Dreaming of a Deceased Loved One

Dear Dr. Leary:

My son Erik died suddenly in his bed after an accidental overdose. Someone gave him a fentynal patch and told him to suck on it. He was 22. My question is I dream constantly about trying to find him. I run thru my dreams looking for him and trying to get help. Thinking he is lost and hurt and we cannot find him. It’s very upsetting. I know how he died and he died at home. Why do I keep dreaming this?

Dear Leesa:

You dream this because you are his mother. As a mother, you have assumed responsibility for his care and safe keeping, no matter how old he is. Your dream is expressing the questions and emotions you need to work through, and may be your desire to have more control over an uncontrollable event. It is a common and a normal response to seek more control when we feel out of control; to accept responsibility and want more power when we feel powerless; and to want to re-write an ending that feels unacceptable.

Your conscious, waking mind knows and accepts the reality that he died, at home, from an accident. Perhaps your unconscious, seeking mind is still looking for answers to “why?”, “how?” and “what does it mean?” It is common that this search for meaning and the pursuit for peace that comes from accepting life’s unpredictability will take a very long time. Acceptance, understanding, and reconciliation often comes in spurts and after long spells of disquiet.

Another way to work with dreams is to see the primary subject as an extension of one self. In this way, we would see the dreamer as looking for herself rather than her son; trying to discover herself and help for herself; afraid that she has been hurt. When we look at the dream from this perspective, we can see this as helpful: in grief, we often report that we don’t know who we are or how we are going to get through life without our loved one. We feel that we need help or guidance but we don’t know what to ask for or how to find the help we need. We are hurt, torn apart by our grief. Your dream is reflecting this.

Your dreams are an engine that power you deeper through your grief work, even when you do not believe you have any energy left. Your dreams may offer you a glimpse into corners left unexplored in daily life, or another perspective that comes when our normal way of looking at challenges is “asleep”. Dreams provide us to continue the work without the chatter, distractions, defenses, and prejudices of our every-day mind.

My recommendation is that you observe and record your dreams without judging, analyzing, or dismissing them. I trust that dreams come to serve and strengthen us, offering gifts and insights that only the dreamer can affirm. Even though it feels upsetting, these dreams are companioning you in your grief. But you do not have to be along with the dreams or the confusion. Working with a therapist who has special training and a background in dreamwork may be helpful to offer support as you explore your dreams, your feeling and needs, and this long journey through grief.

Your dreams can be the gift that move you toward an understanding and acceptance of strong emotions, and a deeper clarity of your strength. It may be speaking of a deeper truth through symbolic language. My hope is that you will gain peace and understanding through these messages.

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