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When Loved Ones Visit Us in Our Dreams

Author and philosopher Dr. Sharon Hewitt Rawlette discusses how dreams about loved ones are received and interpreted. 

Moon and clouds in the night sky

It was the voice that Jackie remembers, calling her name. It’s what woke her. “Jackie,” her mother said. They hadn’t spoken in decades, but Jackie still recognized her voice. When she opened her eyes, a scene played before her. Jackie watched as images of her and her mother spoke with one another, laughing. Happy. She was overwhelmed with a sense of peace.

Jackie got the phone call the next morning. Her mother was dead. She’d passed away in the middle of the night. But not before paying her daughter one last visit.

Readers are always sending us stories about dreams they’ve had, especially dreams about their recently departed loved ones. While they’re incredible, there are those who may explain away these kinds of dreams—known as visitation dreams—as a coping mechanism. A way that some people process their grief. It’s normal to dream about someone you’ve lost, right? It doesn’t always mean that person is actually there, speaking with you.

But what about dreams like Jackie’s? Dreams where the dreamer had no idea that the person has passed? Dreams where, when the dreamer wakes, they know with an unshakeable certainty that their loved one is dead. Do these dreams really happen? 

“They absolutely do and they are absolutely meaningful,” says Dr. Sharon Hewitt Rawlette, author of the book The Source and Significance of Coincidences. A philosopher, Rawlette has spent years studying inexplicable coincidences and what they mean for the people who experience them. In the course of that research, she’s come across many people who’ve had dreams that were more than just dreams. Dreams that can be interpreted as messages from heaven. “Most of the contact that people have with deceased loved ones comes through dreams,” she says.

But can you tell these dreams apart from normal visitation dreams? According to Rawlette, you can. “In a vast majority of cases, they do seem to be very different,” she says. “They seem to be much more vivid. A contact dream is not a normal, half-confused dream state, it’s very clear.”

Part of this clarity is the feeling that the person truly is there. While you might dream about loved ones who have died, usually, those people are just your mind’s projection of them. “Almost like they were just this cardboard cutout standing in for the person,” says Rawlette. But, in contact dreams, dreamers report that the person feels like a separate entity. Not a passive participant, but someone with a goal and a message. “They will actually say things and try to show you things,” she says. “They’re trying to draw your attention.”

These dreams can be broken down into two categories: shared death experiences and goodbyes. In shared death experiences, the dreamer experiences the moment where their loved one transitions from this life to the next. For example, I recently spoke with a reader who, while asleep one night, dreamed of a terrible pain in her chest—and then, utter peace. The sensation felt so real, it woke her up. The next morning, she learned that her brother had died of a heart attack… at the same time she’d had that strange experience of her own. 

While these moments are profound, they can also initially be confusing. More comforting are the dreams where the person is coming to give the dreamer one final message. Usually, it’s simply to say “goodbye” or to reassure them that they’re now at peace, like Jackie’s dream.

“In many of these contact dreams, there’s some sort of external corroboration,” says Rawlette. “You might get a piece of information in a dream that you had no way of knowing and it turns out, later, you’re able to confirm that piece of information.”

Like the time that someone passed or how, exactly, they died. But for the people who experience these dreams, outside proof is unnecessary. They know the truth. They can feel it.

If you’ve had a dream you’d like to share, send your story to mw@guideposts.org

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