June 16, 2015

Dreams of the Dead

Shortly after my sister died I had a dream. It was unlike any dream I’d had before, or have had since. It was crystal clear and in full colour, with none of the sepia fuzz or blurred edges of regular dreams. It was absolutely indistinguishable from real life.

I was in a corridor at a party, surrounded by people, with music blaring. I looked up and I saw my sister dancing toward me. Tanya had been ill for years before she died, but in the dream she was healthy, beautiful, and radiantly happy.

She smiled at me, and we had a brief conversation, too intimate to be repeated here. But I said what I needed to say to her, and her reply was just what I needed to hear.

I woke up with an absolutely overpowering sense of having just had a conversation with my sister. Her voice rang in my ear, as real as the sounds you can hear now. It was odd and unsettling, but incredibly comforting to me.

I am not a spiritual person. I have never believed in the spirit world, or in life after death. I never for a moment imagined that I could communicate with my sister, and I’m still not sure that I did. But the dream felt like I had communicated with her, and it gave me the closure that I so desperately needed. It gave me a final conversation with my sister that I did not get a chance to have in real life.

Tanya has appeared in my dreams many times since, but never again in that same way. My dreams of her are often distressing; she is there, but I know that she shouldn’t be there because she is dead, and my dream self is confused trying to work it all out.

I asked friends if they ever dreamed of their lost loved ones and, overwhelmingly, they do. Some like D, whose husband died suddenly last year, have profoundly upsetting dreams in which their loved one is lost over and over again.  

“I'm always chasing him, begging him to come back, to stay with me and our three sons. He never answers my questions, never looks at me in these dreams. He just walks away and ignores my pleading. I hope to one day have a comforting dream with him in it.”

Others find their dreams to be uplifting, offering another glimpse of that deeply missed person.
“I recently renovated and moved into my late parents’ home,” says M, “and they visited me in a dream – they were so happy to be at my housewarming. I believe they were just letting me know they approve.”
And C, who dreamed of her late father when she was pregnant. “He came and sat next to me in his favourite tennis shorts, put his hand on my belly and told me we're having a girl and she will be fine. Two weeks later we found out we were having a girl and she is now almost seven. I believe dreaming of our departed is them coming to say hello.”

And yet many others, like me, feel bereft when they wake, as their conscious mind remembers what their dream state did not.

“It is comforting during the dream,” said S, who lost a parent, “but achingly sad when I wake and have to process the loss again.”

Of course it is sad. There is always going to be sadness in death. And I wouldn’t wish my dreams of Tanya away, not even the ones that cause me pain. It is okay for me to feel pain when I remember my sister, or when I conjure her in my dreaming. She was in my life for 37 years, and she will always be part of the fabric of who I am, whether or not she is still alive.

I’ve long since stopped wondering whether my initial, hyper realistic dream was anything more significant than just my brain grieving a loss. I know now that it really doesn’t matter. Whether it was my sister visiting me from beyond, or my subconscious being super kind to my conscious, is irrelevant. It helped me more than any grief counselling or sympathy. At the time it was just what I needed.

My sister is gone, but she lives on in my dreams. And I cherish that. It means she is still with me, that she is not forgotten. I hope that I dream of her for the rest of my life.

This column first appeared in Sunday Life magazine


  1. I've had similar dreams after the deaths of both my parents - my feeling is that they're nature's way of helping us deal with grief...

  2. My niece is very spiritual. She has told me about seeing people who have died and having conversations with them. Even though I am a healthy skeptic about such things, I have no reason (at all) to doubt her.

    For example, after her boss's husband died, my niece said he came to her the night of his funeral. She told her boss about it, and her boss asked her to describe what he was wearing. Turns out he was wearing the same clothes he was buried in. My niece didn't know what he was wearing before that.

    She would call that first dream you had of T a 'visit'. That's how the dead connect with us, through our dreams. Three days after my Dad died, I was dreaming of him (it was the morning of my birthday) and as I woke, I distinctly heard him say, 'Happy birthday, honey.' It was his voice. I woke up with a smile that day. I then had a very vivid dream of my Dad late last year. He looked fabulous in my dream and it was so realistic, like he was standing right in front of me. I woke up with a sense of calm afterwards. My niece told me he was visiting me. I've had other dreams about him, but the fuzzy dreams like you wrote about, so I don't consider these dreams a visit. But the vivid ones? Maybe. Hopefully. :) xox

    This is an interesting read (scroll down to under the Fast Facts) - the author of The Returned had one of these vivid dreams that inspired his book/tv show: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/02/living/books-returned-jason-mott/

  3. Hi Kerri...yes June comes around and Tanya vibrates strongly. My son is also born around her birthday which helps me keep that connection. I think about Tanya ALOT. Feel so lucky to have had her as a best friend in the most fun years of life. I am very spiritual and do believe in all that stuff so I hope to meet up with her again after I cross over to the spirit world one day. Sending you and your family love and joy in celebrating and amazing woman in the month of June

  4. Thanks Ev. Always so lovely to hear from you xxx

  5. That's a really interesting read, Jodie, thank you. And I love your stories of your niece. I am really very open minded these days. When you have experiences like that they change your mind... or at least open it..... xxxx

  6. VirtuallyNonsenseJune 17, 2015 at 11:54 AM

    Occasionally I dream of my parents and like you, I've stopped trying to work out what they mean (other side vs subconscious...it doesn't matter). The dreams leave me feeling delight and despair in equal measure, and I hug my own family just that little bit more on those days. xx

  7. My twin brother committed suicide 7 years ago and I get these dreams too, they are haunting, especially as most of them are about discovering again that he died rather than he visiting me whilst alive in the dream...


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