Forms of Grief Dreams - Before the Loss is Known
1) Dreams that address the feelings of grief before an impending loss (anticipatory grief). This can be with or without the person (who is dying) in the imagery.
2) Dreams of the deceased that occur prior to knowing the person died. These dreams reflect their passing in waking life (which actually occurred). These dreams resemble a comfort theme (the deceased saying goodbye, they are OK, they love you, etc.) that is found after knowing they have died (see below). The only difference is the person has not been notified of their death in waking life yet.
Forms of Grief Dreams - After the Loss is Known
1) Dreams that do not have the deceased present. The dream may be addressing the feelings of the loss (e.g. running by a mountain and it collapses on you).
2) Dreams that do not have the deceased present but they are mentioned (e.g. a character in the dream talks about the deceased).
3) Dreams that have the deceased present (e.g. in human form or in another). There are many different themes that can occur with these dreams (e.g. the deceased can provide comfort or be seen suffering or lifeless).
· There are common themes that can be found in dreams of the deceased (see research articles below).
A Couple Common Grief Dream Questions Answered
Is it common to dream of your loved one after loss?
- There is limited research on the topic, but my research suggests it is very common for people to have at least one dream. I have heard from people that it sometimes only took a month before they remembered a dream of their loved one, while others report it took years. The frequency of these dreams of the deceased varies widely from person to person. Some people only have one their entire life, while others can have them monthly—and some have none.
Why am I having negative dreams of my loved one?
- Negative dreams of your loved one are common after loss. Dream research has shown that dreams represent our waking life (The Continuity Hypothesis). If you’re happy during the day, you are more likely to have positive dreams. If you’re sad during the day, you are more likely to have negative dreams. After loss you are experiencing many negative emotions and can expect many of your dreams to reflect that. In my experience, many people who have negative dreams of the deceased are having issues with their unresolved anger, guilt, etc. The death may have been traumatic and they may be reliving that traumatic event (e.g., seeing their loved one dying again). If you work through your trauma or grief issues (I recommend seeing a professional), your dreams of the deceased should change to something more positive. The bereaved that are spiritual may take these negative dreams as being a haunting by the deceased. Be cautious about making that interpretation; instead consider carefully whether the dream imagery connects to your issues with the individual and/or your grief.
What can we learn from our dreams?
- As I have already discussed, we can learn from negative dreams about issues and concerns that perhaps we have not yet given enough attention to in our waking life. We can also learn from our positive dreams with the deceased. Many positive dreams can help resolve grief issues in waking life (e.g. a need for forgiveness, or to feel loved, to be reassured that the loved one is safe, a chance to see them healthy, etc.). These positive dreams can reflect your waking life concerns and what you’re longing for. Whether or not you believe a positive dream is a visitation, it doesn’t change that a positive dream can reflect your waking life.
Do you believe my dream is a visitation?
- No one can ever tell you if a dream is a visitation or not (even though many people try). I only intervene if someone is calling their negative dream a visitation, as the research says it’s more likely a product of your unresolved emotions. By believing this dream is literally true you may not only unnecessarily make yourself even more unhappy, but you may miss an opportunity to learn from your dream. If your dream is positive, then believe whatever your heart wants to. Only you know how that particular dream feels to you.
Here are 2 journal articles that I published and one submitted on Grief Dreams
1. Black, J., Belicki, K., & Emberley-Ralph, J. (Submitted). Who Dreams of the Deceased? The role of Dream Recall, Grief Intensity, Attachment, and Openness to Experience. Dreaming.
2. Black, J., DeCicco, T., Seeley, C., Murkar, A., Black, J., & Fox, P. (2016). Dreams of the Deceased: Can Themes be Reliably Coded? International Journal of Dream Research, 9(2), 110-114.
3. Black, J., Murkar, A., & Black, J. (2014). Examining the healing process through dreams in bereavement. Sleep and Hypnosis, 16, 10-17. http://sleepandhypnosis.org/ing/archivelist.aspx?SayiID=55
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