Wednesday, September 20, 2006
I missed this when it was first in the newspaper last month, but ran into it today on the Internet. Jeff is friends with someone we know. He writes a lot about death, especially death of a child. I am glad he does, but I wonder why.
It made me think of something I wrote to you earlier this year about being bummed about not dreaming about you. Although it is hard to have "quiet reflection" in the evening -- especially after Joe has been bouncing off the walls, carpeting and couches -- I will have to try that. Maybe looking at your face isn't enough.
Jack pointed out this morning that today is the last day of summer. Everything officially starts to die now.
'Visits' from late loved ones provide solace
Saturday, August 5, 2006
In 1999, Glen Lord's 4-year-old son died from complications of a tonsillectomy. Not long after that, Lord began having dreams in which Noah, his son, had grown into a healthy young man.
Lord felt comforted by these "visits." But in 2002, he had a dream in which Noah introduced him to two boys. "He explained that he had to go, but these boys would be staying with me," recalls Lord. "When I woke up, I told my wife that I knew I'd never dream about him again. And I haven't."
Lord, who runs a manufacturing firm in Nashua, N.H., believes that final dream was a reassurance from Noah that he was OK, and that there were other children who needed to be loved. In late 2002, Lord and his wife adopted two brothers through a Russian adoption program.
Every night, millions of people are visited by deceased loved ones. In dreams, the living and the dead embrace, converse and reach understandings. What are we to make of these encounters? Are they merely emotional responses to dreamers' grief? Or, as research suggests, are there patterns to these dreams that could explain the inexplicable?
I met Lord last month in Dearborn, Mich., at the annual conference of the Compassionate Friends, a support group for parents whose children have died. About 1,100 parents attended, and the sessions on dreams and "after-death communication," or ADC, were standing room only.
Attendees learned that basic "grief dreams" tend to be fragmented and filled with symbolism. There are often common themes, such as travel: Dreamers get off an airplane or train, and their late loved ones travel on without them.
"Visitation dreams," on the other hand, are usually more vivid, with less need for interpretation. In these dreams, those who died of serious illnesses are often healthy; if they were in a wheelchair, they can walk. These dreams can feel "sacred" to those who've had them, says Bill Guggenheim, a co-founder of the ADC Project, an independent research group.
Women are more open to potential messages in dreams, while men may underreport dream experiences, researchers say. Guggenheim theorizes that men fear being perceived as weird or too grief-stricken. "They wonder what friends and bosses will think of them," he says.
In U.S. surveys, about 60 percent of women and 40 percent of men say they've dreamed about late loved ones, says Kelly Bulkeley, former president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and a visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif.
Humans have been chronicling visitation dreams since the days of prehistoric cave paintings, and many cultures today embrace the concept. Americans, however, are more inhibited, researchers say. Our lifestyles — shortened sleep patterns, late-night TV viewing, alarm clocks — limit opportunities for the deep-sleep dreaming that leads to dream recall. And a lot of us discount anything that can't be proven by science.
"The scientific skeptical tradition in the U.S. says that dreams are random nonsense," says ulkeley.
This is a "tragedy," because people who have these dreams feel belittled, says Jeffrey Long, an oncologist who founded the After Death Communication Research Foundation. He has collected testimonies from more than 1,000 people. His Web site, adcrf.org, allows the bereaved to share dream experiences.
Brain-imaging research suggests that the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain engaged in rational thinking — basically goes offline when we sleep. The parts of the brain that then become active are more engaged in imagination and emotions, which could explain visitation dreams.
Many people were grateful to discuss their dreams at the Compassionate Friends conference. I sat in the audience, surrounded by parents who lost children. I had put my cellphone on vibrate, and two of my kids kept calling. (Nothing important, it turned out.)
Normally, I'd be annoyed; the kids knew I was working. But on that day, I felt blessed. All around me, people spoke of how they yearned to go to bed at night, in the hope they'd be contacted by their kids again.
The session was led by Carla Blowey of Montrose, Colo. In 1991, her 5-year-old son, Kevin, was hit by a truck while riding his bike. He died in Blowey's arms.
Since then, she has kept a dream journal, and she finds the process healing. Dreams of Kevin have been a respite from the grief of her waking hours, and even painful dreams have brought clarity. Once she dreamed of entering a house and seeing Kevin on the stairs, crying because he'd been left alone. She sat on the stairs and comforted him.
She asked the attendees for words conjured up by the dream. They called out: "guilt," "love," "helpless." She told them her interpretation: This was the house of death, and she should have died first, so Kevin wouldn't be alone there. The dream allowed her to recognize how heavily this weighed on her.
Some at the session said they were unable to dream about loved ones. Sarah Brummel, a 26-year-old attendee from Santa Cruz, Calif., offered advice. Since her brother, Gregory, died in his sleep in 2003, she has been dreaming about him easily. Her mother, however, longed to dream about Gregory but couldn't.
Brummel encouraged her mom to stop watching TV before bed and instead spend a few moments in quiet reflection. "After that, dreams started coming," Brummel said.
Researchers can't say whether such dreams are visitations or merely "expressions of our deepest wishes," says Bulkeley. "It's an unanswerable debate."
But as Blowey told that crowded room of grieving parents, a dream about a late loved one is often a gift. "Don't overanalyze it. Accept it with gratitude."