Doctor examining patient
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Dreams come in many forms and provide insight into your greatest hopes and fears. But David Kessler explains that your subconscious could also be the key to helping you through your grief about the loss of a loved one.

Here's one woman's story.
Catherine and her husband, John, sat at dinner. John pulled back from the table with sudden pain in his chest. His wife immediately said they needed to go to the emergency room.

John disagreed. He jokingly told Catherine it was probably indigestion, with no negative reflection on her cooking. John was determined to wait it out, hoping the pain would go away. After a half hour, his loving wife had had enough. Catherine practically pushed him in the car and took him to the hospital.

They arrived to a packed waiting room. John, still convinced he was suffering from indigestion, started nagging Catherine about returning home. Though the ER was chaotic and crowded, a nurse tended to John immediately, as patients with chest pains are brought straight to the back for observation and testing. Catherine was left alone in the waiting room, unable to follow John into the back.

Catherine sat patiently outside as she saw the ER grow even busier, one ambulance arriving after another. Then she heard someone yell, "We have a gunshot here," as they brought a patient back. She reluctantly went up to the busy nurse at the desk and said: "It has been 20 minutes. Can I go see my husband now?" The nurse looked up with a puzzled look and said no one was allowed into the back until the ER calmed down.

Almost two hours after arriving, after many visits to the front desk, a social worker stood before Catherine, explaining that John had a massive heart attack and died. She apologized for the chaos and busyness of the night and told her that not only could she not see John, but they were so in need of beds that he had already been taken to the morgue downstairs.

Catherine, in shock, drove home to find friends and family already gathering in response to the news. Catherine sat very still in a chair while family members cleared the dinner plates from earlier.

The phone was ringing nonstop with friends who'd heard the news. An unexpected call then came in from the social worker at the hospital. She told Catherine that she had made a horrible mistake, possibly the worst of her career. She had mistakenly told Catherine that John had died, when in fact it was another patient who had died. Catherine held the phone to her ear with more tears flowing down her face. The social worker went on to say that John was quite upset that Catherine left, as his chest pains turned out to be nothing more than indigestion.

Catherine, of course, said she was on her way back to the hospital. The social worker stopped her mid-sentence to say that an ambulance driver who heard about the incident was already bringing John home.

Catherine put down the phone, trying to comprehend what had just happened. John, on the other hand, was sitting in the front seat of an ambulance, listening to the kind driver telling him that mistakes are often made in medicine, but at least this mistake had a happy ending. As they turned the corner to his home, the driver, for fun, reached down and turned on the lights and siren.

John stepped out of the ambulance like a rock star with sirens blaring. He walked toward the overjoyed Catherine, who jumped into his arms. The family engulfed the couple as Catherine and John seemed to hug for an eternity. After a few minutes so, Catherine began to feel annoyed with the noise and looked to the ambulance driver to have him turn off the sirens. But then she realized the siren was the sound of her alarm clock. It was time to wake up for work. It had all been a dream. John was gone from the living and her life was forever changed.

What our dreams are trying to tell us
Woman turning off alarm clock
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Dreams often make promises they can't keep, an aspect of our psyches that brings with it a fleeting feeling of reconnection. Many people say that regardless of the outcome of the dream, they are grateful for even a few more moments with a deceased loved one.

Dreams sometimes give us glimpses of other worlds. We may never know how real they are. Some dreams are crazy, others hard to figure out, and some may turn out to be real. We do know that dreams are a natural part of sleep. They symbolize everything from our hopes to our deepest fears.

Dreams can provide us with information about what is really going on inside us. Our dreams can demonstrate the inevitable lack of control we feel when we are grieving. Dreams may serve many purposes, including a distraction from pain or our soul grappling with the reality of loss.

Dreams help us deal with overwhelming feelings while we sleep, an aid to the grief process, as the unconscious mind cannot distinguish between a wish and reality. We may not realize how much we work out psychologically in our dream state. All of us dream every night, but only a small percentage of us are aware of our dreams after we wake. Dreams can become a meeting place between the world of the living and the realm of the deceased.

During grief, our dreams often change. Messages are usually much more to the point and contain signs of reassurance, continued existence and emotional support. When our deceased loved ones appear in the dream world, it provides a respite from the current world of pain and loss.

When people dream of a loved one, they often report feeling a sense of peace afterward, a reassurance beyond words. Some have pangs of pain when they realize it was only a dream, but eventually, the dreams will begin to subside and become less frequent. While they are still happening, they often represent a form of communication, reassurance and emotional support.

The dream vision of a loved one can also represent unfinished business, giving us the chance to complete something that ended all too soon.

Our dreams show us that our loved ones are not, in essence, the sick people we tearfully said goodbye to in the hospital. Neither are our loved ones the bodies we saw at the funeral homes. Our loved ones are healthy and intact, the people we knew and now long to see again.

Who and what are you dreaming about? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

David Kessler is the author of Visions, Trips and Crowded Rooms (May 2010), as well as the co-author with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross of On Grief and Grieving and Life Lessons. Visit his website for more help and resources.

Keep Reading:
Who and what you see before you die
Embrace the mystery of death
How to cope with the death of a spouse


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