I had this dream 18 months ago and it was the kind of dream experience that happens occasionally – waking up out of the dream and upon falling asleep again, going straight back into the dream. It was 6 years between this one and A Mother’s Love but they are intimately connected. In that post I told the story of how the song by Anne Murray I’ll Always Love You acted as a bridge to re-unite my mother and me after a painful estrangement. In this dream I was desperately trying to find that same song to play it in memory of her.
A service is being arranged for Mum. It’s not clear when she died and it doesn’t appear to be a funeral but more like a memorial service. I don’t know where we are or who I am with but it feels like family. We are working out what music to have. I say we must have at least one Anne Murray song and suggest ‘I’ll always love you.’ The dream then goes into one of those marathon ‘can’t find what I’m looking for’ episodes. I know I had made tapes of all the Anne Murray albums I had but couldn’t find any of them. I decided to try and find the original LP records and re-copy them and the search was then on for the albums, again to no avail.
The scene then switches to the kitchen in my current house and Mum is with me. I don’t recall the details of the conversation but the gist of it is that I am very worried about something. Initially Mum shows concern but as the conversation proceeds she starts teasing me about my seriousness. I get upset and ask her why she is treating me like that. Her response is “It’s because I love you.” In an exasperated tone of voice I say, “If you really love me you wouldn’t make fun of me.”
I wake at this point, still quite upset. I know I should write it down but before I can rouse myself, I fall back to sleep and the dream starts at the beginning again except this time it feels like I am in my old house. I redouble my efforts to find the song but to no avail. There is someone with me supposedly helping but she is prattling on about I don’t know what and I become increasingly annoyed at the distraction. I finally give her a mouthful and tell her to piss off and leave me alone and with that I wake up.
This time I got up and wrote it down. It was obviously important because of the escalation of the intense emotions in the dream and the residue that carried on into waking but I was quite baffled by it. Mum had been dead for 31 years at this stage and most of the dreams I had of her were what I termed spirit visits and they almost always had to do with healing or solving some emotional difficulty. This one too felt like she was trying to help me but without knowing what we discussed, I couldn’t work it out.
Later in the day, I was on my way into town when I got a call on the mobile. It was a friend calling to see if I wanted to meet for coffee. This friend happened to be one of the few people I could discuss dreams with and they were always our favourite topic of discussion. She had been my hypnotherapist many years ago and was intimately acquainted with all my family issues. The timing of her call seemed more than a coincidence so I was happy to change my plans and meet up.
We tossed around some ideas but nothing felt right. The most obvious interpretation was that not being able to find a song called I’ll Always Love You as a tribute to Mum and the amount of frustration and anger I felt in the dream suggested some unresolved grief or even anger but I felt pretty much at peace with my relationship with Mum at this stage of my life. We also looked at the other woman in the dream who was hindering my efforts to find the song as a kind of inner saboteur figure getting in the way of me finding this ‘always’ (eternal) love. This did make sense as I often felt at odds with myself but as dreams don’t usually tell you things you already know, it still didn’t feel like a good fit. We parted not having come to any satisfactory conclusion and all I could do was let it percolate.
Next afternoon I got a call from my sister to tell me she had just learned that our aunt – Mum’s sister – had died and that the service was going to be next day. The news affected me deeply. Her death wasn’t unexpected, she was 90 and in a nursing home but it posed a dilemma about whether or not to attend. Aunt had been my second mother growing up and I had lived with her family at different periods of my life. Although disclosing about the abuse I had experienced at the hands of her husband had driven a wedge between us, I still cared deeply for her and wanted to pay my respects. I hadn’t had much contact with the family in the intervening years and I didn’t know if I would be welcome. My sister decided against going so it meant I would be on my own.
I texted my friend with the news saying that I thought there might be a connection with the dream as it was Aunt having a go at Mum that caused Mum to stop talking to me and then eventually reconnecting via the song in the dream. There was a flurry of text messages and in the end I got one telling me to think about whose feelings I’m protecting and if I want to go, to take a risk and just go. I was taken aback as it sounded quite exasperated and most unlike her but then it hit me – this sounded very similar to the conversation with Mum in my dream! Here I was making a big drama out of the issue instead of just following my heart. As I reflected I became more convinced that the conversation I had with Mum in the dream was about this very dilemma and that she was encouraging me to go. With that, all feelings of trepidation left me and my mind was made up.
As it turned out, it was indeed a memorial service and not a funeral. It was held in football clubrooms and there was no casket, which made it feel very much like the sense I had of the event in the dream. Aunt’s only daughter, who I hadn’t seen in 10 years, broke the ice when she saw me by holding her arms wide for a hug and telling me how happy she was to see me. To my great relief my other cousins were equally friendly and that helped ease my feelings of awkwardness in this large gathering of relatives I had never met, having had little contact with the family in over 30 years.
The tributes to my Aunt told of a woman who was absolutely devoted to her family and adored by them and who didn’t have an enemy in the world. Two of her children and several of her grandchildren paid tributes to her and they all told the same story – how she made each and every one of them feel special and absolutely loved. I knew this side of her and it was unquestionably true but I also knew what lay in the shadows. Her determination to keep the family together and defend her image and her role as matriarch meant protecting her paedophile husband and turning a blind eye to his activities at any cost. I wondered how many people in the room had been affected either directly or indirectly by their shared complicity. Was it possible that the love she gave so freely balanced out the negative effects? At this stage of my life I could no longer judge her choices and behaviour, or condemn her for her attitude towards me and nor did I want to.
When the invitation came for anyone present to say a few words, I hesitated long enough to settle my pounding heart and then went forward to tell a little anecdote about her perming my dead straight hair when I was around 4. Her daughter had very tight curls just like her father and so when she took me home, Mum at first mistook me for my cousin. It was a sweet memory and typical of the little things she would do to make a child feel special. She gave me more affection than my own mother was capable of and to dwell on what I saw as her betrayal would be to negate the very positive influence she had on my formative years and all the love she showered on her own family throughout her long life.
There was a funny little incident towards the end of the service that again reminded me of my dream. A rather outmoded portable CD player was being used throughout for the music, with one of the granddaughters operating it. When the celebrant announced that The Sunny Side of the Street would be played to accompany the slide show, she duly pressed the button only to have something quite different start playing. There ensued a comical scene of trying to find the right track. The player was on the floor, which made it even more awkward and as she became increasingly flustered her father came to the rescue and amidst apologies for the ‘technical difficulties’ it was eventually located. I had a little chuckle to myself. It wasn’t Anne Murray but as my mother had also been a big Willie Nelson fan I know she would have thoroughly approved of the choice.
Another interesting bit of information that emerged at the service was that it was my Aunt and Uncle’s 65th wedding anniversary on the day I had the dream. Aunt survived him by 5 years and one day so they had 60 years together. As they were married the year I was born, it was also my age. This coincidence further convinced me that the dream was about Aunt’s death, rather than my birth mother’s. Over the years I have had countless dreams that have occurred on significant dates pertinent to the people in my dreams, regardless of whether they had been on my mind consciously or not prior to the dream. Without this one I doubt whether I would have had the courage to go and I was so glad I did, as much healing came from it.
With my cousin’s permission I made a recording of the service and listening to it again later enabled me to reconnect with the side of my aunt that had become a dim memory for me. Her 7 year-old great granddaughter gave out sunflower seeds to plant in her memory, which I sowed the following day. Appropriately it happened to be All Souls’ Eve (Hallowe’en). It felt very satisfying to do so and as I nurtured them over the following months and watched them bloom and then die, I felt that I had at last found the peace with the past that had been my quest for a long time – consciously for the past 20 years but unconsciously probably my whole life.
It wasn’t quite the end of the story though as I had another dream a year later that got me in touch with some residual anger that was most likely connected with the anger I expressed at the end of this dream. That will be the subject of the next post.
I had this dream 12½ years ago. It impacted me strongly at the time and left a permanent memory trace because of its transformational nature. I was prompted to write about it by a blog post I saw with a similar theme of awakening consciousness and healing. The post, Dreamspeak: Ancestral Healing, is the story of Toko-pa Turner’s dream visit by her Holocaust survivor grandfather, in which he apologised to her for passing on the effects of the trauma that he was only able to cope with by keeping it to himself. My dream visitor was my maternal grandmother and though the circumstances differ, the theme of unprocessed grief resonating down through the generations and the longing for completion – which appears to be as desirous from the other side as this one – is similar.
I am in my dining room and Grandma Sweet is sitting at the table. She is young, attractive and very happy, so unlike how I remember her. I tell her I realised some time back that my hands are just like hers and put my left hand against her right to demonstrate. I say I have a photo of her that shows it very clearly and go off to look for it.
I rummage around in the pile of family photos but can’t find it and wonder if I’ve thrown it away. When I find it I realise it is her wedding photo – a fact I had forgotten. Her husband is sitting on a chair and she is standing with her left hand resting on his shoulder. It clearly shows the distinctive line of the thumb and the long fingers.
I think to myself that Grandma might like to see what has been happening in the family since she died, so I put her photo aside and start sorting through the rest to make a selection. In the process, I misplace her photo and have trouble finding it again. When I do, I look at it and realise ‘Oh, Grandma doesn’t need to see these, she knows everything that’s gone on.’ It was quite a revelation.
As I emerged from the dream, I was overcome by a sense of deep compassion and love for her that took me completely by surprise. Our family had lived with Grandma until I was 11 and I remembered her as a bitter and miserable old woman, frequently bedridden, always complaining and smelling of citronella. According to her she had a bad heart but according to Mum the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with her. I never liked her as a child and was further influenced by her antagonism towards my mother and the stories Mum told of her oppressive childhood. When I awoke, my perception of her was instantly and permanently transformed.
I had the dream just a few days before my divorce was to be finalised, so that made some sense of losing the wedding photo but I had no clue as to why it would be Grandma as she had never remarried after her husband died, as I had. At this point she had been dead 42 years and was part of my distant past. Why was she showing up now? I also wondered about the significance of the hands – why had they been made such a big deal of?
I posted the dream to the forum I was on at the time hoping for some clarity from other viewpoints. One of the suggestions was that I might be ‘handling’ life like Grandma and that had a certain resonance because at that stage in my life I was feeling very fragile and barely holding myself together. The unexpected ending of my second marriage had derailed me just as life was beginning to settle down after all the upheaval of my first husband’s death. The fact that Grandma was so happy and youthful in the dream gave me hope that the future would be brighter and I concluded that the message of the dream was just that – you will be happy again.
Because the framework within which the forum operated considered that everyone and everything in a dream represents something about the dreamer, I missed entirely the fact that this was a spirit visit from Grandma. As such it had a healing power that went way beyond the scope of psychological insight because it came from the deeper part of the psyche that Jung called the collective unconscious – a sphere of reality beyond that of the personal unconscious. In addition to reflecting my personal attitudes and beliefs, Grandma’s appearance in my dream was showing me a greater perspective – a viewpoint from beyond the physical time-space world. Although I lacked the knowledge and understanding of the Jungian approach to dreamwork at the time, the numinous quality of the dream ensured that it would continue to gestate in the depths until its wisdom and meaning came to fruition.
As a result of the dream I decided to research the family history and was shocked to learn that Grandma’s husband had died of cerebral syphilis. The story we had grown up with was that he had sustained a head injury in a fall from a cart and never recovered. Grandma was only 37 and was left with 5 children, the oldest being 13 and the youngest only 18mths old. I also learned that she had lost 4 children in infancy, including one who had been born more than a year after her husband’s death, with no father’s name cited. Poor Grandma! I could only imagine what shame and grief she had to bear, on top of trying to survive with no means of support. By the time I came on the scene in 1950 she was 60 years old and no doubt had been well and truly worn down by life.
I framed the photo that had been in my dream and kept it on my bedroom dresser where it served to remind me of the strength and resilience I had inherited through the motherline. Grandma Sweet may have lost her sweetness through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune but her survivor spirit was an inspiration to me. When I moved house several years later I packed the photo away. It was a fitting gesture to moving on, as it had been her death that had resulted in my mother moving with her daughters away from the mining town that had been our home with its stifling atmosphere, oppressive conditions and lack of opportunities for women.
It was only recently that I got a new perspective on the significance of the hands in the dream. The Toko-Pa Turner blog post referenced at the beginning of this story appeared on the Depth Psychology Alliance Facebook page I follow and I posted a comment: I had a dream of my grandmother once. She said nothing but I was shown a photograph of her in which I recognised my hands were the same as hers. A lifetime of antagonism towards her melted away. I love what Amy Beth Katz said about our ancestors returning in our dreams. That is definitely my experience.
Amy responded with: You have healing hands, Gloria, don’t you?
My immediate reaction was ‘No way!!!’ but the intensity of my denial surprised me and so I began to wonder ‘why so adamant?’ I had worked as a massage therapist many years ago and had also done Reiki but neither were really my thing, so that didn’t fit. Then I thought about the fact that through all the dark times, starting with my late husband’s cancer diagnosis 20 years ago, writing was what kept me sane and helped me work everything through. I did dialogues with dream characters and other figures from the imaginal realm, cathartic rants that I ritually burnt, worked and re-worked a book (still a work in progress), wrote about my experiences with hypnotherapy, wrote up my dreams and explored them through writing, participated on the dream forum and journalled religiously. Writing has, without question been the most healing thing I’ve done with my hands but it was mostly self-healing.
Then I thought about this blog – from the very start my intention in writing about my dreams has had healing as the focus, as that has been a constant thread in the dreams. I initially decided to blog my stories because I’ve always loved reading other people’s stories and been helped a great deal by them but I have been stalemated for over a year because of that insidious voice of self-doubt: It’s too hard. It’s too personal. You’re not a writer. What’s the point? Who cares? Who wants to read it anyway? People will think you’re nuts (well, I thought I was myself at one point so that would be no surprise). Why don’t you just go and enjoy yourself? And the most crippling of all – uttered with a sneer of course – ‘Just who do you think you are?’
As I pondered this, I remembered a story my sisters and I had grown up with. Mum had won a writing competition at school and received a prize. When she proudly showed it to her mother – Grandma Sweet – Grandma became very angry and told her not to waste her time on nonsense like that. And so she didn’t, instead following in the path of domesticity that was laid out for her as a woman of that time and place and social status. She ended up like her mother, a ‘deserted wife’ with 5 young kids to raise. My impression of Grandma was that she was a mother and homemaker by nature and that her great misfortune was in the tragedy of her husband’s early death. Not so my mother; having to conform to the domestic life was a disaster for someone with her free spirit and resulted in a lifetime of nervous breakdowns with the inevitable trauma to her daughters as we were split up and bounced around among relatives and neighbours.
When I think about this dream now I picture the gesture of putting my hand against Grandma’s as a ‘high five.’ It wasn’t really like that in the dream and yet the image is very compelling. I do feel her dream visit was a blessing. I am sure she would approve of what I’m doing and I know my mother absolutely would. My mother and grandmother couldn’t tell their stories and suffered accordingly but I can and am grateful for the opportunity to be able to do so and intend to make the most of it.
Healing is a wonderful Australian film based on a real life program in which prisoners in a minimum-security facility assist in the rehabilitation of injured raptors. The film is set at the time of the inception of the program, which coincides with the arrival of the main character, Viktor Khadem, at the prison farm. He is recruited for the construction of the facilities to house the birds and is thus involved in the program from the ground up, metaphorically creating a template for the fresh start he is preparing for in his own life. The theme of the injured birds being rehabilitated for release back into their natural environment is reflected in the lives of the inmates preparing for integration back into regular society. The contrast and similarities between those involved in the program and the injured birds is explored with sensitivity and empathy.
The avian star of the movie is a magnificent Wedge-tailed Eagle named Yasmine and the close up opening scenes of her soaring through the air are breathtaking. Most of us only get to see these giants of the skies up close in captivity, or on road trips. The sight of Wedgies feeding on road kill is familiar to anyone who has spent time traversing the endless stretches of roadways that criss-cross this vast continent. The elegance they exhibit when fully airborne is in stark contrast to their clumsiness as they beat a hasty retreat from their meal and lift their massive bulk into the air when a vehicle approaches at high speed.
Part of the appeal of the film for me was that it resurrected the memory of a powerful healing dream I’d had 6 years after my husband’s death and after seeing the movie I felt inspired to share it.
This is the dream:
I’m walking alongside a road when I see some feathers on the ground. I look at them, wondering if they are from an eagle. I spot one that I know is an eagle’s feather. I show it to a man who appears nearby and as I do, it transforms into a giant feather that reaches right across the road and touches a pine tree on the opposite side.
At that moment a car comes along and I lift the feather like a boom gate to allow it to go by. Inside the car are three young men, all laughing as if enjoying a joke together. They look familiar but the car whizzes by too quickly for me to identify them. Just as they pass, the end of the feather breaks where I am holding it and I see that inside the shaft is a spiral structure, which I assume gives strength to the shaft.
I am awestruck trying to imagine the size of the bird that this feather must have come from. In my mind’s eye I see it flying over, slowly and silently observing all below.
I was quite perplexed by this dream as I couldn’t identify any of the characters and yet I felt I knew them. The man who materialized at the roadside with me I recognized as the same one who had been on the bus with me in my original vision and who showed up in just this same way in many dreams. Over time I came to regard him as a kind of companion/guide. He didn’t speak but it was as though the act of showing him the feather caused it to grow. I felt that it was a significant dream but didn’t know where to start, so posted it to the dream forum I was on at the time with the comment that I thought feathers might indicate a message from the spirit realm but didn’t know what the message was.
Later, I resumed the book I had been reading the night before I had the dream, Hello From Heaven, which was about after death communications – ADCs. There were some stories of unusual encounters with birds that bereaved persons felt were messengers from their deceased loved ones and as I was reading, my mind drifted onto the dream. Soon I was absorbed in a treasured memory of an encounter with a trio of Wedge-tailed Eagles, presumably a pair of adults and a juvenile, that my late husband and I had been privileged to share. The 16 acre property we lived on had panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and I had just come from the house when I spotted them spiralling slowly upwards out of a valley, one above the other, on a thermal. I called Roger over and we stood together watching them.
Initially we could see them clearly with our naked eyes but as they rose higher and higher they became harder to see, so I went to get the binoculars. We stood together silently, passing the binoculars back and forth and as we watched, the first one left the thermal and glided off in a straight line. It then began circling widely until the second one joined it and finally, when the third one reached them, they headed due east at a constant altitude. By this time they were barely visible even with the binoculars and we soon lost sight of them. With the spell broken, we went back to what we had been doing.
As that memory faded, another incident came to mind that occurred on this same property. We had a large shed we wanted to use to collect rainwater from but the three huge pine trees adjacent to it were constantly dropping pine needles into the gutters. They also posed a fire hazard to the shed and so on that basis and taking into account that they weren’t native to the area, we reluctantly decided to cut them down.
There is a bit of skill involved in tree felling but we had removed a few smaller pines by this time, so didn’t anticipate any problems. The first two fell without incident but the third one refused to topple. Eventually Roger decided to get the tractor out and pull it over using a very long rope and while he was organizing it, I went and got my camera. This was a pre-digital SLR with a mechanical lever to advance the film and as the tractor started to inch forward, I put my eye to the viewfinder to take a shot of the scene while the tree was still standing. It started to lean ever so slowly but took so long to fall that I was able to wind the film on and get another shot with it mid way before it finally crashed to the ground.
I took more shots of the whole scene. There was now light and space where previously there had been a great wall of dark green and the three majestic trees lay in a row amidst shattered branches and hundreds of scattered pinecones. By this time the noise from the chain saw and tractor and the sound of crashing trees had faded into silence and as I lowered the camera and surveyed the scene, tears began to roll down my face. Roger came over and said, “Did that make you feel sad?” I nodded my head and he said, “It did me too.”
Now a whole cascade of memories began crowding my mind, triggering an upwelling of grief but just as it threatened to overwhelm me, I heard a voice inside my head say, “Don’t pine for me!” I knew instantly that this was the message of the dream and it was coming from Roger. In a flash I also knew who the figures in the car were: Roger was in the driver’s seat and with him in the front was my sister’s husband, Kim, who had died two years before him. Kim and Roger had worked together in their teens and Kim had introduced Roger and I. In the back of the dream car was my cousin, Ray, who had died the year before Kim. Three young men, all in their forties, dead within three years of each other but if the dream was anything to go by they were having a ball and right in that moment I envied them. It had been a very difficult 6 years since Roger’s passing and at the time I had the dream I was at my lowest point. I felt more like the felled trees than the soaring eagles.
I was a bit mystified by the message at first because although I knew I wasn’t fully over my grief, I wouldn’t have described it as pining. Then I remembered a quite dramatic incident from the night before I had the dream. In the book Hello From Heaven that I had been reading, there was a story of a young man who had been killed in a helicopter crash appearing to his mother, telling her he was happy and imploring her to let go of him. As I read the story, I began to wonder if there had been any resolution to the visitation I’d had from Roger 4 years earlier in which he had asked me to speak to his mother because she wasn’t letting go of him. I began mentally talking to him, asking if everything was O.K. now and if not to let me know if I could do anything to help.
As if on cue, there was a loud bang from the adjacent room. The cat that had been asleep on the bed in the room came flying out with her fur standing on end and I leaped up from my chair sending the cat on my lap flying for cover. I went into the room to investigate but couldn’t see anything amiss. It had sounded similar to a bird hitting the windowpane but besides being unlikely because it was nighttime, the shutters were down, so it didn’t make sense.
Needless to say I felt more than a little disturbed by this. Was Roger saying he is not at peace? The subject of his prior visitation had been dropped from any conversation with my mother in law soon after it happened and she had since moved interstate. I no longer had much contact with her and besides, spirit visits were a subject I was somewhat wary about myself at the time, so didn’t feel inclined to broach the subject with her again. I did the only thing I could think of and said a prayer for her to find peace and closure. That night I had the dream.
As I reviewed the whole unfolding saga from the pre-dream incident and the dream itself, to the memories it evoked and the message I received, it became clear that ‘don’t pine for me’ was more like ‘stop worrying about me.’ The visitation I’d had previously from Roger was unmistakably real and had convinced me once and for all of the survival of consciousness but because it was a plea for help with no satisfactory resolution rather than a message of reassurance, it had raised more questions than it answered. My search for understanding is what had led me to reading Hello From Heaven .
Although the dream helped me let go of the concern and sense of responsibility I had been feeling on Roger’s behalf, I was still left wondering about how unfinished business for those who have passed on is dealt with. This had never been a concern when I believed that death was the end of the story. Eventually, I would make an in-depth study of a wide range of beliefs and viewpoints concerning what is generally referred to as the afterlife but in the meantime, I decided my main priority was to sort myself out. Regardless of what I learned about what happened after death, I didn’t want to be dealing with unfinished business on my deathbed or taking it with me if I was going somewhere else, nor did I want to leave any mess behind for anyone else to deal with if I could help it. I had an intuitive sense that it was best to deal with the problems I had while I was alive and I still hold that viewpoint.
One aspect of the dream I could never come to any definite conclusion about is whether or not I was seeing the spirits of the three males who’d died or whether they were regular dream figures. Was it a case of my dreaming mind giving me an image that would put my mind at rest? A psychoanalytic approach would certainly see it that way but it didn’t feel right to me at the time and still doesn’t and in the final analysis that is what counts. Dream interpretation is an art, not an exact science. One thing I can say is that the dream didn’t lend itself to the usual kind of psychological analysis of the characters. Even after I realized who the occupants of the car were, I couldn’t make that approach fit. I’ve had countless dreams of Roger over time but this one stands out in my mind as having a very different feel to it.
The presence of my ‘guide’ was an important clue that this was no ordinary dream but there were also the feathers, the pine tree and the spiral inside the feather. Feathers and birds are universal symbols of the connection between heaven and earth, as are trees with their roots in the ground and crowns in the air. Conifers have a special significance because they are evergreen and so are symbols of eternal life. The spiral, which was in the dream itself and repeated in the associated memories of the spiraling eagles and the patterning of the pine cones, is a universal pattern and also symbolic of the link between heaven and earth, as it is ubiquitous throughout nature and the cosmos.
As for what made the loud noise, I never did find out but it certainly got my attention and having had more of this type of incident than I can possibly count by now, I know better than to put it down to ‘just a coincidence.’
All your past except its beauty is gone and nothing remains but a blessing. A Course in Miracles
I have been sitting on an article I began writing several months ago titled The World is Not Left by Death but by Truth. This is a line from A Course in Miracles which had a strong impact on me when I first encountered it but each time I tried to tackle the subject, I would soon become dissatisfied with what I’d written, delete all except a few salvageable fragments and put it back once again in the too hard basket. That I had a lot of resistance to expressing my thoughts on the subject was obvious but I rationalised that there is nothing and nobody compelling me to do it but myself. This is true and yet for some reason I still felt driven to collect and express my thoughts on the matter and it was blocking me from writing anything else, as none of the other dream stories would flow either.
When I read the reports of Robin Williams’ suicide I was spurred once again into action and recognised it as a recurring pattern. Each time I would get motivated to write, it was in response to hearing about yet another suicide, either ‘accidental’ or intentional, a media report, or a personal story. The intensity of my reaction to his suicide surprised me, as it is a subject I have investigated thoroughly and contemplated deeply over many years and thought I had laid to rest. So, I thought I would get what Robin Williams’ death has stirred up off my chest before going on to what I originally planned.
Not having followed his off screen life, I didn’t know about his history of depression and substance abuse, so that partly accounted for being surprised at the news but there was obviously more to my reaction than that. As the stories of his life and the details of his struggles emerged, the conflicting emotions I was feeling increased and finally I had to admit to myself that it was touching a few still raw nerves. I know too well that we don’t react emotionally to anything unless it has some personal resonance within ourselves so obviously there was something to explore.
Although I wouldn’t count myself a fan of Robin Williams, I had enjoyed several of his movies and respected both his acting ability and the calibre of the roles he played in the ones I had seen. Coincidentally, I had recently hired his movie What Dreams May Come because I wanted to have a fresh look at it from the broader perspective I have these days about the whole subject of life and death. I had initially seen it soon after my husband’s death 17 years ago, a time when I was going through my own deep grieving process. My belief that life ends in peaceful oblivion was being challenged at the time by too many inexplicable happenings for me to dismiss them lightly and I suspect that seeing this movie was part of the process of seeking for answers.
It’s a visually striking movie and explores the effects of tragic loss on the lives of those left behind. Robin Williams plays a doctor who has everything he wants in life – a successful and fulfilling career, happily married to his soul mate and with two great kids but tragedy strikes when the children are killed in a car accident. The story follows the couple as they struggle to come to terms with the loss but just as they are beginning to recover, he himself is killed, also as the result of a car accident.
After his death, he is surprised to find he is still alive, albeit in an illusory body and when his attempts to get through to his wife fail, he eventually moves on, ultimately finding himself in a heavenly realm, reunited with those who have gone before him. Meanwhile, on the physical plane, his wife spirals once again into depression and eventually kills herself. Contrary to his hope and expectations, she does not join him where he is; her destination is a realm that reflects her mode of death and mental state at the time. When he learns where she is, he sets out to try and reconnect with her, ultimately defying the odds to save her from her fate.
The movie explores the profound effects of grief and the hopelessness it can engender but ultimately affirms the redemptive power of love to heal and transcend all obstacles. It mixes conventional and unconventional beliefs about the afterlife and contrasts the consequences of death by suicide compared with non-volitional deaths. In doing so, it makes a commentary on what role the state of mind at the point of death has on the destination of the person and it makes for a poignant reflection on Robin Williams’ own death.
As an adjunct to watching the movie again, I reviewed the speech in Hamlet, which is where the title of the movie comes from. The whole speech is an eloquent and insightful account of the conflict in the mind of one contemplating suicide as a way out of a painful dilemma. Initially Hamlet regards life and death as mutually exclusive states, comparing death to the deep sleep state, the state of oblivion, where we are effectively ‘dead to the world.’ In this viewpoint the dilemma is purely a moral one:
To be, or not to be: that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them?
But then doubt creeps into his mind: ‘What if death is actually more like the dream state, than deep sleep?’ Our experience of a dream feels every bit as real as waking life reality when we are immersed in it and nightmares especially have an intensity that can be hard to shake.
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub; for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause…
Further along in the speech he expresses his fear that those dreams may be worse than what he is facing in life:
But that the dread of something after death, the undiscover’d country, from whose bourn no traveller returns, puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of?
This ‘fate worse than death’ is what was depicted in the movie and had me cringing inwardly at the reinforcement of old stereotypes. To my mind there are enough rational reasons for discouraging suicide and seeking alternative answers without using outmoded fear-based models of hellish afterlife consequences as a deterrent.
When I was 20 my father committed suicide. He was an alcoholic and had deserted the family about 15 years earlier and decided to end his life when his whereabouts became known. When I heard the news, all the anger I’d held towards him for his abandonment and the ensuing hardship for the family, melted away. He had apparently left a note to say he couldn’t live with himself any longer. By all accounts he had never got on top of his alcoholism and though on some level his death could be seen as taking the easy way out, it was obvious that he must have been suffering deeply. By this time I had rejected religion wholesale so I had no conflict to deal with regarding any possible afterlife consequences.
Nor was the threat of consequences a consideration on the several occasions during my adult life where I have thought seriously about suicide myself. On each occasion it was going into therapy that helped me over the rough patches but bottom line was that I didn’t seriously want to die at those times, I was just having a hard time coping for various reasons. However, when I was nearly 50, the visitation experience of my late husband, which came about a year after I originally saw What Dreams May Come, compelled me to accept that there was a continuity of life and it was a game changer. Three years after this visitation, I hit a low point that made my previous lows look like a picnic and I was seriously considering putting an end to my misery. By this time I had accumulated various beliefs about reincarnation and suicides languishing in the torment of the same mindset in which they had died, as in the movie. Eek!
It was a dream that once and for all put my mind to rest. This dream was almost an exact replay of the meditation vision I had of my mother which I described in a previous post. As in the vision, I saw only an image of my mother’s face, but this time instead of looking sad, she was smiling and at the same time had a look of real tenderness and deep compassion on her face. She communicated telepathically, as in the vision: ‘It’s alright if you want to be here now, Gloria.’ When I woke from the dream, my first thought was that she was giving me permission to join her but when I mulled it over in the morning, I realized she was saying that it was entirely my decision whether to go on or put an end to it and that there would be no judgment and no repercussions.
This was a very powerful message that enabled me to let go of any beliefs I had taken on board and also relieved me of the persistent guilt I had always suffered from whenever I entertained the idea of suicide. Most importantly though, it had the effect of throwing me back entirely on myself. Yet, as I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, it felt like something other than my own little will to live that kept me going. Over time, the feeling that I am part of something much greater than my insignificant little ego increased, as did my understanding that doing my own inner healing makes a positive contribution to the evolution of the collective consciousness. That is what now gives my life the meaning that makes me feel it is worth living.
Although I haven’t come up with any definitive understanding of the nature of spirit communication – and not for want of trying – my own experiences and the vast amount of data now documented on psychic activity proves beyond reasonable doubt that it is a genuine phenomenon. The only thing that makes sense to me is that consciousness is not confined to the body, that our physical reality is embedded in a field of consciousness and is constantly interacting with it, whether we are aware of it or not. This requires a shift in perception from viewing consciousness as being a product of matter, i.e. the brain – the scientific materialist viewpoint, to seeing matter as the product of consciousness and integral with it – the spiritual point of view. If consciousness is primary, which I’m convinced it is, then death as we think of it is no different than birth – we emerge out of cosmic consciousness and merge back into it.
Perhaps learning to consciously engage with this field of consciousness is the key to no longer being afraid of the great unknown that death is but that would then also mean giving up any comforting ideas about it being the savior of problems we have in this life. One of my guiding lights has been Jung’s brilliant insights into the nature of the unconscious – personal and transpersonal – and its innate tendency toward self-healing and wholeness. There is something in us, that is also beyond us, that wants us to grow into the best we can be but we have to participate in our own healing and that means dealing with the dreams – good and bad, waking and sleeping – in our current life.
It’s very sad that Robin Williams got to the point where he saw no alternative but to end his life and very painful for his family to have to live with the memory of him doing it in such a gruesome manner and mental state of intense suffering. Since his death I have seen and read much about him and it is obvious he was struggling with a lot of inner conflict. He apparently decided it was the best way out. To judge his actions is pointless. No one can know what it is like to live inside someone else’s mind and body but hopefully much good will come of it.
This dream was relayed to me by a friend soon after my husband Roger died, although it would be many years before I would view it as I do now, that is as a spirit visit dream.
The background to the dream was that this friend and Roger had a discussion one day about the possibility of life continuing on after death. Roger was like me at the time, a confirmed atheist and had no prior belief in life after death, although he must have begun to wonder to even broach the subject. Our friend said that he doubted it because both his mother and his sister, who had died a short space apart, had been devout spiritualists all their lives and he felt if there was any ongoing existence he would have heard from them and he hadn’t. Roger said to him ‘well, if I survive I will find a way of getting through to you.’ They both had a chuckle and nothing more was said.
One day soon after Roger’s death this friend came up with his wife and his wife nudged him into telling me about a dream he’d had. This is what he told me:
In the dream I was lying in bed and Roger came through the wall behind the bedhead. I said to him ‘hey, Roger, you said you were going to let me know if you survived your death.’ Roger replied, ‘this is how it’s done – in dreams.’
I didn’t know what to make of it at the time but I remembered the conversation they’d had and I didn’t think it could be just a random coincidence. Some time later I brought it up with my friend and he had completely forgotten it, not even remembering it when I retold what I remembered. His amnesia was even more astonishing to me than the original dream although I have since had that exact same reaction from others when they have told me about a certain dream and I’ve brought it up in later conversation. In most cases though a memory will be jogged by providing details.
The dream brings up interesting questions – what exactly is the nature of the figures in our dreams, what is the purpose of such a dream as this, why did my friend have the dream and not me and why did he not remember the dream even when I reminded him of it? Some of these questions will be explored in these pages but I don’t pretend to have definitive answers to any of them. I have since had many of my own spirit visit dreams from various deceased people and will no doubt write about them as the blog develops.
I eventually came across a book about after death communications, called Hello From Heaven. It had coincidentally been published a few months before Roger’s death, although I didn’t read it until many years down the track. Since that time this particular field of investigation has blossomed along with studies of other related phenomena.
I really don’t know what I thought about the dream at the time but so many odd things had been happening and I had enough on my plate to deal with at the time anyway that I doubt I came to any conclusions about it other than to wonder what was going on. I don’t recall Roger ever talking about having dreams so it wasn’t as though there was any precedent for his statement that contact is made through dreams. Two and a half years later I had a visitation of my own from him, which was vastly different and somewhat disquieting but also convinced me of the reality of the continuation of life after death.
Eventually I learned, from study and experience, that dreams are not the only way we get communications from the non-physical realm but I have to wonder if the seed that had been planted regarding my encounter with the dream life was being nurtured along by hearing about this dream from another person.