Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Jeanne Van Bronkhorst, author of Premonitions in Daily Life and Dreams at the Threshold.
I have been asked by other healthcare professionals why I would want to bother people who are sick by asking about their dreams. The end of life is an emotionally intense and spiritually profound time, and for those who view dreams as meaningless and irrelevant, asking about dreams makes no sense.
I understand their hesitation. As a child I was also taught that dreams are nonsense, but my own dreams were much more than that. They were also funny, aggravating, frightening, mysterious, and challenging. I have had dreams that moved me deeply and gave me insights that helped better my life.
When I became a hospice social worker, it felt natural to ask the people I met not just about how they were managing with their illness, but also about their dreams. I kept my question simple: “How are your dreams these days?” to give people room to answer any way they wanted. Some answered with a polite, “My dreams are fine,” or, “I don’t remember my dreams,” and ended the discussion. Many others, however, responded by telling me not just their dreams but about how their dreams connected them to the deepest part of their lives.
These people taught me that at the end of life, dreams come into a new beauty and emotional power. They become more meaningful, and ultimately more hopeful. They reassure and comfort the dying, their families, and anyone who hears them. I have seen dreams offer the dying and their families a profound gift of healing on three different levels.
- Dream images themselves can bring enormous comfort and hope.Many dreams reassure dreamers that death is an ending, but also a transition into something new. People who are dying may dream of taking journeys or packing for a trip, and they wake feeling a sense of anticipation for their future instead of dread. Dreams bring images of the afterlife for some, and memories of important life events to others. People at the end of life might dream of a deceased loved one (or see a vision of their loved one) who is there to reassure them and help guide them across the threshold of death. Grief dreams can give mourners one more chance to hold onto the person who died.
- People can use their dreams to open important conversations.Dreams help people open hard and necessary conversations. I have listened as people told about their dreams as a way to talk with their families about their life’s meaning, their loves and regrets, what they expected death to be like, and how they wanted to be remembered. These are all matters of the soul.
In my book I tell the story of an elderly woman in the hospital who dreamed her late husband was waiting to guide her home. She told the dream to her children as a way to let them know she was ready to die. The dream gave her children permission to support her wish, and she died in peace a few days later. She had known she was ready to die, but she needed the dream to help talk with her children.
- Every dream re-affirms the importance of our lives.Dreams focus on growth and insight right up until the final days of life, as a friend of mine discovered. A few days before her father died, he had a dream in which he was applauding his ex-wife (who had died many years earlier). My friend watched in amazement as her father reconsidered that painful relationship and resolved some of his hurt. Years later she still cherishes that dream and her father’s final days.
It doesn’t matter if we have months or just days to live. Our dreams continue to push for insights, with an audacious assumption that what we think and feel still matters, because we still matter, even in our final days. Dreams at the end of life remind us of our strengths, our beliefs, and our most pressing life goals. They help us deepen our emotional bonds with the people we love and they gently lead us back, over and over, to the wonder of our hearts.
Our thanks to Jeanne for her guest post! For more from Jeanne Van Bronkhorst, read her article “5 Ways Dreams Can Help at the End of Life (And How You Can Help Your Dreams Now).”