Grief Dreams

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) Precognitive dream about the person (who is healthy) going to die. These dreams seem to be more preparation for the dreamer of an impending death and for the person to contemplate the mystery of life. Please note that most of the dreams that people think are a precognitive dream are not. They are based on the dreamers fears and anxieties in waking life.  

3) 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). This dream type is expanded on below. 

     ·      There is very little research on the topic.

     ·      Dreams about the deceased are a common experience in bereavement. Around 50-85% of children and adults report dreaming at least once about the deceased. 

     ·      Some of the bereaved reported feeling a connection to the deceased through their dreams and also through other people’s dream reports.

     ·      Different cultures can view these dreams differently.

     ·      Dreams of the deceased can be welcome or unwelcome. When a dream creates a positive or negative experience for the dreamer, the emotional charge of the dream does not always transfer into waking life. Dreams of the deceased may be unwelcome due to the actual content (e.g. seeing the deceased dying again), because of one’s spiritual beliefs (e.g. evidence the deceased is not reincarnated), or because it is a reminder that the death is real (e.g. that it was just a dream).

     ·      There are common themes that can be found in dreams of the deceased. Themes that my research found that could be reliability coded are:

Rationalization The dreamer may look for and/or receive rationalization from the deceased on how they are alive. The deceased may help the dreamer understand and comment on why they are alive (e.g., the death is explained as a mistake or they have come back), with or without the dreamer asking. Additionally, the dreamer may not receive a rationalization from the deceased when asked (e.g., no answer is given), or the dreamer tells the deceased to go away because they are dead (cannot rationalize their appearance).

Dead, Dying, or ill The deceased may be dead in the dream, may die in the dream, or may be suffering from physical symptoms in the dream. Sometimes, the deceased is not seen suffering, but the dreamer may have a feeling that the deceased is ill and needs help.

Discomfort The deceased performs actions or words of discomfort. Actions of discomfort could include physical attempts to harm or gestures of disapproval. Words of discomfort could include criticism, demands, or disapproval.

Comfort - The deceased performs actions or words of comfort. Actions of comfort could include a wave, hug, or kiss. Words of comfort could include telling them they are OK, they love them, forgive them, give their approval, or are happy.

Healthy and Happy The dreamer comments on the well-being of the deceased or implies it through the deceased actions (e.g., smiling or laughing). The dreamer may describe the deceased as being healthy (e.g., infirmities caused by illness or injury having disappeared or can perform actions not able to when ill) and/or happy (e.g., smiling or laughing). It is possible for the deceased to look younger or older than they did when they passed, but this does not imply health.

Separation - The dreamer and the deceased are separated or get separated in the dream. Separation may be due to an obstacle (e.g., fence) between them, or the deceased themselves not wanting them to be close (e.g., dreamer is not allowed). Additionally, they could also separate from each other by leaving or disappearing (either slowly or suddenly). It may also be that separation was discussed (e.g., I have to go), but the action was not fully carried out yet.

Help-Crossing-Over The dreamer provides actions (e.g., putting hand on a body to release the soul) or words (e.g., it’s safe to move on) to the deceased to help the soul successfully crossover (either to or from the afterlife). Additionally, the deceased may ask for assistance in crossing-over (e.g., perform a certain ritual in waking life).

Issues Voiced by the Bereaved/Dreamer

1)    They wish they could have a dream

Some people want to dream of the deceased for a variety or reasons, such as to see them one more time or hear their voice, etc. Not having a dream may cause complications for the bereaved if they believe that not dreaming is a sign that something is wrong with the deceased or them.  Some may worry about the location of the deceased soul (e.g. did they successfully cross over), wonder if the deceased may be holding back from visiting them (e.g. the deceased is angry with them), or wonder if they have forgotten about them.

2) They want to have more dreams

The bereaved may want more dreams of the deceased. The frequency of these dreams varies widely. Some people only have one dream, while others report dreaming of the deceased once a week. 

3) They want to change the theme of the dream

Some bereaved may want to have a dream that is more comforting, as sometimes all they have experienced are discomforting images of the deceased.

4) They want to stop having dreams

Some bereaved want to stop having these dreams. The dream themes themselves may even be comforting, but they are still unwelcome.

5) They want to understand the dream imagery

The bereaved may want to understand the dream imagery. This can occur for all types of dreams of the deceased (doesn't matter if it is seen as a visitation or not). 


Here are 2 journal articles that I published on Grief Dreams

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.

Black, J., Murkar, A., & Black, J. (2014). Examining the healing process through dreams in bereavement. Sleep and Hypnosis, 16, 10-17.

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