Visions of the Departed

A little more than 10 years ago, my Uncle Jim, who was in his 70s at the time, suffered the worst of a series of serious heart attacks. I was very close to my uncle, and was devastated by his failing health — it was the first time I had to face the impending death of someone close to me.

During his illness, I had a startling dream: As I was wandering the halls of the hospital looking for my uncle, I found myself in a large, bright bathroom. The shower curtain was drawn closed, the water was running and the room was full of steam. On the edge of the tub sat the hunched figure of my uncle, naked, withered and lifeless.

It was a horrible sight. Then the shower curtain was flung open and there, vigorously scrubbing his back with a long-armed brush, was Uncle Jimmy. He greeted me like he always did, by shouting "Heyyyyy, Vinceeeeey-boyyy!!!" in his gruff, gravelly voice.

Then he reached down and grasped the lifeless image of himself by the shoulder. He shook it back and forth. He smacked it lightly in the back of its head. It fell, weightlessly, to the floor. "Bahhh, don't worry about it," he grumbled, "Whaddya worried about?"

Then he sang to himself, the way he always did, "Buh-dump- de-dump-dumm, bada dump dum, bada-bum ... " and as he sang he faded into the clouds of steam.

A Powerful Farewell

I woke with a powerful sense of acceptance and peace. An hour later, my mother called to tell me my uncle had passed away. I told her about the dream. "Maybe it was his way of saying goodbye," she told me.

Maybe. Or maybe my own wishes and emotions had conspired to script that transcendent vision. In either case, it was a transforming dream — it lightened my grief instantly and made my uncle's death much easier to bear. And whether it was the direct work of his spirit, or my own informed intuition of what his spirit might do, I have always considered this dream, and its message of peace and reassurance, as a precious gift straight from Uncle Jim.

So I was especially intrigued by a book from noted dream worker Patricia Garfield, which examines in compelling fashion the healing dreams we dream of loved ones who have passed away.

In The Dream Messenger: How Dreams of the Departed Bring Healing Gifts, Garfield argues that our dreams of the dead carry important messages that can enrich and nourish our waking lives.

"The dead have something to say to us in dreams," says Garfield, "and we have responses to make. Sooner or later we all dream of someone close to us who has died. We need to realize that these dreams contain messages that are important to our own well-being."