Our dreams comes to us at every age and stage of our life, offering us threshold moments where we encounter the possibility some new experience, new awareness, new way of being, a reconnection to soul…a crossing of a threshold.
I am a practitioner of Natural Dreamwork and I work with a diverse clientele including my work as a hospice volunteer working with the dreams and visions of the dying, where the threshold becomes more evident, perhaps more urgent. Even for those who don’t pay attention to dreams their whole life, there is something about our approaching death that brings the importance of dreams to the forefront, awakens our desire to understand and feel more deeply.
I’ve always loved the story that compares dying to being on a ship. The image is of the one dying as they begin to sail away and those on shore are weeping and grieving the loss of their loved one. Then, the ship crests the horizon and the far shore comes into view…and a joyful cry goes up, “Here she comes, here she comes!” Two thresholds we all experience – grief at departure and joy at arrival.
And yet, my work with dreams, including those at end of life, is revealing a surprising experience of these thresholds, that there is often joy at departure and grief at the arrival into our human life…and a tremendous opportunity in between those two…in the middle…the many unexplored thresholds our dreams want to open us to throughout our life.
Joy at Departure
One of our hospice patients told a caregiver that he was seeing angels. She was uncomfortable and unsure and so didn’t say anything. But she knew my work was to be with patients in this place of their dreams and visions and so told me about it. I went to see him and we spoke for a bit and then I quietly said…
“I hear you’re seeing angels.”
“No, I don’t see angels.”
I waited…quietly. He had already spoken of this and it hadn’t been acknowledged. It was understandable that he would hesitate to mention it again. After a few moments, he said…
“I’m lucky to see angels.”
“You sure are…do they say anything?”
”No, they just come in and stand around” (he pointed around room.)
“What are they like?”
“Like you…normal people who ask what angels look like.”
As he spoke, and this was a man whose vision was greatly impaired, his face took on a most beautiful smile and glow. We weren’t alone in that room. Here, facing his final days, he was joyous. Yes, sad to leave his family but there was a joy, an anticipation even, that angels were waiting to help him across this sacred threshold.
This is a common experience for those dying, to have dreams and visions that not only help them find healing and lessen their fear of death, but they begin to hear the joyous cry, “Here he comes, here he comes.”
Grief upon Arrival
My first remembered dream was when I was about 3-4:
Dream – I am standing at the top of our stairs in my childhood home. I feel a movement in my upper stomach (solar plexus), lift up and float down the stairs to the bottom landing. What fun! I climb back up and do it again…and again.”
I can remember clearly the next morning, standing at the stairs, trying move my body in the way I had in the dream, to lift off and float down the stairs. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t repeat it and it confused and saddened me.
It wasn’t until over sixty years later, as I was driving to meet with a grief group and speak about the dreams of their deceased loved ones that I realized what I was feeling all those long years ago and tears of knowing rose. Even as an inarticulate toddler I sensed that there was a way I had known myself, something I had been connected to that was not longer accessible to me. I had crossed some threshold and I felt a deep sense of loss…I felt grief.
As wonderful or as terrible as our lives may be, as surrounded as we may be by those we love and who love us, most of us are aware of something missing. We can’t quite name it but we feel it. Our dreams come to help us remember it, to feel it and to re-awaken it in us…to heal our connection to soul that was frayed at birth.
Healing in the Middle
Every night our dreams come to us (195,000 by age 65) all with the intention to help us remember who it is we truly are, what we were separated from when we took birth, how to heal and live lives of wholeness and true relationship with ourselves, others and the sacred.
What if we don’t have to live our entire lives with an undercurrent of ineffable grief that we have lost some part of ourselves? What if we don’t have to wait until our death to remember that connection? What if we can, through our dreams, find a way back to the wholeness, to the completeness of who we truly are?
When people learn that I work with the dreams of the dying, the question I am most often asked is, “Are the dreams of the dying different from other dreams?” For now I would have to say…not so much.
At the moments surrounding our crossing the threshold at the end of life, there certainly is the additional element of visions, seeing deceased loved ones, spiritual figures, presences that can help in this moment of dying. That seems to be a different experience than the dreams themselves, a place where the lines between worlds are not only blurred, they seem to disappear.
In a culture where most of us don’t pay attention to our dreams until end of life we may tend to think that there is a particular poignancy and urgency in these late stage dreams…and there may be. But for someone who works with dreams on a daily basis, end of life dreams seem to be no less urgent than those dreams I see with my regular dream clients…our dreams trying to help us find our way to wholeness, inner connection and support.
And if what I’m experiencing is true, there is something incredible and magnificent about this.
To know that no moment of our life is more or less important than another. We try to make a distinction about what is important and what isn’t. But what if each moment, in health or in illness, in peace or in turmoil, in celebration and in sorrow, our dreams come to bring an opportunity for healing, connection to inner support, to be en-souled?
If we only seek out support and growth in times of difficulty then we are missing the lifetime of daily support that comes to us each night in our dreams…has always come to us. To begin to understand that the transition of the body into death is one part of this long human journey and that each night, through our dreams, we are invited to be students of our inner teachers, to feel their love, to be in true relationship with others and with our soul.
What if there are not just two threshold moments in our life…birth and death? What if, in each moment, in each choice we are at a threshold moment…the choice to step closer to soul?
With love, Mary Jo
Mary Jo Heyen, M.Ed., was an author, founding member and certified practitioner of Natural Dreamwork until her death in 2022. She had a diverse private practice working with dream clients of all ages and backgrounds. Her practice included her volunteer work with the dreams and visions of those in hospice, their families and grief groups, honoring the gift of their dreams at this most important threshold. Her experiences in this area have been published in The Journal of Palliative Medicine and the 2021 release of her book, Dreaming into the Mystery: Explorations into Being with the Dreams and Visions of the Dying. Mary Jo was a featured teacher as part of the Shift Network’s Dreamwork Summit. Her work with dreams has been published in Dream Time, a publication of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) and she was also a Regional Representative of the IASD.
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