Dreaming of Our Dead

A friend told me the other day that she reads my blog, and she agrees with all I say about grief, but that I never mention one thing: dreaming of our dead.

The truth is, I hate dreaming. I don’t like the feeling of weird and inexplicable things happening, I don’t like the feeling of being out of control, and mostly I don’t like being controlled by any nightmarishness. Researchers say that to aid in dream recall, one should take Vitamin B6 before bed. When I read that, I immediately stopped taking any B vitamins before bed, and that certainly aided in my ability not to recall dreams.

That being said, I have the impression I do dream of Jeff, though mostly as a reflection of my everyday thoughts. He is seldom far out of mind, so it makes sense that he would appear in my dreams as a nebulous character.

There were times, though, that I had specific dreams about him, and those were terribly upsetting. One dream, for example, seemed to be about the end of his life when he was so often disoriented. He was trying to cook something, and he continued pouring whatever it was into the pan after the pan was filled, getting the food all over the stove, him, the floor, even me. I tried to catch his attention so he’d stop, and when I couldn’t, I slapped him to bring him back to reality.

I woke feeling ashamed. I’d never raised a hand to him, never even raised my voice, and yet, in the dream, I did both, and I couldn’t bear it.

Dreams about the dead seem inordinately real. Sometimes they feel like a visitation. Once I dreamt that he came into my room, stood at the foot of the bed and touched my blanket-covered feet, then climbed onto the bed, on top of the covers, and cuddled up to me. He was in his underwear, and in the dream, I knew he’d come from where he’d been sleeping, though I had the impression he’d been with someone, as if he had another life. He said, “I miss you.”

When I woke, I felt as if he’d come to see me one last time, though I have no idea what is true when it comes to life, death, and especially dreams.

Even when we know it’s a dream, what happens in the dream affects our waking life. Once I dreamt we were going somewhere on foot, and I realized that it would be cold before we got back, so I went inside to get a coat. In my closet were two of his coats — a jacket and a trench coat, which I have in fact kept. As I was pulling the jacket off the hangar, I remembered that I had gotten rid of most of his things after he died, and I panicked, wondering how to tell him that his stuff was gone. I left the room, and met one of the moderators of the grief group I had attended. He asked how I was, so I explained the situation, then I added, “It’s a good thing this is a dream, otherwise he would be really angry.”

When I woke, I was still glad I didn’t have to tell him his things were gone even though I had done what he wanted me to do with his stuff. The reason I still have his coats is that he wanted me to keep them since coats are always a good thing to have.

The most powerful dream came at about six months. After a restless night, I finally fell asleep in the early morning hours, and I dreamt.

I dreamed that Jeff was dead, but I woke to find him alive and getting well. It was wonderful seeing him doing so much better. I could feel the tension of grief seep from my body, and a quiet joy seeped over me.

I started to wake. In the seconds before full consciousness hit, I continued to feel the joy of knowing he still lived. And then . . .


The truth hit me. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. Then, like an aftershock, came the raw pain, the heartbreak of losing him . . . again.

I’d been feeling a bit smug that I was getting a grip on my grief so early in the process, and the dream caught me unaware. In the depths of my being, I believed that he hadn’t died.

It took me weeks to regain the equilibrium that the dream cost me.

When it comes to grief, it seems as the dreams are a facet of our reality. What we feel in the dream continues into our waking state. There is no separation. Even if in a dream we act a way we would never act, we still have to deal with the effects of those acts once we wake. If the deceased in the dream acts in a way they would never act, we are left to deal with that, too.

Although I would love to visit with Jeff once more, if only in a dream, I’m just as glad it never happens. Except for an occasional brief episode of grief, I am in an okay place, both physically and mentally, and any sort of visitation would upset that equilibrium.

Maybe that’s why he never visits me in my dreams. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s why I never dream of him.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

17 Responses to “Dreaming of Our Dead”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I was going to comment about my family’s history of dreaming of our dead, but after reading this post, I don’t know if I should.

  2. Terry J Says:

    Your dreams are detailed and lenghty compared to mine. Dreams of Ron rarely occur and when they do the content is always short and vague but even so I am always glad for them. I have been ok.., this is my fifth set of holidays without him. I still read and write to your blogs matching my time to yours.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Those dreams were from the first year or two. I don’t think I’ve had a real dream of him in many years. Good to know you’re still writing. I hope the holidays are peaceful ones for you.

  3. Auntysocial Says:

    I wasn’t sure whether to reblog this or comment directly but decided it should go here. It’s a long one though so get yourself comfy with a brew and a biscuit!

    What you wrote and the description about seeing Jeff made me feel a need to if nothing else assure you it’s a very common experience and can be really distressing to the point of deeply traumatic for some.

    This is something that really interests me in different ways and for many different reasons (professionally and personally) but for as long as I can remember, I’ve had the most vivid, bizarre and often terrifying dreams and over time learned to identify dreams and decide to roll with it and see where it took us or if it’s really scary, I can wake myself up from most nightmares.

    There has long since been a belief about us being visited by spirits the general consensus being it’s the only time our brain ever switches off and allows us to subconsciously tune in and be receptive to what we would normally never allow whilst awake and concious.

    There is an awful lot to be said and some fascinating research and studies about Near Death Experiences and some recent clinical trials into the use of LSD for people nearing end of life has proven remarkably beneficial.

    Anyway I was regularly tormented by my Dad for a few months after he died which started almost immediately. Posted about it at the time but I was asked and expected to carry his coffin into the church with my brothers and never dreaded anything more in my life. Thought after the funeral it would be much easier cos I wouldn’t be stressing about the service or worried about getting a wobble on and crying in front of the whole church.

    Dad then started to show up in my dreams looking shocking, gaunt, pale, thin and in a wheelchair with IV line, bandages and dressings all over him telling me the doctors have said another bout of chemo and he’ll be cured of his cancer.

    I knew it was a dream and kept telling him as gently as possible “Dad there’s no more chemo. It didn’t work. You’re already gone” but he would keep pleading with me to believe him “No love honestly the doctors just told me I’ll be fine after just one more round of chemo honest!!”

    This went on night after night and it was soul destroying to keep telling him the same thing, see the physical state he was always in and that look on his face when I told him he was dead and had to leave me alone. Like a child that had just opened a Christmas present and found a dead kitten inside just so betrayed and destroyed.


    Then one night maybe a few months later, I found myself standing in a field behind an old graveyard where my friends and I used to keep horses. This was way back in the 80’s and I hadn’t been there since then but all of a sudden I was there.

    Next thing Dad showed up but he was young and looked exactly like he did when I was a kid. Dark hair, mustache, real wrong ‘un (spitting image of Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit) all ready for a night out at the pub. I knew it was a dream but gave him a massive hug and could smell him like he used to smell – the dodgy old spice / Brut, freshly burning cigarette – everything I could physically see, touch, smell and was able to breathe him in with lungfuls.

    Was so nice and I went “ I wish you’d not been so long coming to see me and made me have nightmares all this time but it’s so good to see you”

    Without missing a beat he pulled me up for that one “Hey no no no I wasn’t trying to frighten you sweetheart. I tried to come see you but you weren’t ready so I had to wait until you were in a better place and ready before I could visit . I’d never frighten you on purpose love never. Now you are here and eeeeh it’s grand to see you!!!”

    I asked him to make sure he visits me again and he promised he would and I never had another nightmare or bout of sleep paralysis since. Have seen Dad a more few times he rocks up to tell me something random but never hangs about long before “Right love I’m off – see you!”

    Decided to go and wander the same old graveyard with my husband a day or two after this dream cos I’d not been there for nearly 30yrs and it was so weird standing in the same spot and going my husband “Here – he was RIGHT HERE when I saw him”

    Then it dawned on me if if he’d been trying without fail to find a way to come see me, he maybe chose Donkey’s Graveyard specifically knowing that’s where I spent most of my childhood and might feel least threatened or frightened.

    Often wish animals I’ve loved and lost would come and see me but they never have. It’s like they have fallen out with me or for some reason just don’t want to visit and again, that’s a common experience many pet owners have.

    My daughter dreams regularly about her boyfriend’s cat who was put to sleep earlier on this year.

    She says the same thing “Fizz came to see me last night. It’s weird I know he’s dead and nothing really special or significant ever happens he just hops up on my lap and purrs and I go “Hello Fizz Pop” and that’s it. It’s like the most boring scenario ever about a dead pet but it’s really nice to see him and then he’s gone”

    Her boyfriend and his Mum were devastated to lose him and wish he’d show up and say hello to them the same way I wish my Springer would come see me.

    Maybe we put up barriers without realising and have to allow ourselves time, space and lay off pressure to either dream something nice or not at all about people we love and want to see again more than anything.

    My Dad seemed quite offended by my remark he could have come to see me sooner and not put me through that every night. Like “Hey hey whoa there just one bloody second lady. It wasn’t me – it was you”

    Jeff will come see you as and when you’re ready of that I’m pretty certain. Would love to know when he does but in the meantime just go easy on yourself and carry on your travels and do just as you are 🙂

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Very interesting. Such detailed dreams! This makes my few paltry dreams seem nebulous at best!. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not so much I have a mental or emotional block but as if I’m too attuned to people who are here to be attuned to people who aren’t. My sister claims this house is haunted by an old woman, but I’ve never even had a hint of otherworldly energy.

      It used to bother me that I was so prosaic, but on the other hand, I do feel some things. For example, I always thought Jeff was one of those teachers who appeared when the student was ready, and when he was gone, he went to some higher plane, so that I won’t be seeing him again. In fact, a few hours after he died, I imagined I could actually sense his leaving this earth, even though I don’t believe in consciousness after death. Oddly, too, I sense that my deceased homeless brother is looking after me and was instrumental in making sure I was homefull. (homed?)

      So many contradictory thoughts! But I’m comfortable with that now.

      Thank you for your long and thoughtful comment.

      • Auntysocial Says:

        How absolutely fascinating. I had one very unexpected and overwhelming experience in the car not long after Dad died which I didn’t tell even my husband about for a while because it made me sound or feel a real unstable little flake.

        Driving along as normal just tootling down the road listening to the radio and had a sudden intense sense or feeling Dad was in the car. Couldn’t see him or say what brought that on I wasn’t even thinking of him at all but it was almost an intrusive BOOM from nowhere.

        Bearing in mind I’m generally pretty hard faced and only cry at ET, Forrest Gump and anything to do with animals, I was without even realising it sobbing so hard, pulled over and put my hazard lights on because I couldn’t see, breathe and had to get out the car, take deep breaths and get myself back together.

        As ever I gave the usual rollocking and angrily in my head “Dad I don’t need this right now. Can you just NOT please? Freaking out all over the place I don’t like it”

        Gone. Almost as suddenly as it came on it had gone and the only time I ever had another experience similar to that was years ago when I was working a night shift in a care home. Not scary or a typically spooky experience but maybe 2am I got up to go make a coffee and do hourly checks.

        Had this sudden feeling as though the room / lounge was full of people and horribly claustrophobic. If you’re a Beatles fan, it was like the very begging of Sgt Pepper and the near last part of Day in the Life. Just layers and layers of incessant uncomfortable noise and I put my hands over my ears and again angrily and went “STOP STOP I DON’T LIKE THIS”

        Gone. I worked in that place for years and was never spooked, rattled or uneasy once and even that experiences wasn’t so much frightening as just unpleasant and uncomfortable.

        Just realised I’m always shouting at the dead. An angry and impatient / short-fused person by nature but even the dead don’t get off lightly or escape my wrath!!


        • Pat Bertram Says:

          My experience was also in a car. Jeff had died about two hours before, but the nurses had to clean and swathe him, and we had to wait for the funeral folks to come get him, so I was on a dark road in the middle of nowhere about 4:00 am when suddenly my car started to skid. I went careening, around and around, back and forth, totally out of control. I thought I was going to die, but oddly, the car never left the road. It finally came to a halt facing the wrong way on the highway. I was fine. So was the car. I remember wondering if Jeff had stopped by on his way out of this world to leave me a final reminder to be careful, or maybe he was shaking his ghostly head, thinking that after his being gone only two hours, I was already getting careless. He always worried that I wasn’t careful enough.

          I’ve always presumed I skid on black ice, but years later, I wondered — the roads had been utterly clear up to that point, so why the skid? I do know I was convinced that it had something to do with him, though as I said, I don’t know if he saved me or if he warned me.

  4. Auntysocial Says:

    *Beginning of Sgt Pepper sorry – not “begging”

  5. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    I don’t recall ever dreaming about dead family or friends. Of course I rarely remember my dreams once I awaken, but the ones I do are usually the ridiculously unbelievable kind so don’t leave me wondering if they contain a message for me. But I do know a few people who believe dreams have great significance and they spend a lot of time analyzing them. Maybe some people are more attuned to the supernatural? I don’t know.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t like dreaming, though I have had a couple that seemed way beyond the normal range of dreaming, not just the Jeff dreams, but a couple of almost mystical ones. But then, considering my mystical bent, that’s not out of the ordinary. I truly don’t think the dead visit us in our dreams. I truly don’t think they mean anything. Dreams seem to be mostly the images that show up when our brains are defragmenting the mental activities of the day.

  6. Joe Says:

    I’ve had dreams of him more times than I can count. Early on, some of them fell into the category of the last hours, where he’s struggling to breathe and I’m trying to get him help. More often, in the days and months afterward, the dreams were encountering him or seeing him out in the world, but he never paid me any attention, was simply “doing his thing,” or else was with me doing ordinary things, but saying nothing at all to me. He’s been gone for just shy of 3 years, and all of a sudden he’s in my dreams now, talking to me, interacting in ordinary ways. It’s like I broke through a wall and we’re able to talk to each other, but as if we’re mere acquaintances. He hasn’t said anything profound, not that I can recall. Maybe that will come, in time.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Interesting that in your dreams you’re mere acquaintances. I wonder if as time goes on, your relationship in your dreams will also progress.

      In one of my few dreams of Jeff, I saw him (or rather his car) and I tried to get him to stop, but he just kept going. Oddly, the glimpse I caught of him was a more of a caricature of him, with orangey hair rather than the sandy of his youth or the grey of his latter years.

  7. sahira22 Says:

    My best friend died from an aneurysm when we were 18. It was such a unexpected and painful death which affected all of our friends traumatically especially because we were so young. I remember being scared to fall asleep after her passing because i thought i would never wake up again like her. I struggled to sleep for weeks until one night I had a dream of her. I was walking in a park in the daytime, I remember the sun being really bright and the weather was perfect. Suddenly I look over at a bench and there she is smiling at me, it was the most comforting smile I have ever seen. I immediately burst out in tears of joy, seeing her smile was something i missed the most about her. After that I woke up, but now i was more at ease about her death. I felt like i didn’t sleep because i was worried about her but once she smiled i felt like that was her way of telling me she was ok. Since then I haven’t had anymore dreams about her, but i do feel more at peace about her death.

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