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Dreaming of People Who Have Died – What It Really Means

Most of us have had a close friend, dear family member, or even a beloved pet who has passed away. The sadness, grief, and anguish we feel is deep and indescribable. Such feelings permeate not only our waking lives but also our subconscious states. So, it’s not at all uncommon or unusual to see the deceased in our dreams, also called grief dreams or visitation dreams.

Types of dreams of people who have died

Are Dreams of People Who Have Died Real?

There’s a symbiotic relationship happening between you and dreamtime. Although there is no way to measure this in scientific terms, these kinds of dreams have been happening for millennia,  and raises the question whether these dreams are real or not.

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Were you really visited by the deceased, or was it simply a figment of your imagination?

While psychologists often relate dreaming about those who died connect to our experience of grief, they don’t admit nor deny these as actual events.

Ancient Cultures Versus Modern Science

As a matter of fact, studies and research about tacit grief dreams are just now undergoing evaluation. Many ancient cultures believed that the soul traveled during sleep to an ethereal realm. These people also believed that the spirit lives on well after death.

The Egyptians, Hindus, Native Americans, and Aborigines along with the ancient Mesopotamians, Greeks and Celts viewed dreams of the deceased as highly significant.

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Since science is proving the veracity of many things that these people did, practiced, and believed, it may not be farfetched to consider our ability to speak with people beyond the grave. The problem is the modern world has become so centered on science and objective reality, that we deny the potential for the unexplainable.

While many people may pass this off as religious or spiritual, there is more going on behind the scenes with our unconscious states than we may be aware of. After all, there are some things that science has yet to catch up with in regards to the mind and how it works.

Some Anecdotal Evidence – Dante Visits His Son

For a more solid example, let’s take the story about Jacopo, Dante Alighieri’s son. Dante was the author of “Dante’s Inferno”, the famous story about a journey through hell and purgatory guided by Virgil. Upon Dante’s death, the last 13 cantos of his “Divine Comedy” were missing.

His son, Jacopo, who was also a writer, had a lot of pressure on him to finish it. After several months of searching his father’s home for clues on how to finish the work with friends, servants and disciples, they were about to give up hope.

According to Jacopo’s friend Giovanni Boccacci, eight months after the death of his father, Jacopo dreamed his father came to him. Dante was resplendent with bright white light over his face and body. In the dream, Dante led his son to the room where he did most of his work and revealed a place there. He said, “What you have sought for so much is here”. It was a hidden window inside a wall, covered by a rug.

Upon waking, Jacopo grabbed his father’s friend, Pier Giardino, and they went to his father’s house and entered the work room. They went to the window as indicated in the dream and found several writings in this nook. Among the damp papers, they found the last 13 cantos. Both men claimed that neither had seen the place before.

What It Means When You Dream of the Dead


While this is only one example, millions of reports like this have emerged throughout the centuries. So, while dreams of those who died can be our grief manifesting in a dream, there is also the potential for them to come from a source we cannot measure. This also means there could be several layers to these kinds of dreams.

Categories of Dreams with the Deceased

There are two basic dreams you can have involving the dead.

  1. The most frequent is seeing loved ones who have recently passed.
  2. There are also dreams of the deceased with whom you have little to no connection. This can include mysterious figures, celebrities, dear ones to other living people and ancestors who have long since passed.

Regardless of the deceased’s identity, these dreams hold meaning. As with any other dream, the interpretation will rely on context, feelings, elements and other events that occur.

Dreaming of People We Care About

On the level of the unconscious, when you see a deceased loved one, your psyche is attempting to deal with the loss. If you have any guilt or anger in connection with this individual or have fears about death in general, it’s a vehicle in which to express yourself and work things out.

Dreaming of Anyone Deceased

Dreaming of any deceased person – known or unknown – can mean that some area of your life has died. Things like feelings, ideas, beliefs, or a career has ended and you’re experiencing grief over it. The dead person symbolizes this aspect of your life and you must now come to terms with its death.

Context and Sensation of the Dream

According to research conducted by Deirdre Barrett in 1992, there are about six context categories when dreaming about a beloved person who has died, all of which may influence the interpretation. It’s also frequent for a combination to occur within the same dream:

  • Kinesthetic: The dream feels so real; it’s visceral, orphic, and vivid. Many people experience remembering this kind of dream for the rest of their lives. Such a dream indicates either a deep desire to be with the deceased or your capacity for lucid dreaming.
  • Deceased Is Healthy and Vibrant: The person who died is active in the dream. If the person was sick in life and you see them healthy, it is an indicator of freedom. If you feel relief upon waking, it either mirrors your feelings or a sign to allow that relief in regard to their passing.
  • Deceased Conveys Reassurance: When the deceased conveys love, reassurance, and joy, you are looking for such things deep within your subconscious; you also may be receiving the message that they are okay and thriving in the life beyond.
  • Deceased Relays Messages: Just like Dante’s son Jacopo, if the deceased imparts some important lesson, wisdom, guidance or reminder, your unconscious is either reminding you of something that this person would say or you’re receiving a message from them.
  • Telepathic Communication: In some dreams, people who have passed away will seem as though they are talking with the dreamer, but in a telepathic or symbolic way. Without words, the dreamer can pick up what that is by the images and elements involved. Going back to the Dante example, this was also part of the dream Jacopo experienced when Dante directed him to the window nook.
  • Closure: Some grief dreams give us a sense of closure. This is often our subconscious attempting to deal with the grief of losing a loved one, especially if you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye before they left.

Dreaming of a Deceased Spouse

In the area of dreamers seeing deceased spouses, it’s more common for women to dream of their husbands than it is for husbands to dream of their wives. Gender aside, the living spouse is attempting to deal with the loss and accept the reality of current events. These dreams are often disturbing for some time afterwards.

Dreaming of a Deceased Parent or Grandparent

The relationship of the living child with the parent/grandparent who died will play a major role in the interpretation. Whether it was positive or negative, however, the dreamer is trying to work out or unfold the relationship. If there was turbulence prior to death, distressing feelings upon waking are commonly prevalent.

Dreaming of a Deceased Child

Because parents build their lives around their children, it’s not surprising they will often have dreams of their deceased little one. The adjustment is overwhelming, so the subconscious is looking for respite. In some instances, parents swear that they are able to continue their relationship with their child due to the frequency of such dreams.

The Deceased Was Close to Someone You Know

When you dream about someone like your friend’s deceased mother or your husband’s cousin, there are a couple of meanings for this depending on if you knew this person. In the case you didn’t know them, it could be an image from your past presenting itself as this kind of dream. Not knowing them in reality represents some truth about your existence or they are sending you a message in the realm of dreams.

Traveling to Another Realm

When you see a deceased person in a place like Heaven or other unearthly realm, it is a desire to escape. That said, there’s a significant number of people who often engage with their deceased loved ones in a place of bright white light where things can manifest and appear at will.

This is either an indication of lucid dreaming or taking a trip into the ultimate area of your subconscious: pure creative imagination. This is a strong quality in you and, if your dream featured a loved one, your grief activates this in your unconscious.

If you see yourself coming back to conscious reality prior to waking up after being with the deceased, it can indicate a desire or direction to take in reality. For example, if the deceased person gave guidance and you see yourself returning to earth, you have instructions to complete your task.

When the Dream Is Over

If you have intense emotions when you wake up from the dream, obviously the interpretation will relay whether those sensations are positive or negative. For instance, if your husband died and you see him in a dream cheating on you with a friend still living, this can indicate feeling left out or it’s a subconscious realization of something currently done to you.

Many people experience huge changes and perspectives when they wake up from grief dreams. In most situations, it’s a soulful metamorphosis in ways not obtainable in reality. In such cases, it’s arguable that the dream was real, and you did speak with a deceased person because of what you were able to take away.

In Brief

Dreams of the deceased are enigmatic. Whether science acknowledges the reality of it doesn’t matter. It depends on the person having the dream, the relationship with the deceased and what the dreamer gained from it.

After all, science cannot explain everything about human existence or the mind. With the example of Dante’s son, Jacopo, we could rationalize his dream as the subconscious searching for memories. He could be trying to recall his father’s secrets under duress. His grief combined with a desire to finish the “Divine Comedy” created the conditions to locate it. But you cannot deny the uncanny manner in finding the last 13 cantos in such a precise way. Whether this story is true or not, millions of people have had similar experiences.

So, it’s not entirely delusional to believe dreams of people who have died are real; that it’s possible to interact with the dead in the land of Nod. But regardless of that, dreams about a person who has died have a message for the dreamer. It’s up to the dreamer to glean from it what they will.

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Apsara Palit
Apsara Palit

After completing her post-grad in Values, Ethics and Indian Culture, Apsara is sharing her knowledge of symbolism, mythology, history and culture through her blogs. Apsara lives in India and believes in getting a first-hand understanding of culture through travelling.