Q: What is the significance of dreaming about someone who has died?
A: Dear Mourning,
Back when I was 21, I woke from a dream that my Grandpa George was standing in front of a bank of elevators wearing the same rumpled trench coat he wore the last time I saw him. He was upset and asking me for help.
I sat up in a bed I’d built myself, in the second-floor apartment of a drafty old farmhouse in the college town where I still live. Back then I worked part-time in a Greek bakery and was finishing my undergraduate degree. In my spare time I rode on the back of someone’s motorcycle looking for the next adventure. In short: helping the people who I still thought of in that lofty category of “adult” was the last thing on my mind. And helping an adult who was, well, dead? Honestly, I wasn’t interested.
But in the few months since I’d stood beside my father at my grandfather’s grave as my relatives took turns shoveling dirt over his plain pine coffin, I had seen Grandpa George several times. In each dream he was disturbed, disheveled, and asking me for help.
The dreams become frequent and frightening enough that I mentioned them to a friend who suggested I speak to a medium. I needed help from the world beyond, she told me.
As a child, I’d had séances and worked the Ouija board with my friends until we were too scared to sleep. I thought I’d outgrown all that. And anyway, I couldn’t figure out why, if he needed help in the Great Beyond, my grandfather would be picking on me—rather than his wife, his two adult children, or one of his four grandchildren who’d recently graduated college. I decided that Grandpa’s spirit must have gone around to each of us while we slept, trying to get our attention. And I, the last in line, must have somehow left my dreaming mind’s door ajar. And in he came.
Grandpa’s visitations upset me in part because they revealed that my dreams were not just my own creations. Not to mention that they were inconvenient—and costly to boot. If I were to follow my friend’s advice and see a psychic medium, I’d need forty dollars to pay the fee. On my minimum wage salary, that seemed a princely sum.
The money, it turned out, was well spent. The medium found a spirit helper to work with my grandfather, and after that I didn’t see him in my dreams for some time. When he appeared again he was back to his cheerful, tidy old self.
My grandmother died some years later. She visits me in my dreams, too. The last time she was standing at the edge of a golf course; short, hunch-shouldered, and smiling broadly, just as I remembered her—except now she was wearing a loud pink pantsuit and a pair of over-sized black sunglasses that made her look like a comedienne from a late-night spoof. But she has never asked anything of me.
Older now, and wiser myself, I wouldn’t mind a bit, even if she did.
Yes, yes, I’ve done it again. I’ve gone on and on about me and have offered so little to you. But that’s okay, because you knew the answer to your question before you even wrote it down.
You see, Dear Mourning, you already know, as I do, that our dreams of deceased relatives and friends are worthy of our attention. Sometimes they offer comfort; sometimes they reignite our longing. They can be an opportunity to tie up loose ends or an invitation to remember and reminisce. Sometimes they are no more complicated than a cup of tea with an old pal. Other times, action is required.
You know you don’t need to interpret these dreams, but simply to experience them, and to continue to love—or learn to love—those who have left this world.
So how can I help? I can give you permission to believe what you already know about your dreams.
Have a Dream Question? Send it along! I’d love to hear from you.