I’m standing in my grandmother’s kitchen watching my mom as she moves around the kitchen counter like she’s preparing lunch. However, the kitchen counter she’s working over is completely bare and her hands empty. She’s just moving back and forth, back and forth. I’m watching as if a scene from a movie is playing out in front of me. A movie that has been muted, she’s completely quiet, there is no sound at all. Not even from the steps she makes on the vinyl flooring. She does not see me; she is not aware that I am standing here watching her. I’m conscious at this moment that she’s dead and has been for 33 years. In fact, her clothes and hairstyle are reminiscent of years before she died; her hair longer with a slight curl not the pixie cut that she donned before she got sick. The kitchen is cast in yellows and browns not in the whites and pastels of later years. I am aware of an invisible presence on my right, but I’m not scared or sad; there is no emotion here just fact. It feels like I’m here but not truly here, there is an invisible barrier between us. Picture Ebenezer Scrooge standing with the ghost of Christmas past except the light through the window gives the impression of summer.
Suddenly the scene shifts…
My body pressing into the brown leather seat at end of the round kitchen table. The door to the screened in porch is to my back and my mom is standing in front of me to the left between the table and the wall. She is an arm’s length away. Her distinguishing features are absent, she is no longer flesh and blood, just white light in the form of a woman. A ghost? I was not afraid before, but fear is slowly creeping in. I do not know what to expect. She reaches out her hand, which like the rest of her is bright like the beam of a flashlight. I hesitate, afraid of the agonizing sadness I know will come when I reach out and touch her outstretched hand only to feel nothing. But I am powerless to stop my hand from reaching out. I have been starved of her comforting touch so long that I cannot go another second without it. I close my eyes and when my hand touches hers, I risk the bitter disappointment and squeeze knowing that light cannot squeeze back. But I feel the touch of her hand on my skin and I gasp when she squeezes back. Startled, my heart racing, I open my eyes and find myself in the safety of my own bed. I can still feel the imprint of her hand on mine even as I sit up. It was just a dream, just a dream- right?
Did you know there are actually researchers who study grief dreams?
I didn’t until I asked my good friend Google. Research on grief dreams reveal that a little more than half of grievers studied have reported at least one dream of a deceased loved one (Black 2014).
A major contributor in grief dream research, Dr Joshua Black, has made it his life work to understand the who, what, when, and where of grief dreams. His research and the research of other dream researchers have found that dreaming of deceased loved ones can be beneficial to the healing and adjustment of mourners. Dreaming of the deceased can be a way of processing the emotions tied to your grief especially those that are too difficult to deal with during your day to day and can be a way to maintain a relationship with the deceased (Black 2020).
In one study of grief dreamers, 67.1% said that their grief dreams increased their belief in an after-life, 68.4% believed that their dreams were actual visitations by the deceased, and 70.9% felt a greater connection with the deceased afterwards (Black 2016).
What happens after our loved one dies? Do they go to heaven? What is heaven like? Will I see them again or are they just gone? These are just some of the questions the bereaved ask themselves after a loved one dies. No one here on earth knows exactly what life after death is like but dreaming about our deceased loved one can bring a sense of peace that they are ok and the hope that we will see them again someday.
Ok, but what does my dream mean?
Dr Black found that there are 7 themes that can be found in grief dreams: Rationalization; Dead, Dying, or Ill; Discomfort; Comfort; Happy and Healthy; Separation; and Help-Crossing-Over.
Dr Black explains each theme here.
Three themes jump out at me when I read back over my grief dream – Happy and Healthy, Separation, and Comfort. In my dream my mom appeared happy and healthy as she “prepared a meal” in my grandmother’s kitchen. In fact, she was much younger in the dream than when she died. I felt separated from her as I watched her go about her tasks in the kitchen and I described an “invisible barrier” in my dream. However, at the end of my dream I felt an engulfing comfort when she squeezed my hand which has lasted even now. By squeezing my hand, I felt she was telling me that she had never left me and would always be there for me. That although she was no longer present here on earth, I could still have a connection with her. I can’t tell you how important this dream has been to my continued grief journey.
Is there a way to have more grief dreams?
Do you want to have more dreams about your deceased loved one? Dr Black’s research indicates that it may be as simple as learning how to remember more of your dreams in general. People who place more emphasis on remembering all their dreams have more dreams starring the deceased than those who do not. So basically, you are dreaming about them you just aren’t remembering the dreams. So how can you learn to remember your dreams? The answer may be to keep a dream journal. Just make sure you write down all your dreams and not just the ones starring the deceased (Black 2019).
Want more information?
Check out the Dream Builder Worksheet created by Dr Black that leads you through building a dream with your deceased loved one in it. The worksheet can be found on Dr Black’s website as well as a list of his research articles. You can also find Dr Black on his podcast and on Facebook.