When our loved ones die, they take a piece of us with them. We think that they are lost to us forever but what if they're actually still with us?
Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 31, 2020. It has since been updated.
Losing a loved one can devastate you. The grief never really goes away and for weeks, months or maybe years on end, you look for a way to see them or at least get a sign that they’re there, watching over you. Sometimes you imagine that they’re sitting beside you and other times, you think they’ve moved something from its original position. When we lose someone, we don’t just lose them. We lose a part of ourselves and wish desperately that we could somehow turn the clock back to before we lost them. More often than not though, they come to us in our dreams as a way to say goodbye or at least to lessen our grief at their loss. Some say that the afterlife exists while others say it’s just a way to cope with our loss.
According to clinical psychologist Jennifer Shorter, visitation dreams are defined as “striking emotionally intense dreams in which a recently deceased loved one returns to provide guidance, reassurance, and/or warning.” They help us cope with the grief that seems to strike us at random moments or when we see the things that our loved one used to like. When they come to us in the dreams, we don’t feel alone anymore. We feel like we’re home and according to William Worden, a psychology professor at Harvard Medical School, “To cope with the loss more effectively it is important that the bereaved find a way to remember and remain connected to the deceased (without it negatively affecting their life). These dream experiences can help the bereaved cope with the loss more effectively than they would have otherwise and can provide a space to remain connected to the deceased loved one.”
If you feel any of these signs, there’s a chance that your loved one is trying to communicate with you.
Your dreams are generally hazy of details and you’re more likely to forget them as soon as you wake up. But when a deceased loved one is trying to contact you, you can generally feel, see, and hear them as if they were right next to you. Your dreams of them are intensely vivid and according to Patricia Garfield, Ph.D., an authority on dreams, in her book, The Dream Messenger: How Dreams of the Departed Bring Healing Gift, they are “emotionally packed, and may dramatically alter the life and belief system of the dreamer.”
Melanie Jade Rummel, a medium who spreads positive messages from loved ones who have passed away, shares her experience of meeting her late grandfather in her dream. She says, “My grandfather was a jazz drummer, and in one of my dreams, I suddenly realized I was hearing drums. Then, I saw my grandfather playing the drums and smiling at me. His eyes sparkled, and I felt filled with love and peace. He waved to me, and then I woke up.” She also goes on to say that “instead of just watching your dream like a movie, you’ll be able to control what you say and do.” So if your dreams are vivid memories and you see your late loved ones, it’s their way of contacting you.
We all have a sense that gives us the ability to feel something when we can’t experience it with our normal 5 senses. Things like getting a vibe off of someone or getting the feeling that you know what’s going to happen. You can’t explain it but you know it’s there. Similarly, after a loved one has recently passed, you generally feel like someone is watching you. And while you would feel disturbed by it, this particular feeling is very welcoming and comforting. Whether you’re awake or asleep, if you can feel a warm feeling with someone staring at you, it’s probably your loved one letting you know that they’re there with you.
When you see them in your dreams, they look happy and how they were before they passed away. They seem healthier and it’s as if they are trying to reassure you that they are okay where they are and that they want you to be happy. Even if you can’t always understand them, they just want you to know they are happy. A woman from Thailand shared her dream wherein she states, “Sometimes […] my husband returns to me in dreams. He looks good — strong and healthy again, like when we first met. He is always talking, but as hard as I try, I can't understand what he is saying. It is just a long sequence of words with no meaning."
In a study submitted to the American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine, around 278 primary caregivers who had recently lost a loved one, were surveyed and it was found that 26.7% of the caregivers who had had dreams of their loved ones reported that their loved ones showed them that they were comfortable and happy in their afterlife.
Sometimes you wake up with the knowledge of something that you were sure you didn’t know before. Whether it’s about a certain decision you have to make in life or a piece of advice that you need for something, you suddenly know about it. Chances are, if you dreamt about your loved one before that knowledge came to you, then it’s your loved one who has told you about it. They want to make sure that you don’t go blindly into something and they are concerned about your well-being.
A person from, Aït Benhaddou, Morocco shares his experience and says, "My mother, who died many years ago, often appears in dreams to guide me. 'You love animals,' she said once. 'So, you should be kind to them. It is better to hear birds sing than it is to eat them.' From that day forward, I never touched meat again."
When you feel particularly stressed out or are in a bad shape, your loved ones come to you in a dream so that you can release some of your stress by spending time with them. They want to be your shoulder to cry on and they want to reassure you that they are still here for you. They need you to know that they can still be your safe haven even if they are not physically there. Generally, our deceased loved ones leave after we have moved on to a better place in our lives and feel confident that you can handle your stress properly on your own.
Glenn Lord, the founder of The Grief Toolbox, shares his story of how in 1999, his 4-year-old son passed away after a complication in his tonsillectomy. He shares that he dreamt that his son had grown to be strong and healthy. He mentions that in 2002, he had a dream in which Noah introduced him to two boys. “He explained that he had to go, but these boys will stay with me. When I woke up, I told my wife that he would not come into my dreams anymore. This was exactly what happened." Lord said that the last dream meant that Noah was fine and reminded him that there were other children who needed love. In late 2002, Lord and his wife adopted two brothers from a Russian adoption program.
Even though it’s just a dream, just being in the same dream with them makes you feel comforted because at least you are there with them again. Because the dream is so vivid and you can control your movements in that, being able to walk into your deceased loved one’s arms once again gives you the rush of love that you had when they were alive. Even if you had disagreements while they were alive, knowing that you could make it right with them in your dreams gives your relief and lessens your grief at their passing.
Meeting your late loved ones in your dream always makes your waking intense and an emotional rollercoaster. You are extremely happy that you got to see them but knowing that they’re not there in your waking life always brings about a wave of strong grief. A participant in the study The Impact of Dreams of the Deceased on Bereavement: A Survey of Hospice Caregivers, states, “When I awaken from my dreams of mom I find myself crying uncontrollably. Mom was my life. Losing her has affected me as far as my life seems so empty at times. At times the pain is unbearable.”
No matter how much grief you feel, with each visit of your loved one, you are closer to finally getting closure over their death. It depends on different people how long it takes but each visit lessens your grief a little until you finally have the ability to think about them without completely breaking down. You can then remember the happier moments and move on with your life knowing that they too are happy wherever they are.
In a study titled Examining The Healing Process Through Dreams in Bereavement, where dreams were analyzed, the results showed that those who dreamed about their loved ones became happier over time with regard to how long it had been since their loved one had passed. It stated that "dreamer happiness in dream content was positively correlated with time since the death […]happiness of the dreamer increased with time since the death."
So allow yourself to feel that grief and experience those dreams because it is also a way to cope with their loss. You will feel happier knowing that they are watching over you and that they want you to be happy even from beyond the grave. Love them in life and love them after they're gone. That's the way to honor them and help them move on as you move forward.