I thought since last week I wrote on the topic of dreaming into retirement, well – why not take it a step further and look at dreams of the dying or dreams of death?
Research Into Dreams of the Dying
Here’s an interesting article from the New York Times February 2, 2016. The story is about some work from a team of researchers led by Dr. Christopher Kerr at Hospice Buffalo. The study was conducted with fifty-nine terminally ill patients, nearly all of whom reported having dreams or visions, most of which were comforting. The article noted that
The dreams and visions loosely sorted into categories: opportunities to engage with the deceased; loved ones “waiting;” unfinished business. Themes of love, given or withheld, coursed through the dreams, as did the need for resolution and even forgiveness. In their dreams, patients were reassured that they had been good parents, children and workers. They packed boxes, preparing for journeys, and, like Mr. Majors, often traveled with dear companions as guides. Although many patients said they rarely remembered their dreams, these they could not forget.
Reading about “traveling companions” reminded me of a dream my father related to me some weeks before he passed away.
Dreams and Dying as Part of Life’s Process Toward Completion
The article and the research it discusses are remarkable because it addresses one of the taboo subjects around dying as a life process – is there preparation for it with our psyche’s assistance (through dreams or visions) and whether persons sometimes know in advance that death is imminent (notwithstanding the lack of knowledge of an illness). Our cause and effect, materialist-objectivist obsession with measuring what we can know (or pretend to know, if enough people are in agreement) generally simply denies outright the mystery of the end of life. But as more people die at home or with hospice and palliative care providers who are not leading a pitched against the “enemy” – collectively disease and death – it seems that we are gaining more personal experience with death and dying. It might represent a gradual questioning or moving away from the model of technocratic dying in hospitals, where expressions of our relationship with and compassion for dying loved ones generally had to be subjected to the intrusions of our medical-industrial establishment and its protocols administered by “experts.”
A Scientific American Mind article entitled “Vivid Dreams Comfort the Dying” also explored Dr. Kerr’s work, which was published in the American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care. It seems that the conclusions are likely to be consistent with dreams of dying and deathbed visions and visitations recorded throughout history: that most of the time the person is comforted by the dream or vision of their impending demise, as if Psyche were assisting with the transitions as a kind of midwife.
The Experience Is More Likely to be Labelled a “Vision” if it is Comforting to the Dying Person
If the experience is upsetting to the person, typically a patient receiving hospice care, it might otherwise be termed a “hallucination” or “delirium.” But I like the unequivocal language of this post from Crossroads Hospice about end-of-life visions:
These visions are not hallucinations or a reaction to medication. The most important thing to do if your loved one is seeing visions or having visitation dreams is to acknowledge and support them. Do not argue with your loved one about the experience, correct them, or try to explain the vision. Do not panic as that can upset your loved one. Instead, take them at their word and encourage them to share the experience with you.
“As a caregiver, it is not our job to prove, disprove, or do experiments,” says Carolyn. “We are there to provide support and comfort.
In most cases, these end-of-life visions are indeed a source of great comfort to the person experiencing them.
It’s reassuring to know that as more people are able to die at home with support from hospice care provided, this aspect of the death taboo is losing more of its sting. A link to one last resource guide is in order, this one McGill University called “Nearing the End of Life: A Guide for Relatives and Friends of the Dying.”
© 2017 Barbara Cashman www.DenverElderLaw.org