It is not uncommon to dream of death or dying. You may see yourself falling from a tall building or sinking below the surface of a swirling torrent. You might be running away from a predatory animal, involved in a fatal car crash, or trapped in a raging house fire. Some people have even seen their dead body lying in an open casket.
When you encounter death or dying in your dreams it is not something to be afraid of. Dreams are given to help us, and they are often symbolic. Sadly, many of us lack the patience to learn the language of dreams and forfeit the knowledge or insight they provide.
Dream analysts agree that dreaming about death does not mean you are going to die soon. The symbolism speaks of a psychological death. It may refer to the ending of an important phase in your life as in a work promotion or a redundancy. Or it may relate to a changing lifestyle as in the children leaving home or a move to a new house.
Dreams of death and dying provide insight into the challenges we face or warn of the dangers of persisting with a pattern of behavior or course of action.
Throughout our lives we encounter many little deaths. Any significant change forces us to let go. We feel a loss of control, that we are not able to shape the future or safety proof ourselves against unseen dangers.
As Anatole France says,
‘All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.’
Dreams and visions have been a part of my life. They have influenced my thinking and the choices I have made. They have provided insight, bringing clarity during times of uncertainty and direction when the way ahead has been unclear.
In 2018, I dreamt that I would die when I was 71. While the details of the dream have faded, the message has been a constant and is something I have returned to often.
People of faith, people who recognise the importance of the Bible in grounding their lives, know that God speaks to people, the great and the small, through dreams.
There are instances in the Bible where God let people know they were going to die. For example, Moses was told he would not enter the promised land but would die on Mount Nebo. King Ahaziah received a message from God through the prophet Elijah that he would not leave the bed he was lying on but would die. King Hezekiah wept bitterly when he learnt from the prophet Isaiah that his illness would result in his death. Unlike the others mentioned, he prayed earnestly, and God heard his prayers and saw his tears, extending his life by fifteen years.
Knowing that you are going to die is not all bad. It gives you time to make the necessary preparations for when you are gone, to address those difficult issues you may have been putting off, and to think how you might bless those you love.
As I pondered the possibility that I might die, there were questions that demanded an answer. I offer you my
7 Questions to Ask Yourself if You Dream of Dying
(1) Is this for real?
Well, it must be a possibility, however remote. You would be a fool to say, ‘This is not going to happen.’ People die. People die suddenly. I thought of my brother who was diagnosed with cancer and died 12 months later. He was 73. It was unexpected and it was rapid.
I did the sums. If I died at 71, I had 3 years to live.
(2a) What does it mean?
The meaning of a dream is not always immediately obvious. It requires commitment to remain attentive and to be open to new information. Our understanding of a dream can develop and mature over time.
The interpretation of a dream is not always easy to accept. It may be a difficult message that will challenge us on many levels. It may require grace and humility to welcome the revelation, to be grateful for the insight.
A literal interpretation of my dream seemed to suggest that I would die in 2021. If this was so, I would have to wait until my 72nd birthday before I could rule this out.
To contemplate another meaning seemed premature. More on this later.
(3) What should I do?
Retirement has been a positive experience for me. I have appreciated the space to pursue those activities I enjoy, like walking, reading, writing, and gardening, as well as family times and day outings. I felt no urgency to radically alter my life.
My wife and I had often talked about holidaying in the UK. My wife’s ancestors on her father’s side came from Scotland and I had a second cousin living in Portsmouth who I had never met. She had a good understanding of the history of the Rickard family in Cornwall.
In May 2019 we fulfilled our dream, embarking on an adventure to England and Scotland. We visited many places of interest, accessing guided tours and hiring a car to explore the sites of Cornwall. It was a tiring schedule, but the trip exceeded our expectations.
(4) Who should I tell?
I understood the importance of confiding in someone. This was a burden too great to carry alone. It would be inexcusable if I were to die, and no one knew about the dream.
I thought of talking to the Rector of the church we attend but decided against it.
During 2021, I shared the details of my dream with my wife. She is a pragmatic person and not easily shocked. She listened attentively, attempting to gauge how seriously I viewed the matter. She wanted to know if there was any change in my understanding.
(5) How might I die?
There are many ways a person can die. Most deaths are due to natural causes but sometimes there are wars or global disasters or floods or….
I enjoyed good health, tried to exercise regularly, and maintained a balanced diet. I was not aware of any health risk that might pose a threat to my life.
When COVID arrived in 2020, I thought, perhaps this is it. I am going to die of COVID. Then when the vaccinations were introduced, some people experienced complications and tragically died. Could this be me? I felt some apprehension but proceeded with the health directives. Thankfully, I did not get COVID, and had only a mild reaction to the Astra Zeneca vaccination.
(6) How do I feel?
Initially, I was shocked. I had never had to deal with anything like this before. It felt like I had been hijacked by thoughts that I was approaching the end of my life.
I was concerned, not knowing how this would work out, fearful of the impact it would have on my family.
I was determined, resolving to remain positive and not allow negative thoughts to overwhelm me.
I was vigilant, ready to respond to whatever challenges might come my way.
I do not fear death. My hope is grounded in what God has said about the future. Having said that, I have never had to confront death. To know that you are dying must be difficult. It cannot help but mess with your thinking.
I have always considered the process of dying to be more of a challenge. Often it is a lonely and painful experience, impacting on the quality of your life and challenging the strength of your relationships.
(7) Am I ready to die?
Life is precious and I have never felt that I wanted to give up on life. I have always believed that my life counted for something and that I am a source of encouragement to those who are close to me.
If life has meaning, death can appear as an unwelcome intrusion, something to be resisted with all your will power.
(2b) What does it mean?
I now know that my dream in 2018 was not about my death. But 2018 was also a time when we had no understanding of what was coming. Who could have predicted that COVID-19 would sweep the world creating panic and confusion and claiming millions of deaths?
It was not only the loss of life. 2021 was the year we realised our lives had changed forever. It was the year we witnessed the death of society as we knew it. Much of what we took for granted was taken away and it all happened so quickly.
Families were unable to visit dying loved ones, young people were forced to give up on face-to-face learning, young children were denied access to playgrounds, libraries were off limits to the vulnerable, businesses were shut down overnight, some never to open again, and the unvaccinated had to walk away from their careers.
Governments assumed unprecedented powers, regularly reminding us that they knew what they were doing, and their actions would save lives. Yet they adopted policies that were detrimental to our wellbeing, policies that favoured fear over trust, coercion over compassion, faultfinding over fairness.
Commenting on the division and distrust in society an older friend said, perhaps not in these exact words,
‘There was more cohesion during the war years. People supported one another. They were united in their desire to do what they could to help the war effort and support those on the front lines.
The pandemic has brought out the worst in people. We are judgmental, even of our friends and family. People have become so suspicious of one another. We seem to have forgotten about the virtues of goodness and kindness.’
None of us can escape the reality of death. It is a given. In the meantime, live well, dream well.