What Dreams May Come:
Grief and Dreamwork
Michelle A. Post, MA, LMFT
NAGC, Phoenix, AZ
June 20th, 2013
OneLegacy, A Donate Life Organization
Los Angeles, CA
[email protected]
Identify the intersection of dreams with
the J. William Worden 4 tasks of
Describe concerns that caregivers
should keep in mind when doing dream
Apply Gestalt techniques to reveal the
meaning of dreams for the mourner.
Intro to OneLegacy:
One of 4 Californian Organ
Procurement Organizations OPOs (others cover San Diego, Northern
Central California, and Northern Western
Also eye and tissue donation
Serve 19 million people
Cover 7 Counties
Largest OPO & Tissue Recovery
Agency in the world
Intro to OneLegacy Aftercare
• Approximately 2700 new Donors served
a year
– 2 to 10 family members per donor
– up to 27,000 new donor family
members per year.
Our Philosophy
Adopted Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s idea of
“companioning” a bereaved family
– We are not the experts on grief; we will take cues
from the family to understand what we can do to
support them
– We will not lead the family in any direction, but be
with them through their journey
Our Philosophy
J. William Worden, Ph.D.’s 4 Tasks of Mourning.
• Task I: To Accept the Reality of the (death)
• Task II: To Process the Pain of Grief
• Task III: To Adjust to a World Without the Deceased
• Task IV: To Find an Enduring Connection With the
Deceased in the Midst of Embarking on a New Life
Worden, J.W. (2009). Grief Counseling & Grief Therapy, Fourth Edition. Springer Publishing Co. LLC, NY, NY.
Worden, J.W. (1996). Children & Grief: When a parent dies. Guilford Press, New York, NY.
Who Supports the Family?
After a family consents to donation, regardless of if we
must medically close the case and not transplant…
Minimum of 2 years of support from OneLegacy
Aftercare Department: giving them follow up
letters, grief literature, access to memorial events,
grief groups & workshops, phone support, and
More information?
• See www.onelegacy.org
• Register your wishes www.donatelife.net
**DNR can interfere w/donation if NOKs don’t know your wishes or if
Donation not in end of life documents.)
***Why some donor family members will NOT seek grief support:
- judgment, myths and misinformation
- peer-support groups & practitioners misinformed.
Please educate yourself on the topic of organ & tissue donation.
Dreams - Definition
Dictionary- Sequence of
mental images during sleep
that appear involuntarily to
the mind of somebody who is
sleeping, often a mixture of
real and imaginary characters,
places, and events
Dreams – Research Review
Dreams about the dead (Barrett, 1991)
• Paracelsus Swiss physician & philosopher:
“[If deceased] appear to us in a dream… pay special
attention…some people that were sick have been
informed [by the dead] what remedies they should use,
and after using the remedies, they became cured.”
Pg. 97-98
Dreams about the dead (Barrett, 1991)
• Part I: 1412 dreams compiled, 149 undergrads
(Gender: 58m, 91f; Age: 17-25;
Ethnicity: 128Wht, 9Blk, 12H),
dream diary 2-6 weeks.
12% dreamed of deceased
• Part II: 96 students (Age: 18-42; Gen: 39m, 57f; Eth:
84W, 2B, 10H) asked if ever had a dream about
deceased “where you knew even in the dream that
they were dead”
39% had these dreams
Dreams about the dead (Barrett, 1991)
• 4 Categories:
– 18% State-of Death: Deceased described “what it is
like to be dead”, phone calls, lucid
– 23% Advice: Delivered messages to living
– 39% Back-to-Life, “I didn’t die” (usually shortly after
the death), or desire to change death circumstance
– 29% Leave-taking, Chance to say “good-bye”, lucid
Dreams about the dead (Barrett, 1991)
• Dream Series Trends:
1st: Back-to-life (often disturbing)
2nd: Advice dreams
Last: Good-bye dreams
Dreams about the dead (Barrett, 1991)
Barrett Conclusions:
1) Lucid dreaming can help people settle
unfinished emotional business
2) Fertile area to explore death attitudes
Spousal Loss and Dreams
(Belicki, et. Al. 2003)
Sited Kuiken (1993):
• Grief is strongest predictor of recurrent
dreams among major life stressors
• Reminisce about these dreams while
Spousal Loss and Dreams
(Belicki, et. Al. 2003)
1) Deceased being alive earlier in time
2) Dreams support redefining relationship
(rather than grief resolution in orderly,
timely manner)
3) Dreams = good tool for studying
* Study of one widower’s diary
Dead Men Talking – Post Death Contact
(Klugman, 2006)
Explorations of PDCs via empirical study with
phone survey in NV:
• 97% of people experience 2+ PDCs
• 85% experienced a PDC via dreams of the
• 82% via hearing a song = a sign
• Type of PDC related to Gender, Marital Status &
• Connection w deceased does NOT reduce over
Dreams and Death (Cookson, 1990)
Literature Review
1) Fear of death
2) Dreams related to bereavement
3) Dreams related to dying
Dreams and Death (Cookson, 1990)
Literature Review
• 90% of widows/widowers dream of spouse
• Retrieval/Alive-again dreams most common &
occur anytime, usually not painful
• Separation dreams – death is acknowledged. Can
be painful/scary
• Conflict-laden dreams (process guilt/pain and
ambivalent relationships) can occur when new
relationships happen or purge possessions/change
Children’s Grief Dreams and Spirituality
(Adams & Hyde, 2008)
Theory and 2 Case Studies (UK)
• Spiritual intelligence = ability to address and solve
problems of meaning and value in life.
• Siegel and Bulkeley (1998), Bulkeley (2000), Mallon
(2002), and Adams (2004, 2005) “all record children’s
accounts of dreams… several revealed dreams helped
them overcome their loss” pg. 61
• 1st case – pet grief – preparation for death & coping
• 2nd case – friend’s death
More is
needed on
Dreams – Sigmund Freud
• Attempts to fulfill
wishes, arising during
sleep, derived from
‘libidinal’ urges
• “Day residue”
• Real meaning censored
Dreams – Carl Jung
• Objective – every
person in the dream
refers to who they are
(mom is mom); AND
• Subjective: every
person is also a part of
the dreamer
Dreams – Frederick (Fritz) Perls/Gestalt
Dreams contain the
rejected, disowned parts
of the Self, even inanimate
• Every character and every object in a
dream represents an aspect of the Self.
• You are the hurricane, the attacker, the
broken down car, the bridge, and the
dusty book.
• Must role play each object to fill your
emotional voids and become whole
Dreams – J. William Worden, Ph.D.
Gestalt approach with
4 tasks overlaid.
4 Tasks of Mourning:
• Task I: To Accept the Reality of the (death)
• Task II: To Process the Pain of Grief
• Task III: To Adjust to a World Without the Deceased
• Task IV: To Find an Enduring Connection With the
Deceased in the Midst of Embarking on a New Life
Worden, J.W. (2009). Grief Counseling & Grief Therapy, Fourth Edition. Springer Publishing Co. LLC, NY, NY.
Worden, J.W. (1996). Children & Grief: When a parent dies. Guilford Press, New York, NY.
Dreams & 4 Tasks of Mourning
Dreams reflect the task in which the mourner is
struggling and we can help the mourner.
1) Deceased person appears to give permission to
have a new relationship. Task?
2) Mourner dreams of deceased person being alive.
3) Deceased person appears and gives advise
4) Dream re-hashes a guilt-producing action
Worden Warnings
Caregivers should note:
1) Don’t have to include deceased to be relevant.
2) If the deceased appears, note appearance (alive,
dead, age, appearance) and process for meaning to
3) Don't overlook dream fragments. Useful like puzzle
Worden Warnings
Caregivers should note:
4) Let dreamer tell YOU meaning of dream. Don't
analyze. Ask dreamer meaning of colors, animals,
shapes, items, etc.
5) Look for any underlying themes of any dream
Worden Warnings
Caregivers should note:
6) Anniversary of the death, birthdays, special days, etc. =
common time to have dreams.
7) Teach to track (voice recorder/pad next to bed) as soon as
8) If "I don't dream“, encourage "maybe, just maybe you will start
to dream now that we've started therapy/grief support/talking
about dreams" OR tell mourner “close eyes and picture person
who died, imagine what he/she looks like. What would you say to
each other?”
Worden Warnings
Caregivers should note:
9) Attachments - not all equal. Dreams give clues to
attachment issues with the person who died.
10) Nightmares: teach coping and lucid re-occurrences.
“Perhaps you will have the dream again with a different
ending, one of triumph?”
11) Most children who reported dreams described them as
positive and stated they were not afraid of the deceased
person appearing to them in a dream. * Harvard Child
Bereavement study
Michelle’s added suggestion
Caregivers should note:
12) Re: Deceased person is not appearing in the
mourner’s dreams, mourner wants to.
• Normal! Don’t pressure or judge self.
• May receive messages of comfort through other
• Are others in family/friends dreaming of deceased w
messages? Suggest start a conversation about
dreams w others.
Lucid Dreaming
Lucid Dreaming
During day:
• Repeatedly ask "Am
I dreaming"
• Perform reality
*With practice, you’ll
remember it during
your dreams and do it.
Lucid Dreaming
Keep a dream journal
• Pad or voice
• Close to bed
• Record immediately
*Helps your brain know
you want to remember
* Recognize dream
patters and signs
Lucid Dreaming
#3 Learn the best time to Lucid
dream (sleep schedule?)
• Most common - Nap a few hours
after waking in morning
• REM > right before final waking
• Dreams ~ 60 min cycles
Interrupted dreams = > memory
Lucid Dreaming
#4 Stephen Laberge’s
mnemonic induction of lucid
dreaming (MILD) technique
• Set alarm 4.5, 6 or 7.5 hrs
after sleep
• Try to remember dream
• Return to sleep, imagining
you are in your previous
dream & aware you are
dreaming. “I will be
aware that I’m dreaming”,
• If random thoughts,
repeat imagining & selfsuggestion
Lucid Dreaming
#5 Attempt WBTB (Wake Back To
Bed) Technique. *Most successful
• Set alarm 5 hrs after sleep
• After wake, stay up for an hour
with mind focused on lucidity only
• Go back to sleep using the MILD
Lucid Dreaming
#6 WILD (Wake Initiated Lucid Dream)
Technique. Carry awareness from awake
directly into REM and start out as a lucid
• Easiest = afternoon nap or if only 3-7 hrs of
• Meditate into calm, focused stated
(counting breaths; imagining climbing up or
down stairs; drop through solar system)
• Listen to Theta binaural beats for a time
until into REM sleep
Lucid Dreaming
#7 Diamond Method of meditation:
• Visualize life awake and dream-life as
facets on a diamond.
• All life happens at once
• Dream Body and Awake Body are the
• Shift awareness into dream state
Lucid Dreaming
#8 Mark “A” =
Awake on your
Check palm during
the day.
Check palm when
Lucid Dreaming
#9 Reality Checks – every time something seems unusual.
Must do while awake. DILD – Dream Induced Lucid Dreams
• Look at clock to see if it stays constant
• Look at text, look away, look back to see if it changed
• Flip light switch
• Look in a mirror (usually appears blurry, but can appear
disfigured or how you see yourself)
• Pinch nose closed and try to breathe
• Glance at hand and ask, “Am I dreaming?”, often more or
less than 5 fingers if dreaming.
• Jump in air and able to fly if dreaming.
• Poke self. If dream, flesh might be more elastic or can
push finger through palm.
• Lean again a wall. In dreams, often fall through walls.
Lucid Dreaming
#10 Prolong a lucid dream by:
• Spinning body
• Falling backward
• Rubbing your hands
• If spin or fall, may end up in new space.
• If feel a dream shakes or fading, look
down to the ground and visualize your
surroundings reminding self that you are
Lucid Dreaming
#11 Review Dream Journal
Dream signs?
Lucid Dreaming
– Modified Hand Tech
• Stare at palms for
30 min, repeat “I
will dream about…”
• Turn light off, sleep
• When awake in
night, look at hand
and repeat and
intend to see hand
in dream
Lucid Dreaming
– Other tips
• Supplements can help.
– An Amino Acid Blend made up of 2000mg L-aspartic acid, 4000mg Lglutamine, and 300mg L-theanine can substantially increase your
odds of having a Lucid Dream.
– Galantamine used with Choline bitartrate or Alpha-GPC can
dramatically increase your odds of becoming Lucid.
– 5-HTP is the immediate precursor of serotonin, and can increase your
odds of having a Lucid Dream greatly.
– Fish Oil helps recall dreams.
– Ginko Biloba may have a similar effect to B6.
– Vitamin B6 can increase dream vividness. (Bananas, Most fish)
– a low dose of caffeine (a caffeinated tea, for instance) shortly before
• When recalling a dream upon waking, try not to move. Activating
your muscle neurons can make it more difficult to access the parts
of your brain that allow you to recall your dream.
Lucid Dreaming
– Modified Hand Tech
• If you cannot remember the dream, focus on the
feelings that you felt. Trying too hard to remember
the dream will only take your mind away from it.
Chances are your mind will think of everything but
the dream.
• Do not drink any fluids for one hour prior to sleeping.
The last thing you want is to wake up from
successfully lucid dreaming just because you had to
use the bathroom.
• If you want to dream about something or someone
specifically, as you slip into a light sleep, think about
that person or that object. The way it feels, the way it
looks, the way it smells, etc.. This will cause your
mind to focus on that object or person and chances
are your dream will reflect upon it.
Lucid Dreaming
– Modified Hand Tech
• If you find the dream is not going how you want it
to, "close your eyes" for a bit and then open very
forcefully. It might not work the first time but you
will eventually end up actually opening them.
• Do not use a radio alarm clock. If you hear talking
or a song, it will distract you and may clear the
dream out of your head. If you have to use a
radio alarm clock, don't think about what is
playing and quickly turn it off. Alternatively,
change the radio setting to a non-assigned
frequency so the alarm creates static (white
Literature References:
Adams K., & Hyde, B (2008). Children’s grief dreams and the theory of spiritual
intelligence. Dreaming, 18, 58-67.
Barrett, D. (1991). Through a glass darkly: images of the dead in dreams. Omega, 24,
97- 108.
Belicki, K., Gulko, N., Ruzycki, K, and Aristotle, J. (2003). Sixteen years of dreams
following spousal bereavement. Omega, v. 47 (2), 93-106.
Cookson, K. (1990). Dreams and death: an exploration of the literature. Omega. 21,
259- 281.
Klugman, C. M. (2006). Dead Men Talking: Evidence of Post Death Contact and
Continuing Bonds. Omega, v. 53 (3), 249-262.
Worden, J.W. (1996), Children and Grief: When a parent dies. Pages 140-147. Guilford
Press, New York, NY.
Worden Additional References:
• Cooper, C. (1999). Children's dreams during the grief process. Professional
school counseling, 3. 137-140.
• Garfield, P. 1997 the dream messenger: how dreams of the departed bring
healing gifts. Simon & Schuster - ok for clients too.
• Kuiken, D., Dunn, S., & LoVerso, T. (2008). Expressive writing about dreams
that follow trauma and loss. Dreaming, 18, 77-93.
• Moss, E. (2002). Working w dreams in a bereavement therapy group.
International journal of group psychotherapy, 52, 151-170.
• Volkan, V. (1971). A study of patient's 're-grief work' through dreams,
psychological tests and psychoanalysis. Psychiatric Quarterly, 45, 255-273.
• Wray, T.J., & Price, A.B. (2005). Grief dreams: How they help heal us after the
death of a loved one. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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