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Dreams of Departed Loved Ones

...And their emotional impact on people in times of change.

Key points

  • The emotion that comes up when seeing departed loved ones in a dream is worth investigating.
  • Their appearance can point you to a character trait you may want to employ in a current waking situation.
  • Reconnecting to a lost loved one in a dream can also preview an impending personal transition.

In dreaming of a sister who had passed away, Laura felt a special sense of connection so strong that she almost believed her sister was really with her. Such dreams of departed loved ones often bring a unique emotional intensity. As Laura discovered, the enduring emotional impact of this type of dream can provide the impetus needed to press forward in times of change.

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Laura's Dream

I was in a room that I didn't recognize, but I felt comfortable and lived there or was about to live there.

I was up on some sort of stool in the corner of the room, cleaning cobwebs and spiders out of it, but it wasn't creepy—I don't mind spiders and was careful not to kill them.

My sister, who passed a few years ago, and with whom I had a stormy relationship that we never quite resolved, was sitting in a chair in the room. And we were chatting. We were both relaxed, and it felt really good to be with her.

When I woke up, I felt her presence so strongly. It felt real. And it felt so good to have spent time with her like that, just two sisters hanging out.

I asked her, "Have you ever felt that you had control over your life?"

She gave this some thought and said, "I don't know, really."

I replied, "You must not have, then, if you don't know. You would know if you had."

The Conversation

I inquired, "Do you feel like you are in a new space these days? How about in your relationships? You might be discussing a specific new attitude about something or perhaps a whole new attitude in general."

Laura offered, "At the time of this dream, I was planning on redecorating my living room. I had bought paint and furniture and new window treatments, so cleaning the cobwebs from the ceilings was something I was going to do in real life, but I feel it was spiritual and metaphorical too.

"I recently formed a friendship with a woman who works in academia, and we've had many discussions about being intellectuals and thinking critically. Having these conversations made me feel like I had to 'clean the cobwebs' from my mind."

Pointing to the feelings Laura had described, I noted, "Clearing the cobwebs in the dream isn't creepy for you since you don't mind spiders."

Laura responded, "Spiders are cool creatures. I have a lot of respect for them. They are industrious, patient, and self-sufficient."

I offered, "If this was my dream, I might be thinking that 'clearing the cobwebs in my mind,' or maybe changing an attitude or feeling that I've had, is not creeping me out or stressing me. Can you think of a feeling or attitude that has recently changed for you? Or maybe a relationship where you typically experience conflict but recently had a nicer experience?"

Laura replied, "Not that I can think of, but this woman and I have had conversations about getting along with people. It made me reflect on my own ability to work with others, something I don't always find easy to do! Also, my sister did not get along with many people.

"Even though we never saw eye to eye, she and I did get along in the dream. It's hard for me to think that she wasn't really here with me. I could feel her in the room."

Using language directly from Laura's dream, I asked, "Are you feeling like your life is under control these days?"

She admitted, "I never really felt that it was. These days I have been giving thought to finding a 'real' job rather than being self-employed so as to have more job security. I have had discussions about this with the woman academic as well, and she has been sending me job postings."

I observed, "If your dream mirrors your interior discussion about this professional change, I wonder about the feeling you describe of 'not being creeped out,' as well as your 'really good' feeling at being with your sister in spite of your stormy relationship with her in life. What other words would you use to describe your sister?"

Laura replied, "She was extremely strong and resilient, super-smart, selfish, very independent, resourceful, and unkind."

I continued, "Keep in mind that the cast of characters you choose in a dream—including spiders!—is never random."

Laura offered, "The truth is, your questions really trigger my engagement with this dream and issues that have been brewing for me in the background. Perhaps this sense of how I could feel her in the room was my way of bringing her personality back to me.

"If I act a little more like her, in particular with her resourcefulness and even some selfishness to keep me focused, it will definitely help me effect change in my life and feel like I have more control."

I asked, "Do you think stepping away from your current work and into something new will require you to 'clean some cobwebs'? Perhaps instead of a new living room, a new room for living?"

Laura laughed. "That's right! And I need to keep the spiders alive. They show me how to be industrious, patient, and self-sufficient."

What We Can Learn

It is not only very common to dream of friends and family who have passed but also to feel convinced they were really here.

As Laura sits at the door of change in her life, she, like many others, feels resistance to stepping through. Her dream of her sister brought an intense feeling of well-being that can help her forge ahead, as well as remind her of her sister's qualities that she can bring to her journey. Like Laura's dream, the reappearance of a loved one adds an emotional immediacy and intensity that people often need to press forward during such life moments.