Death Dream Interpretation

Death dreams are (usually) distressing, and can even make you wonder if the Reaper is coming. But dreaming of death has a variety of interpretations, since dreams are known to expand on an idea to include figurative meanings. So to interpret a death dream you look beyond literal definitions. For example, have you ever felt you could “die” from embarrassment? Or have you had an opportunity “die?”

I say death dreams are “usually” distressing because some are about accepting it. Someday your heart will stop beating, that’s a fact, so of course your dreams are going to prepare you. When you can accept death in a dream, you are empowered to live life more fully or pass away more easily.

Death in dreams can symbolize “loss” of something, for example, the loss of a relationship. I’ve known college students to dream of a parent dying because that is what it feels like to leave home and be away from a parent’s daily influence and care. Relationships that change can feel like “little deaths,” especially when they involve people you were once close to. Here is a dream that illustrates the comparison:

I dream that a friend calls and tells me that my ex boyfriend died. I feel sorry for him, but realize I don’t really feel anything for him anymore.

A relationship that ends is said to “die,” and feelings that linger are said to “die slowly.” The dreamer’s ex boyfriend is not about to literally die, but her feelings for him finally have. We can fall in love instantly, but falling out of it is anything but quick and easy; the feelings can linger long after the breakup. This dream says that the feelings the dreamer once had for her boyfriend are finally “dead.” She is totally over him.

I interpreted a death dream involving someone’s mother hanging herself during an imminent apocalypse, then being found alive. It is a way of illustrating a threat to the relationship between the dreamer and his mother, because the dreamer was doing something in his waking life (dealing drugs) that could lead to damaging it. Hanging was a way of saying that what she taught him (don’t deal drugs) wasn’t getting through to his head, and he feared what could happen if he got busted: their relationship would die.

Another way dreams use death is for illustrating the phrase “dead to the world,” as in this dream (summarized):

I dream that I am in a coma for an entire year. When I wake from it, I read the Facebook conversations my friends had who thought I was dead.

Coma is a way of describing the dreamer being in a state of social isolation. The friends think the dreamer is dead, meaning “dead to the world.” I told the dreamer that the dream was a sign to really live again.

Also, sometimes parts of ourselves go through something that can be compared to death. The transition from childhood to adulthood involves the “passing away” of immature parts of oneself. A hard-partying college student might dream of death when entering the professional world because restrictions on time and opportunity mean the party animal has to die (or it might refuse to die, causing conflict with work). Dreams about animals dying are sometimes related to parts of oneself that identify with traits you perceive to be common among a species, and that are threatened with dying off. A dream about kittens drowning in a pool, for example, translates for one particular dreamer into the loss of an innocent and playful side of himself.

The symbolic interpretations of death should be considered first, but sometimes dreams about death are about actual death. Just before Abe Lincoln was assassinated he dreamed about seeing himself in a casket, dead, in the White House. Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson dreamed before a fight that he accidentally killed his opponent. He tried to back out of the fight but was convinced it was “only a dream.” Robinson ended up killing the guy.

Dreams with literal interpretations are much less common than dreams with symbolic interpretations, and to know the difference you begin by eliminating all of the symbolic ones. If I was the person called to counsel Sugar Ray about his dream, I’d begin by asking him if he felt like he wanted to kill his opponent, even in the sense of, “God, I could kill that guy.” Was there bad blood between them? Or did he fear that killing an opponent was a possibility? In which case, the dream can be interpreted as bringing up a fear to confront it. He might hesitate to “go in for the kill,” making him a less effective boxer.

Ruling out those interpretations, I’d ask if the phrase “make a killing” felt connected to the dream. Robinson could be working through thoughts about how much money he was going to make if he won or lost the fight. I’d also ask if he saw himself in the other boxer and was, in a sense, fighting with himself. People react strongly to qualities in others that are similar to their own shadow sides. There could be a deeply personal reason behind the dream tied to Robinson’s perceptions about himself and his opponent.

But we know how this story ends. If I rolled through all possibilities and nothing rung a bell, I’d have to tell Robinson to consider the literal interpretation.

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Stories about dreams warning against imminent danger in waking life are commonly known, so it’s natural to wonder if a dream about death or tragedy is prophetic. The answer is, most likely, no. Just the other day a guy asked about a dream of being in a plane crash. He was scheduled to take a flight the next morning and wondered if he should cancel it. I thought the plane crash symbolized something related to fear of flying or feelings about his personal life “crashing.” I don’t know if he took the flight, but I checked the news and no commercial flights crashed on the day he was scheduled to fly.

It is also commonly known that people dream about loved ones who have passed away. The purpose is to grieve and process the loss. But sometimes these dreams can facilitate contact with loved ones in the next life by working through emotional issues first, then opening lines of communication. The continuation of consciousness after physical death is accepted as fact in the dream world, and in my experience it is true, but the interpretation of a death dream is tricky when strong emotions like grief are involved. Dreams are known to fulfill wishes, and if something is wished for strongly, like the wish to see a deceased parent again, it is likely to pop up in some form while dreaming.

Follow this link to the original discussion of that dream about a deceased father. It’s a powerful story that deserves space of its own. Here is my discussion about interpretations of dreams about deceased parents and loved ones.

As you can see from these examples, death in dreams is most likely a symbolic representation, not an actual warning. The difference is intuited by making associations with aspects of the dream: the setting, characters, actions, and your feelings. Bottom line is there is nothing to fear, even if a dream foretells death, but there is probably something in waking life that needs your attention. Dreams don’t tell you what you already know, so if you dream about death, ask what it is trying to tell you.