Dreaming About Death Isn’t Fun — But It’s Not Bad

Photographed by Michael Beckert.
A few months ago, I had a dream that my mom died. I woke up in a tailspin, sweaty, panicked, and on the edge of bawling. I knew it must have been a nightmare, but I still called my mother at 6 a.m. her time just to make sure she was okay. She sounded pretty cranky when she picked up, but hearing her voice that morning was more soothing than any Taylor Swift ballad could ever be. 
When someone dies in your dream — whether it’s a loved one or a stranger — it’s almost always upsetting, explains Lauri Loewenberg, a dream analyst. You might be wondering if it was a premonition. Probably not, Loewenberg says.
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“Dreams are symbolic — you can't look at them literally or you’ll freak yourself out,” she says. “Death in dreams actually means there’s some sort of change or ending happening in your life. To the subconscious mind, this represents the end of life ‘as you now know it.’”
The details of the dream can offer more insight into what's really going through your head. The person you imagine passing is especially significant. “You are usually using them to represent a characteristic, or personal quality of your own,” says Ian Wallace, a dream expert and psychologist, in his book The Top 100 Dreams: The Dreams That We All Have and What They Really Mean. “Death of your loved one in your dream indicates that this particular quality that you possess is being transformed in some way. The transformation is often the result of a major change in your waking life where you have to let go of old habits and welcome new ways of doing things.” 
My mom, for instance, is super warm and nurturing. I am too — but I sometimes worry it makes people take me less seriously, so I try to minimize that side of myself in business settings. Maybe my subconscious picked up on that struggle.
The same is true for celeb death dreams. “I had a client who was having recurring dreams of being besties with Madonna... but she kept dying,” Loewenberg says. “I worked with her and we figured out that Madonna represented motherhood, not only because her name means mother, but because Madonna has quite a lot of children. My client was debating getting her tubes tied, hence the 'death' of her ability to become a mother again. Her dreams were letting her know it’s okay to let go of that part of herself.” 
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The manner of death matters too. “A natural death represents a change or ending that is naturally happening. A murder will represent a forced change or ending such as if you’re cutting someone out of your life... If you are quitting smoking or drinking, you may dream you’re being murdered because that part of you is being killed off.” 
Wallace adds that if the dream happens in a hospital, it might mean you have “an unhealthy dependency on your loved one and need to be more responsible and self-reliant in your waking life.” A graveyard setting, on the other hand, indicates you’re subconsciously putting the past to rest. 
The final piece to consider? How you feel when you wake up. “The joyful realization that your loved one is still alive emphasizes that your connection with them is being reborn and renewed, and will help you forge an even stronger bond with them,” Wallace says.
For me, at least, that was true. After my nightmare, I could have talked to my mom for hours — though she politely requested a slightly later call time.

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