In dreams, our dead come calling. They call us on the phone, they email, they show up at the door, they appear right inside our bedrooms, or meet us in a familiar or unfamiliar space. It happens any night, or day. Let’s look at some of the main reasons for these visitations.
The Dead Come to Seek or Extend Forgiveness
One of the most important things we need to understand in our relations with the deceased is that healing and forgiveness are possible across the apparent barrier of death. This can be the key for people on both sides to heal and get on with their growing.
It sometimes seems as if one of the assignments our departed set for themselves – or have prescribed for them by their coaches and counselors on the Other Side – is to reach back to survivors not only to seek forgiveness and closure but to achieve understanding and balancing. When this succeeds, it can break the family curse of abusive or destructive behaviors passed on from generation to generation.
The Dead Come to Settle Unfinished Business
Brian’s deceased friend appeared in a dream and said with fierce clarity, “Where is that book you took from my library?”
What is “unfinished business” for one of our deceased may extend to achieving a lucid understanding of what happened in the life they have just left, preparatory to moving on to new life experiences. Yeats suggested that in an early and important phase of the afterlife transitions, the dead engage in “Dreaming Back”, revisiting the scenes of their previous life, essentially to get the story straight and understand what is really going on. During the Dreaming Back, they interact with the living, in shared or overlapping dreams.
The Dead Bring a Warning or Health Advisory
Once they are free of their physical bodies and physically-oriented assumptions about the rules of reality, our dead can become extremely helpful and reliable psychic advisers, since they can see across space and time quite easily. We have this ability too, but while we are encased in physical bodies and self-limiting beliefs about physical laws and linear time, we often forget to use our ability to see beyond these things. Departed friends and loved ones very frequently turn up in dreams to pass on health advisories. They are especially sensitive to health problems that tend to run in families.
Our dead may come to us in dreams with warnings and advisories of any kind. The Chinese Book of Zuo relates that the dead father of a general called Han Jue appeared to him on the eve of battle and told him that in the fighting the next day he should avoid veering to either right or left and lead always from the center. The general was victorious in battle, but the enemies’ arrows killed all the men immediately to the right and left of his chariot.
The Dead Return as Guides and Family Angels.
Lucille Ball was devastated when her good friend Carole Lombard died in a plane crash in January 1942. But their friendship continued after Carole’s death. Lucille explained that her decision to take the risk of launching the “I Love Lucy” show on television – that became immensely popular but seemed hugely risky at the time – was guided by her dead friend. Carole Lombard turned up in a very smart suit and said, “Take a chance, honey. Give it a whirl!” Lucille Ball recalled that “After that, I knew for certain that we were doing the right thing.” Later, at a party, she told Clark Gable (who had been married to Carole Lombard) that his long-deceased wife kept turning up in her dreams to offer helpful advice. Clark Gable reportedly “stared, gulped, and plowed off in a daze.”
A young woman I’ll call Kirsty lost her grandmother – a proud, creative, take-charge kind of woman – around the same time she developed a rare and serious illness. She then received a dream visitation from her grandmother, who told her, “I’ve arrange to be around for two more years. You and I have lots of work to do together, Sunshine.” When Kirsty enrolled for an expensive series of therapy sessions, she dreamed that she heard her grandmother’s voice on her answering machine. She did not want to pick up for fear that her grandmother would not really be there. “Pick up, Sunshine,” her grandmother’s voice encouraged her. When Kirsty did so, her grandmother said, “You can save a bunch on those therapy sessions if you meditate on your nickname. You are Sunshine, right? Be Sunshine! Let it stream through every cell in your body!”
With the words, Kirsty felt waves of healing light and energy rolling through her body. She proceeded to make it a practice to sit with the sun and invoke a flow of inner sunlight every day, and this felt profoundly healing. In another dream, Kirsty’s grandmother called to say she was going to help her arrange a move from her apartment in Manhattan to a house with a garden, and trees, and sunlight.
Though Grandma was not visible in the flurry of real estate moves that followed, she had been very adept at this kind of thing, and Kirsty was buoyed by the feeling that she was active behind the scenes. It took less than a week to sell her condo, and she managed the house purchase in just one day. Magic. Grandma called again to say she wanted to support Kirsty in developing a new relationship. Nothing controlling, just a blessing. Kirsty was thrilled to find herself entering a warm and loving new relationship with a man who was not afraid of commitment. Kirsty’s grandmother loved to paint cardinals. At her new house, Kirsty sees them all the time, glorious flashes of bright red among the greens.
The Dead Come to Prepare Us for Death
One of the most important reasons our dead visit us in dreams is to prepare us for our own crossings. It is very reassuring to know that we have friends and escorts on the Other Side. These death guides may include beloved animals, as well as humans, who have shared our lives. Valerie was sitting in her family home, exhausted from taking care of her very ill mother. She was dozing when she felt a presence. She looked up and saw her father, who had died years before. He said nothing, smiled a beautiful radiant smile and held out his hand. Then she saw her mother standing in front of him. Her mother took her father’s hand, and they vanished. When the nursing home called to tell her that her mother had passed, she discovered that he mother had died at the same time she had seen her father come for her in the dream.
The Dead Want to Pass on a Message through Us
The dead may call on us to pass on a message to someone who is disconnected – a person who is not picking up his or her own messages. This is frequently the case when an emergency is impending, and a dead well-wisher urgently wants to get an advisory through to someone who won’t pick up the phone or answer the door. The dead caller will turn to someone else in the neighborhood who is more receptive and may be willing to pass the message along, directly or indirectly. This is likely to work best if the “sensitive” is family or a friend of one or both parties.
But if the message is really urgent, and nobody else is available, the dead caller may try to communicate through someone who is a relative outsider. A great many people approaching death try to blank out their awareness of what is coming, instead of using the last stages of life as an opportunity to get ready for a grand adventure that opens new vistas of growth and learning. The elderly may actively refuse to communicate with departed family and friends, because there is bad blood or, quite simply, because they are trying to avoid their appointment with death.
The Dead Come to Show Us their Realm
One of the most familiar and important reasons the departed appear in our dreams is as guides to the realms beyond physical life. A departed loved one – including a beloved former pet – may be the soul-guide, or psychopomp, who makes it easy for us to approach the big journey beyond physical death with courage and grace.
I have heard many, many accounts of this, and have been blessed to help introduce many dying people to guides with familiar faces from the other side. Here is one: “My father visited my mother looking like he did when he was courting her. She was grieving and he told her he wanted to describe the beautiful valley she would first see. He showed her in a dream a vale filled with wildflowers, birds singing, and a small brook running through. He told her he could not present it the way it really looked, that it was more beautiful than anything she could ever imagine.”
The Dead Come as Guardians and Guides
The ancients believed that the illustrious dead may intervene as daimons or demigods to strengthen and support the living. Plutarch located the base for helpful daimons who were formerly humans in the astral realm of the moon.
The Dead Need Guidance from Us
The dead come calling in our dreams because they need help or guidance from us – often because they are lost or lonely or stuck somewhere not very far away. They of course have guides available on the Other Side, but they may have remained so physically oriented, enmeshed in their dense energy bodies, that they are inclined to trust someone who has a physical body more than a being who does not. Or they may simply be shy about getting to know new people.
Yeats observed, with poetic insight, that “the living have the ability to assist the imaginations of the dead”. I know this to be true, since I have been called on many times to help survivors to assist departed family members to move beyond stuck places by growing their imaginations and becoming more aware of new real estate options and life possibilities on the Other Side.
There are other situations in which the departed seek information or guidance from the living. When I started studying and practicing shamanism with focused intention, I had many dream visits with shamans from earlier times. Sometimes they gave me instruction; on other occasions they seemed to be seeking guidance or information from me. They had a great deal to teach me, and I was humbled by their wisdom and their commitment to healing the world. But sometimes they, too, seemed to be seeking help and information from me. In terms of linear history, these dream visitors are “dead”. But they are very much alive in my dreams, and I do not believe that the field of these dreams is a postmortem state.
Jung reports some analogous experiences in his memoirs. For example, he describes a dream in which he found himself at “an assemblage of distinguished spirits”. He was asked some complex questions, but the conversation was in Latin and he was embarrassed that his command of this language was not sufficient for him to respond. The dream spurred him to abandon his holiday and rush home on the train to work on an answer to the question. He later concluded that the question had been put to him by “spiritual forefathers in the hope and expectation that they would learn what they had not been able to find out during their time on earth, since the answer had first to be created in the centuries that followed.” 
Jung subsequently speculated that “the souls of the dead ‘know’ only what they knew at the moment of death, and nothing beyond that” – contrary to the “traditional views” that the dead possess great knowledge.  I think it is certainly entirely possible that after death people try to attain an awareness that may have escaped them during life. But there are other possible explanations for Jung’s experiences. One is that he was actually communicating across time – speaking to people from early periods not in their postmortem state but as they are in their own now time. Frederic Myers trembled on the edge of recognizing this possibility, when he floated the idea of “the permanence or simultaneity of all phenomena in a timeless Universal Soul”. .
1 C.G.Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Ed. Aniela Jaffé. New York : Vintage, 1965, 307.
2. ibid 308
3. F.W.H .Myers, Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death. Volume 2 London: Longmans, Green, 1903, 76
Parts of this article are adapted from Robert Moss, The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead: A Soul Traveler’s Guide to Death, Dying and the Other Side. Published by Destiny Books