Sally’s dream encounters conveyed positive messages of assurance. “It’s almost like he’s saying you’ll be right you know”.

Rebecca* experienced a number of dream vitiation engagements with her husband John*, not all of them pleasant, while Monique* reported that after experiencing a crisis of meaning and direction, she had woken from sleep with the feeling that her grandmother had “given me a talking too in my sleep and said, look love, here’s what you’ve got to do”. This experience provided meaningful direction for her and helped her to realise that if she wanted to be happy she had to, “be true to myself”.  Simon’s* dream visitation engagement with his close friend Brendon* involved a long journey during which he acted as a guide for his friend in the spirit world, while Anthony’s* dream engagement with one of his grandmothers provided the opportunity for specific instructions to be conveyed concerning familial responsibilities.

These experiences cannot be reduced or explained away scientifically.  Indeed, for all participants who reported them in the study, the impact of their ‘dreams’ was such that they served as an invitation for them to re-evaluate the meaning of their existence as a human being, to re-evaluate the meaning of life, and to re-evaluate the meaning of their relationship with the sacred or the spiritually infinite.

*Names changed.

Michele T Knight Written by:

Dr Michele Knight is a Social Worker, Social Scientist, researcher and independent scholar. Her interest and research in the end-of-life has its origin in the lived experiences of her own bereavements, her near-death and shared-death events, the returning deceased and attitudinal responses to those experiences. Since 2006, she has been extensively involved in community development, support and advocacy in both a professional and community services/voluntary capacity in the areas of bereavement and grief, hospital pastoral care, and academic lecturing/tutoring. Her PhD, Ways of Being: The alchemy of bereavement and communique, explores the lived experience of bereavement, grief, spirituality and unsought encounters with the returning deceased.

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