Today I would like to explore a common dream theme, that of death and dying. To begin with, I will address one of the greatest fears associated with these types of dreams: namely, if we dream of someone near to us (or even ourselves) as dying in a dream, does that mean they are really going to die soon?
To put your mind at rest, the answer is usually no. Dreams most often function at the symbolic level, which I will explore in more detail shortly. However, we must remember that the best person to understand your own dreams is you. No-one knows your personal circumstances like you do. Death is one of the most deeply scary concepts most people will grapple with, and there are times when it is this fear that your dreams will be reflecting. If you live in circumstances where you are worried about someone dying, you may dream of this occurring – not because it is going to happen, but because you are afraid it will. The subconscious mind explores all of our deepest emotions, and especially those things we do not want to face up to. Dreams of someone dying may be a way for your subconscious to bring these latent feelings to light so you can address them, and yes, at times, even prepare for death. But if this kind of situation really does apply to you, chances are you knew that already. And I wish you all the strength and love you need at such a difficult time.
There are cases too, where people have had dreams that seemed to predict the death of someone close to them, or even their own demise. One of the most famous cases is that of Abraham Lincoln, who supposedly dreamed he saw a covered corpse surrounded by mourners in the White House, and upon enquiring who it was, was told “The President! He was shot by an assassin!” But we only have the veracity of one bodyguard to support this story, which apparently contains inconsistencies, so whether it is true of not is still a matter of speculation. Caligula the Roman Emperor also allegedly dreamed of his own death in advance (though in a rather symbolic way, open to interpretation!) and Mark Twain reported dreaming of his brother’s death. But as you can see, these kind of incidents, even if 100% reliable, are still very far and few between.
There will even be some circumstances where a loved one makes an appearance in our dreams, only for us to realise later that this was in actual fact a last visitation, as the person has passed on before we knew – but that it is a concept for another post!
If you do dream of yourself or someone dying in a dream, I would urge you please take a deep breath, sit down and not panic. The chances are, the death dream you had was a symbolic one. There is a bit of a myth that if we die in a dream we will not wake up, but many people have dreamed of dying, seen their own bodies and so on, and woken to tell the tale. (Though if someone were to die in their sleep, would they also dream they were dying? That is a one of the mysteries that is beyond our current means of knowing!) So what then, can death and dying symbolise in a dream?
It is worth remembering that regardless of your belief system, death is usually not an absolute end. Whether you believe in an immortal soul that lives on and either migrates to a heavenly existence or returns to earth in another form, or that we are simply creatures made up of matter and energy (that can neither be created nor destroyed, only change form) then we can see that death is really a moment of transition. And this is the core to one of the main symbolic meanings of death – significant, often sudden change. Dreams of dying then can happen at important stages of life, when one chapter is ending in order for a new one to start. It is part of the cycle of nature – just as the trees lose their leaves and appear to die in winter only to sprout into new green life in spring, so too must we as humans go through periods of letting go, of shedding past beliefs, behaviours, relationships and even entire world-views, in order that we may grow and evolve. It can be scary to realise we are leaving such an important part of ourselves behind. It can be scary like dying. But remember dying is merely a change of state, and an essential one that. Death is needed for new life to occur. Someone dying in a dream then, can be incredibly positive when the true meaning is grasped and the opportunity realised.
To understand this dream further, look at who has died and what this person represents to you. If a parent died, this can be a sign that you are growing into your own maternal or paternal authority, maturing as an adult and able to leave behind the reliance of parents for your identity, advice or approval. Dreams of a lover or spouse dying can indicate a shift in the dynamics of the relationship – that you are moving on to love them in a new way as either or both of you grow and change. Or it could be that your partner is also a symbol, and represents a new relationship with yourself. Dreams of children dying can be especially disturbing, and here I want to reiterate what I said at the start – dreams often play out our deepest fears. To new parents especially, the overwhelming sense of responsibility at having a new child can make you fear that you are not up to the job, and to worry endlessly over all the potential hazards to your precious and vulnerable little one. Dreams of strange things happening to children, including dying or getting lost (see my post on lost babies here) are actually very common! This does not mean your baby is in any danger, more that you are on hyper alert, and that deep, primal protection you feel (arising from the limbic system, the most primitive part of the brain) is also stimulating your most basic animal fears. Chances are, as you gain confidence and revel in the joy of parenthood, these dreams will subside. Other dreams of children dying can be symbols of important projects or ideas coming to an end, something you have nurtured and wished to see grow needs to be let go of now, in order that you can free up your energies to focus elsewhere. At an even deeper level, a child dying can relate to aspects of our own psyche – our inner child, or remnants from our past that we need to mature out of to become a fully realised human being. This loss of innocence can be painful and create great sorrow. But we must remember that it is unnatural and unhealthy to remain forever childlike, unaware of the world and unable to take our true place in it. In this way, a dream of someone dying can be an indication it is time to take more responsibility in life and step up to be the fully grown adult we are capable of being. Another way to consider what this particular death may mean is to consider what the person represents to you – is it authority, commitment to work, family values, creativity etc? (My post on other people can help you work through this.)
The circumstances of the person’s death can also help reveal the meaning of the dream. A mortal wound to the heart may indicate the change is to do with relationships or emotions, while to the head may indicate a change of ideas, logic or reason (see also “headless or decapitated”). A fiery death could relate to passion, while suffocation may indicate the current conditions are so stifling that something new, a breath of fresh air is needed.
We also associate death with the unknown – the mysterious. Dreams of death and dying may be asking us to examine what we think we know, to open our minds to new ideas and potentials. What perceptions need changing, and what misunderstandings need clearing up in your life?
Aside from people actually dying in dreams, we may also dream of a more abstract, or even concrete concept of Death itself. You may see a Grim Reaper, a hooded and cloaked shadow person, a skeleton or some other visual representation. If Death appears in your dream in this way, there is a good chance to you are facing a significant clearing in your life. What dead wood needs to be cut away in order for new growth to appear? Dreams of death in this way will often be a reflection of quite sudden and all-encompassing change. This is really a symbol of one life ending and whole new life beginning. You are likely to emerge from this period as a fundamentally changed person, but the better, wiser, stronger and likely happier for it.
Dreams of death invite us to:
- Appreciate the short and precious time we have
- Reflect on what must leave or let go of
- Mourn what is lost, and heal from this
- Release our feelings and recognise what may have been “dead” inside us, what feeling we refused to feel
- Marvel at the wonder of new life, of cycles and transitions
- Feel joy at the release of that which was trapped
- Say goodbye, find closure, feel completion and peace
And finally, as death is universal, there is no living person or creature that can escape dying, regardless of their wealth, status or achievements. It is unavoidable. Death and dying in dreams can ask us to consider our own mortality, to reflect upon what is most important and to take what steps we must to ensure this brief and precious moment of existence is lived to the full. Knowing that we all shall die, how do you choose to make the most of your life? Death and dying in dreams can ask us to question our values, relationship and ultimate purpose. Such dreams ask us to not take anything for granted, to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts. Death and dying in dreams can in fact be incredibly positive, a harbinger of profound change, of letting go of the past, and building a bright new and more fulfilling future.
(thanks for the Death image to tarotteachings.com)