Articles Grief Dreams
“He [Jesus] was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
Isaiah 53:3 ESV
The death of a loved one has to be one of life’s more traumatic events. Often the full force of the loss doesn’t set in until days or weeks after the funeral.
In my own personal experience at times grief has been like an ocean wave lapping gently against the shoreline of my heart. At other times the wave of grief has been intense, magnified to the point where I have been unable to control my crying. This is common experience.
Often a person who has lost someone close will experience typical responses. If the deceased loved-one was kind and warm-hearted it is usual that they would be deeply missed. On the other hand, if the deceased was unpleasant and difficult to live with, it’s not unusual for the remaining loved one to be left with mixed feelings of guilt and love all at the same time. The guilt comes from accepting a newfound freedom and relief from a strained and stressful relationship, at the same time endeavoring to be respectful and considerate of the role that the deceased person played in their life as a parent, spouse or other.
Dreams of a lost loved one will vary in context depending on the depth and strength of the relationship with them while they were alive. These may be pleasant dreams or uncomfortable dreams.
It has now been eight months since my mother passed away. My father, sister and I have all dreamed of her in different ways. My father called me after his dream, telling me how vivid and real it felt to have mum visit him, hug him and tell him that she loves him. When my sister called, it was apparent that her dream of mum felt just as real as the dream both Dad and I had of her.
Over the years I have come across various people who have dreamt of departed loved ones. It would seem that such dreams may be part of the bereavement, bringing emotional release, comfort and closure that aids in the healing.
Some of these dreams may be directly related to a person missing their loved one, as was my father’s case. My sister had my mother appear to her in several dreams. When my dad heard about it, he was upset and prayed: “Lord, how is it that my wife appears to our daughter and I have been married to her for fifty years and have not had a visit from her, how is that fair?”
God was gracious to dad with an immediate response, and was delighted to have had a dream where he talked with her that night.
Before we go any further, I must make it clear that the Bible is opposed to and discourages communicating with the dead via mediums, fortune tellers, sorcerers, séances and spiritists (Deuteronomy 18:10-11, 1 Chronicles 10:13-14)
So, how do we explain our deceased loved one’s appearing to us in a dream? Firstly, we are not pursuing someone who practices the occult to conjure up a counterfeit spirit of the dead. Secondly, The Bible clearly states in 2 Corinthians 5:8 (NKJV) “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” I believe our lost loved ones are not appearing to us literally in a dream, more likely they are appearing symbolically, and it may be interpreted as a metaphor, no differently to any other symbol that might appear in a dream.
As much as I would like to believe that it was literally my mother appearing to me, she is in heaven with the Lord. What I felt was so vivid and real I could almost believe it was her, but I am of the conviction that her appearance was a symbol.
The International Journal of Dream Research referred to a study involving 76 participants who were grieving for a loved one. Sixty-three of the participants were female and they were all recruited through poster advertisements placed with various bereavement organisations.
- 1% stated that dreams of the deceased helped them believe more in an afterlife
- 4% stated that some of the dreams of the deceased were visitations
- 9% stated dreams of the deceased helped them feel more connected with the deceased
- The research identified eleven common dream themes from the participants.
Perhaps you may identify with one or more of the eleven themes.
- Alive Again
- The dreamer is surprised to see the deceased alive in their dream.
- Dying Again
- The deceased is once more suffering the symptoms that caused death.
- Saying Goodbye
- This category of dream often includes physical contact, the exchange of loving feelings, and an affectionate good-bye. (Ruth’s story is an example of this further down)
- Taking a journey
- The deceased is taking a trip on a train, bus, airplane or ship.
- Disapproval Dream
- The deceased is depicted as severely criticising the dreamer.
- Telephone Call
- The deceased telephones the dreamer. The dreamer may also telephone the deceased. (This was my experience when my deceased mother called me and I kept saying, “Are you calling from heaven mum?”)
- Young Again Dream
- The deceased appears in an image that reflects the way he or she looked or acted when young or healthy.
- The dreamer receives a message from the deceased. The messages may be one of comfort, such as, “don’t worry, I’m fine”; It may contain advice, such as not to sell the house; It may tell about a gift such as an inheritance; It may be a message about where to find something that has been hidden; These are just a few examples. This category of dream often has a high emotional charge and is described as exceptionally vivid or real. These dreams can have the intensity of a visitation.
- Passionate Encounter
- The dreamer dreams of a romantic or passionate encounter with the deceased, who is usually a former spouse or lover.
- The deceased appears to reach out and draw the dreamer toward death.
- The deceased is seen performing his or her routine activities, such as shopping, fishing, driving a car, or cooking. There is no unusual emotional charge, but a pleasant feeling may prevail.
UNRESOLVED GRIEF (Death of a son)
I won’t forget one evening when speaking at a church, I called people forward for prayer. As I approached a middle-aged lady, the Holy Spirit gave me a prophetic picture of a heart monitor connected to her which gave off a beeping sound, like a truck reversing. Then suddenly the monitor flat lined, a long piercing sound with no breaks in between, symbolic of a person dying.
It is important when ministering prophetically, especially in this situation, to understand the symbol that has appeared to you and be careful not to overstretch the interpretation beyond anything more than what you see.
I said to the lady: “The heart monitor commences as a symbol of life prior to flat-lining, there seems to have been an interruption to the rhythm and flow of your life”.
I continued: “Something has happened to cause your soul to flat line, something has died, maybe you have lost something, maybe you have lost your confidence and hope, perhaps you feel like your life has come to a stop. You were going along in life and the heart monitor is beeping but not now. Something has happened that symbolises death for you, perhaps it’s to do with a relationship. However right now, the power of God’s love is on you and the Heavenly Father’s two hands are like the two electrodes of a defibrillator delivering the electric current of restoration and healing into your heart. The flat-line has begun to beep again, life and rhythm is flowing into your heart and soul.”
The more I kept talking to her, the more she began to cry, to the point of not being able to hold back the emotion. I left her in the hands of other leaders who were comforting her while I went on to pray for others.
After the service the pastor of the church came up to me and said, “If all you did tonight was reach out to this woman, it was worth your visit here.”
He then told me how her son had committed suicide eight months prior. As a mother she blamed herself for her son’s loss even though she had nothing to do with his death. It was the first time, after eight months of unresolved grief, that she experienced emotional release. The prophetic word was the catalyst she needed to start the journey of recovery from the sorrow and sadness.
A good friend of mine, Steve Morrison, is an expert in the field of grief management, and has been involved in pastoral ministry for over twenty years. He has a Post Graduate Certificate in Grief, Loss and Trauma Counseling and is currently doing his Doctorate in Ministry, researching issues on faith and grief. He is a gifted lecturer on this subject as well as having officiated for over seven hundred funerals. (www.stevemorrison.co)
Steve will often begin a lecture and say, “It’s ok to react. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to leave. It’s not ok to pretend or run away.”
He goes on to say: “Grieving is normal, natural, inevitable, universal and unique. There is no right way or wrong way to grieve. It is the conflict between the world that was, what it cannot become, and how it may become, that creates the tension that engenders grief.”
- Worden (2002) uses the acronym TEAR to describe the four stages of the grief process.
To accept the loss
Experience the pain
Adjust to the new event
Reinvent in the new reality
UNRESOLVED GRIEF (Death of a husband)
Ruth was one such person who was struggling with all of these four stages, unable to move on from her grief. Her intriguing account is recorded in Ann Faraday’s book, ‘The Dream Game’.
Ruth, aged fifty-seven, lost her husband, aged sixty-five. Immediately after his death she dreamed of him constantly. She would always spend the following day after one of these dreams crying, because it had all been just a dream. Then one night she dreamed that he told her he would have to go away, and that he had his own things to do. At this, she burst into tears and pleaded with him not to go, saying she couldn’t cope without him.
Ruth’s remarkable release in grief came about when she shared this in a dream workshop. The person facilitating the group led her in an imaginary exercise, asking Ruth to finish the conversation with her husband. The dialogue went something like this:
Ruth: Please Al, don’t go off leaving me again. I need you. There’s so much we still have to do – all those things we never did in life, so much unfinished. I want to tell you I love you and try to make up for all the times I hurt you and disappointed you and…
The workshop leader asked Ruth how her husband might reply to each of her comments. The dialogue continued.
AL: But, you’ve done that, honey. I understand, I really understand.
Ruth: No, you don’t. If only you’d given me some warning – I’d have been nicer to you. But you didn’t tell me (sobbing) and now it’s too late, it’s too late… how was I to know? Now I’ll feel guilty for the rest of my life (angrily) and it’s all your fault. You should have warned me.
AL: But, honey, I didn’t know either. I didn’t want to die.
Ruth: And what’s more, you went off without putting all your affairs in order. Oh, I know you thought you had, but you hadn’t. And I’m a lot poorer than you thought – so much in taxes. And the income tax, the papers, the move… suddenly having to cope with so much. You’ve no idea how hard it’s been.
AL: I’m sorry about that, Ruth. I should have taught you how to cope with things.
Ruth: But I don’t want to have to cope with things. That’s your responsibility. Why do you think I married you? I don’t want to cope, I don’t like it.
AL: But, honey, that’s life – we all have to grow up sometime. I just wish I could have prepared you for it.
Ruth (crying): But I need you Al. I’m lonely.
AL: You’ll make a new life, new friends. I know you will. You can if you want to.
Ruth: But that’s just the point. I don’t want to. I want you. You are my life… so much invested in you. I can’t let go.
The workshop leader interjected here: ‘Try saying, “I won’t let you go”.’
Ruth: I won’t let you go… I won’t let you go (angrily)… I won’t let you go. Why should I? I was always there when you needed me. It’s your turn to be here when I need you (shouting) but, no, you’re in an exciting new place with new experiences ahead of you, in all those many mansions the minister talked about at the funeral. And afterwards he has the gall to spend two hours telling me how happy you’re going to be and not to grieve for you, you with your nice new body. What about me? That’s what I wanted to ask him. What about me, in this old body with arthritis? No new life in store for me – only loneliness, sickness and old age. Who’s going to grieve for me? Not you, not anymore. Well, bully for you, that’s all I can say, bully for you.
At this point in the dialogue, Ruth was pounding her knees with her fists and someone threw her a cushion. She got down on her knees, pounding it furiously, embarking on a tirade of all the hurt and anger she had bottled up inside for twenty years – all of which boiled down to the fact (or feeling) that she had given him her life and now he was walking out on her, leaving her nothing. He had broken a contract that existed only in her heart. As she wept and pounded, she shouted, ‘Give me back my life, Al, give me back my life.’
Sensing this to be a very healthy statement, the workshop leader asked Ruth to return to the chair and reclaim her life from Al.
Ruth (softy): Give me back my life, Al, all those stolen years. Give me back my youth, my laughter, my joy.
AL: They’re yours, honey. They were always yours. I didn’t take them. You gave them to me. You seemed to want to give them.
Ruth (crying): I did, I did. I loved you, but I need to reclaim myself. I have to reclaim myself. I have to reclaim my independence, my strength and my love – because I might need it for someone else (surprised). Well, I might (defiantly). I can live without you. Hey, I can live without you (laughter from group).
The workshop leader asked if she could tell him goodbye now.
Ruth (softly): Good-bye, Al. I’ll miss you (crying) so much we could have done. Well, it can’t be helped. I’ll still think of you sometimes – often – but I’ll let you go. Good-bye, have a good trip (smiling). Take care.
Anna Faraday concludes this account by saying; “Ruth’s predicament is one that repeats itself time and time again in these group activities. So often the bereaved feel guilty about all the things they could have done in life and didn’t and resent the fact that the deceased has put them in this position. Then behind the resentment lies the anger and rage at being deserted left to cope alone in a hostile world. The head knows quite well that these feelings are absurd, that the dead person did not die on purpose, but this kind of logic does not touch the heart and unless we can bring these irrational emotions out and really work through them in some way they chain us to the past and to our memories, locking up energies we need for making our new lives.”
There were about six hundred people at a conference that I was speaking at. I concluded my presentation with Ruth’s story welcoming people to come forward for prayer. To my amazement over one hundred responded pouring out their grief and sorrow, in all my thirty three years of speaking, I’ve never encountered such an atmosphere of healing and restoration taking place in the people being ministered to.
The grief journey can be comfortable, complex and at times uncomfortable. It helps to be able to express our feelings to trusted family members, close friends, a pastor or talk to a professional. The Holy Spirit has been sent as our comforter, counselor, helper, strengthener (John 14:26 AMP). We are encouraged to look to Him in prayer.
Psalm 31:9-10 (ESV):
“Be gracious to me. O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, And my years with sighing…”
Isaiah 53:4 (NASV)
“Surely our grief’s He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried…”
You may wish to refer to the ‘Symbol on Death’ in the ‘Common Dream Theme section on this website.
International Journal of Dream Research, 9(2), 110-114 Deceased: Can Themes Be Reliably Coded?
Black. J. DeCicco, T. Seeley, C. Murkar, A. Black, J & Fox, P, (2016)
Steve Morrison: www.stevemorrison.co
Anna Faraday: ‘The Dream Game’, (Published in Great Britain by Maurice Temple Ltd 1975 AFAR PUBLICATIONS) p. 233-235