I’m on a train. Several extended family members (all deceased relatives who have died during different periods of my life) enter through doors, but not all at once. Some are already seated, while others enter through different train doors on the same long train car. We quietly acknowledge each other. The train is moving again. Some prepare to exit as the train approaches its next stop. Then, they begin to leave, some together, some solo, getting off at different stops, exiting through different doors. I am not going with them. I do not protest. After all, I know they are dead. I have my own stop, my own door. I have some awareness that I am dreaming.
In both November 2016 and 2017, conscious chimera turned attention toward some aspect of visitation dreams, shrine/altar-making, or contact with the deceased. This makes sense given the time of year. So now, as the month of the dead wraps up for 2018, attention returns to these phenomena. Above, is one of a handful of easily recalled visitation dreams that contain several of my deceased relatives all together, in the same dream space.
From my research, I learned that visitation dreams most often arise in the context of major life transitions and loss (e.g. bereaved individuals as well as those in the dying process). Jeanne Van Bronkhorst’s book Dreams at the threshold: Guidance, comfort and healing at the end of life (2015) is a notable example, providing rich information about visitations reported among these groups. The Canadian author, who worked as a hospice social worker and bereavement counselor, describes how visitation dreams bring comfort to the bereaved as well as confidence to those who are moving toward death.
In 2011, Patrick McNamara authored a Psychology Today article titled Visitation dreams: Can dreams carry messages from loved-ones who have died? McNamara shares his own experiences with visitation dreams of his parents. Each dream occurred about 6 months after each death. Even with his strong Western scientific background, he “could not shake the conviction” that true communication between he and his dead mother and father took place. Like many researchers and scholars of dreams, McNamara is aware of how little research has been carried out on this topic, all the while knowing that these types of dreams can be very helpful. He states that experiencing a visitation dream can carry a bereaved person to “successful resolution of the grieving process.”
What can one make of a visitation dream outside of bereavement or end-of-life concerns? One commonality among the visitation dreams reported by those grieving, near death, and others (who are not experiencing grief or loss) is the appearance of, along with some form of communication with, the deceased. In such cases, the deceased individual often appears more youthful and in good health. After a neighbor-acquaintance had died, he greeted me in a dream. Effortlessly moving toward me, his body was in better shape than it had been the last time I saw him alive. His essence felt light and jovial.
Another commonality among the visitation dreams of those grieving, near death, and others is that the dream structure is organized and clear. This was the case for my neighborly visitation dream, along with other visitation dreams I have experienced. None have been outlandish, disorganized, or outrageous.
While these sorts of experiences may imply a broad spiritual perspective and a conviction of after-life realities for many bereaved individuals, they may also offer the same for those not experiencing any kind of grief or loss, or those outside of deprived conditions. My neighbors dream visit served as a reminder that there is much more to see (and sense) than our physical eyes can show us. A vivid dream visitation has the potential to impact anyone! As conscious, soulful beings, these visitations can open doors and change lives.
What can be done so that meaningful dreams become more than a distant, fading memory? Having over a dozen books (perhaps even over two dozen) published on various aspects, traditions, and perspectives on dreams and dreaming, Robert Moss is known to assert, “dreams require action” – A motto by which he lives. Having learned much from his time with Iroquois, Moss writes that tending to dreams was the first order of the day for the community. Whether grief is resolved or unresolved, visitation dreams, like all big dreams, require action. We can honor our dreams and those that visit us in many ways.
A most basic, yet important way, is to document our dreams and title them. This can be done in a fancy journal or on a simple notepad, or even with a smart phone voice memo app. In addition, we may even decide to share them with others.
As an artist, I really enjoy getting creative with actions prompted by a dream. Making small altars or shrines (or adding to an already existing one) is a favorite. It is a popular as well as traditional action throughout November, especially. Altar-making allows for photos of our dream visitors to be displayed and embellished. Altars and shrines also provide a space to hold objects that may have once belonged to the deceased, as well as items the deceased favors. This space can act as a place to pray, remember, or meditate.
In a ‘working’ altar, these objects and items can be fresh flowers, water, and food, for example. Some even leave alcohol and cigarettes at the altar. In caring for any ‘working’ shrine or altar, it is necessary to keep the space clean and to replace foods, water, and flowers daily-to-weekly. By honoring deceased loved ones in this way, it is like we are making the statement that the relationship is important no matter on what side of the veil we exist, and that we appreciate such dream visits. Furthermore, such action and attention may prompt additional, similar dreams.
Whether we are actively grieving, aware that we are near the end of our own life, or in neither of those places at the present moment, a space exists to turn our attention toward the journey of the soul. I consider this kind of dreamwork as sacred. Truly, it is a way of life.
I hope your November dream-life was meaningful and memorable.