People can get pretty scared when they dream of death. Maybe they die in the dream, or they see a dead body, or witness a murder. They wake up asking “why did I dream such a terrible thing?” It’s helpful to work with this kind of dream to unwrap its meaning. Death is usually symbolic in dreams, and it can be powerful to work with death dreams.
What might death symbolise in a dream?
Death in dreams often symbolises change – massive, irreversible transformation. This does not have to be a “bad” thing! Life is in constant flux. We move and change and reinvent ourselves, and so does every other living being.
Death can also symbolise a spiritual transition; something moves from one state to another, just as we do when we leave the physical body at death and transition to a non-physical existence.
Dead bodies can represent discarded parts of the self, or the shedding of old behaviours. One woman dreamed she found four dead bodies in the basement. The dream bothered her when she woke up from it, but when we worked together on the dream, she realised she hadn’t felt scared or horrified in the dream, but accepting. In a flash of insight, she understood that these corpses represented old, discarded parts of herself that she no longer needed. Still, to honour the dream and acknowledge her former selves, she re-entered the dream in her mind’s eye, and created a caring ritual in which she respectfully laid the bodies to rest. This felt cathartic and deeply meaningful to her.
Murder in dreams can be symbolic of forced change – someone is having change forced upon them, a change they are vehemently against. If you dream someone is murdered, try viewing each part of the dream (each person, object, scene) as part of yourself, your inner psyche. Ask yourself: is there anywhere in my life where I am feeling forced to do something I really don’t want to do? You may find that one part of you is forcing you to act against your gut instincts, or you may identify a situation that resonates with that feeling of being forced to do what doesn’t feel right.
It’s valuable to do this deep dreamwork to unwrap what the dream is trying to communicate with us. Dreams are honest mirrors – they won’t lie to us. They won’t let us go on fooling ourselves into believing we are happy when we are not. They will show us, often with strong, emotionally-laden images, exactly how we feel. While this can be unpleasant in the short-term, these dreams have a higher purpose – they come to help us to become whole. They come to encourage us to live an authentic, conscious life.
Carl Jung said: “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” But it’s the kind of helpful pain that propels us into a much better space. The kind that expands our hearts and allows compassion for ourselves and others to flood in. The kind that wakes us up to who we are, why we are here, and what we need to do next.
What does it mean when we dream of deceased loved ones?
It can be very touching and beautiful to meet a deceased loved one in a dream. They often appear in vibrant health and we can exchange words of love, or a hug. This is wonderful and healing.
But some bereavement dreams can be disturbing; there is a sense of unfinished business, even an argument, or the deceased loved one chases the dreamer or appears unhappy.
It’s important to work with these dreams. We can heal our relationships even when the other person has died. Dreamwork can help us to release past pain and paralysing emotions such as grief, betrayal, and loss. Dream Therapy gives many techniques for doing this releasing work. A dream re-entry where we engage again with the deceased loved one, with my Lucid Writing method, can be illuminating and bring us healing resolution.
Is it really my deceased loved one, or merely a psychological projection of them?
There are many accounts about a dead parent or sibling turning up in a dream to offer information the dreamer could not have otherwise known – the unexpected death of another family member, for instance, or an announcement that the dreamer has a dangerous illness. Sometimes the person appears in a dream on the night of their own death, to let the dreamer know they have transitioned. The dreamer then wakes up to learn the news of the death. On some occasions, the dreamer simply has an unshakeable, visceral sense that their loved one was really there with them.
Other times, the deceased loved ones in our dreams are psychological projections created by our memories and knowledge of who they were, their attitude, mannerisms, and energy. These dreams can also be deeply moving and illuminate an aspect of our relationship with them.
Death dreams as an invitation to examine life
A death dream may be seen as an invitation to examine what death means to us. Death is so often linked to fear in Western culture, yet the only sure thing in life is that one day we will die. It’s interesting to ask ourselves honestly about our relationship with our own death. Are we apprehensive? Terrified? Curious? What do we really think happens after we die?
And, just as importantly: are we happy with the way we are living this precious life of ours? What could we change for the better? Are we being as kind as we can to ourselves and others? How can we live a more lucid life, starting now?
Any of these questions can be explored in Lucid Writing, or during deep relaxation, just allowing images and impulses to arise spontaneously for insight and clarity.
Death in dreams can be a call to raise our level of consciousness; a call to wake up in life and live with greater passion and higher awareness. And that is a beautiful thing indeed.
To read about lucid dreaming in the dying process, and near death experiences, see this post.