How dreams of deceased loved ones can help us cope with trauma and loss.
Posted in , Aug 31, 2021
One of the most poignant and difficult situations caused by the coronavirus pandemic is that many people lost the chance to say goodbye to loved ones who died from Covid-19 or other causes. But what if God gave us a way to find solace even if we couldn’t be there when a loved one passed? For many, this comfort came in the form of dreams.
For example, actress Jennifer Love Hewitt recently told People magazine that Broadway actor Nick Cordero, who died in July 2020 after a three-month battle with Covid-19 , came to her in a dream. She says that Cordero told her that the memoir written by his wife, Amanda Kloots, brought him “closure.”
Dr. Joshua Black is one of the world’s foremost experts on grief dreams; he’s previously told Guideposts about the phenomena of dreaming of dead loved ones. Recently, we checked in with him again to discuss his thoughts about the healing power of grief dreams during the pandemic.
What did you notice about the nature of grief dreams during the pandemic as opposed to other times?
As I’ve mentioned, we’re more likely to remember negative dreams, and we’re more likely to have these negative dreams after experiencing something traumatic, like a loved one dying. Then, during a pandemic there are additional challenges when it comes to grief support and rituals. So, all evidence suggests that during the pandemic there should have been an increase in negative dreams of the deceased. But what I’ve seen is that the dreams are generally really positive and loving. They help us maintain our sanity and keep our faith.
How did grief dreams help people who lost someone during the pandemic?
During the pandemic a lot of people were panicked that their loved ones weren’t at peace because they couldn’t perform normal grief rituals, like funerals. In some faiths, you have to do these rituals in order for the soul to cross over. These dreams let people know that their loved one had still crossed over into the afterlife.
So many people also died in locations away from their families. A lot of people felt guilty that they weren’t able to be with their dying loved one, to share final words with them and say goodbye. In these dreams you get a chance to say goodbye. If you have an unresolved question, you get to ask it. Grief dreams can give the living more time to say what they needed to say or hear what they needed to hear.
On my Grief Dreams Podcast, I interviewed a woman, Jessica Clontz, whose grandmother had died from natural causes during the pandemic; Jessica was having a difficult time processing the loss. She had a dream where she was hugging her mom and crying. Then, she spotted her grandmother in a doorway, wearing all white. Her grandmother sent waves of love that calmly washed over her. The dream comforted her and helped her get through other stressful parts of the pandemic.
Did you find that grief dreams helped a lot of people cope during the pandemic?
Yes. Even people who had previously lost loved ones were having dreams of the deceased during the pandemic. In these dreams, the deceased answered questions, gave comfort, and made them feel less lonely. I’ve even heard of the deceased asking the living person how they’re doing. These dreams give the feeling that we’re not alone in this world. How beautiful is that--knowing that someone is looking out for you?
Another podcast guest, Gary Shockley, had a grief dream during the pandemic about his best friend Paul, who died in 2008. Gary asked, “Do you think we’re all gonna be okay?” And Paul said, “Well, how are you?” Gary said he was alright. “Then we’re all gonna be okay,” replied Paul. The answer comforted Gary. It had a lot of wisdom in it. In these dreams, the deceased are really good with one-liners.
Do you think those who died during the pandemic could have also experienced grief dreams?
Many individuals have dreams of deceased loved ones at end-of-life, as seen in the research of Dr. Christopher Kerr. These dreams provided them with the support they needed to let go a little bit and to transition from this life to the next. So even if their loved ones weren’t there, these experiences continued to support many people as they died.
What if you haven’t had a dream of your loved one who died during the pandemic?
I’d first ask what your dream recall rate is; most of the time, people will say it is low. You can increase your dream recall by keeping a journal. By writing dreams down, you’ll remember them more, which makes you more likely to catch a grief dream if it occurs.
You can also use other people’s dreams for your own comfort. Ask friends and family if they’ve dreamt of your deceased loved ones. And just because they’ve had a dream and you haven’t, it doesn’t mean that person is better in any way. We’re just all different.
Stephanie Damiano shared a story with me on the podcast. Stephanie heard that the son of one of her old high school acquaintances had died. Stephanie hadn’t spoken to this person from high school since they’d graduated. She’d never met the son and didn’t know what he looked like. But she had a dream of the deceased son and somehow recognized him. He told Stephanie to tell his dad that he was okay. She eventually worked up the courage to tell the father, who said he’d been waiting for this message.
It helps build a deeper sense of community if the dreamer shares the dream with the bereaved. You can sit in that miraculous moment together. You never forget it.
What if you had a negative dream about someone who died during the pandemic?
Our dreams can be our best friends—even the negative ones. Negative grief dreams are often related to unresolved trauma and feelings of guilt and shame. If you pay attention, you can work through these emotions in your waking life, leading you to feeling more at peace.
Overall, what feelings did pandemic grief dreams leave the dreamers with?
It was the worst time to suffer a loss, because of the challenges the pandemic presented to processing grief. These dreams helped people feel loved, safe, and reassured. They went from feeling like they couldn’t go on to feeling like they were supported through their loss.
These grief dreams also helped because dreamers felt like they were being watched out for from beyond, and that they weren’t alone despite the isolation. There’s something so powerful, so transformative about that. When we say that God is love—these dreams show that.