Dream Interpretation Dead Parents and Relatives. Is It Real?

dreams about deceased parents and loved ones

Dream Interpretation | Dead Parents and Relatives | Symbolic, or Spiritual Contact?

A dream about a deceased loved one such as a parent or relative is likely to be symbolic, same as with dreams about death. Dreaming about deceased loved ones help you process grief and deal with loss. It’s not actual spiritual contact or “real” in the strictest sense.

However, in my experience and that of other dream interpreters like the famous psychic Edgar Cayce, spiritual contact via dreams happens. Actual visitation dreams just are not nearly as common as symbolic ones, so I always advise to be careful about drawing hasty conclusions.

The belief in spiritual contact via dreams is widespread. However, it’s wise to rule out other possibilities before concluding that a dream about a deceased loved one is a visitation from their spirit. Here’s a dream that illustrates what I mean: help interpreting dream about father who passed away:

My father passed away in 2010, and twice since then he has been in my dreams. Once was a dream set at a memorial service for him where everyone seemed happy. He gives a going away speech, and when I try to hug him he doesn’t see me, hear me, or even know I exist. We were very close as father and son and this upset me. In the second dream, I see him at work. I chase after him trying to get his attention, but again it seems like he can’t hear me.

This dream is not about spiritual contact with a deceased loved one. It’s about the dreamer dealing with the loss of his father. His father is no longer around to talk to, to hear him, which is why in the dream the dreamer can’t get his father’s attention. It’s symbolic. This grieving son has probably caught himself many times thinking “that’s something I should tell dad about,” then he remembers his father is no longer around and he’s on his own now.

author J.M. DeBord

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However, it might not be completely true that we are on our own after the loss of a close loved one who provided guidance, advice, and comfort. A fascinating case is documented in Edgar Cayce: On Dreams. After her mother dies, a woman has a series of dreams interpreted by Cayce. The initial dreams focus on adjusting to life without mom around, processing the loss and working through the grief. Then they transition to clearing roadblocks in the dreamer’s attitudes and feelings (she didn’t believe spiritual visitation was possible) and learning some important life lessons. The dreams culminate with actual spiritual contact with her deceased mother.

From then on, the dreamer and her mother communicate regularly, and the mother provides outstanding advice, including inside knowledge about a relative who’s contemplating suicide, and medical advice that gets the dreamer through a difficult pregnancy.

Distinguishing between spiritual visitation and symbolic dreams

In Cayce’s experience and in mine, dreams about spiritual contact have a distinct ring to them:

  • The messages are always positive, though sometimes pointed. No guilt trips or anything like that.
  • The messages frequently convey information about the health and welfare of the dreamer or family members. The deceased mother in the last example gave specific advice about health matters that were verified by physicians, and provided insights about family members.
  • The dreams are often more straightforward than symbolic (though some dream symbolism can come into play), the messages communicated clearly and lovingly.
  • The strength of the contact seems to depend on the telepathic abilities of the dreamer and the deceased and the emotional state of the dreamer.
  • A message universal to dreams of spiritual contact is the deceased convey that they are all right, even happy, in the next life, not in distress. It’s the living they’re concerned about!
  • Another key feature of spiritual contact is the person in the dream talks and acts like a real person–like the person you know. You can look them in the eyes and see intelligence and personality. Dream characters usually behave like actors who stick to a script. When you look at them closely or go off-script by asking pointed questions, they tend to distort and act out of character. They don’t respond like you would expect a person to respond. *The exception to this rule is when dream characters represent the unconscious mind or other major part of the psyche.
  • The communication is mind to mind, aka “telepathic.” Mouths don’t need to move, and words aren’t as important as thoughts and feelings.
  • The loved one who comes to you in a dream has an agenda. Rarely do they drop by just to chit-chat (though it’s possible, especially after previous visits establish a foundation for continuing contact). My understanding is that reaching through from the afterlife to contact people in this reality requires energy and skill that a minority of people (alive or not) possess. And the contact can only be sustained for a short period.
  • And finally and most importantly, the dreams are exceptionally vivid and realistic. They stand out from ordinary dreams.

Her godson came to her in a dream

Here is a powerful account  of a dream following the death of a loved one, similar to dozens of others I’ve read:

reddit dreams

Reddit Dreams

My godson passed away last year. He was 9, he passed after a car accident. While he was on life support in the hospital, I would visit him every day. One day I came home emotionally exhausted and just wanted to sleep and not think about anything. I was putting a couple of things on my bookshelf when something fell and landed on my arm. I picked it up, and it was a birthday card from 4 months earlier from his mom, but he had signed it. He passed away a day or 2 later, and I think he was saying goodbye.

[I’ve been really depressed lately, and two days ago] I dreamt about my godson. He ran up to me and wrapped his arms around me; no one else could see him in my dream except me. I kissed him on his forehead and told him I miss him. He told me he misses me too, and told me not to be sad, that he was happy and would keep visiting us.

I woke up sad that my dream was over, but happy that he came to see me. I miss [him] every day, and can’t wait to see [him] in my dreams again.

This dream experience checks off a few boxes on the list of the qualities of spiritual contact dreams:

  1. The messages are positive.
  2. Concern is shown for the living.
  3. The godson is happy in the afterlife.
  4. He has an agenda, a reason for visiting his grandma in her dream.

I followed up with the dreamer and she added this:

It felt so real. It was different than a normal dream, somehow.

I asked her to describe how it was different:

It’s hard to explain. It felt more real, it was more vivid. I could hear the birds and insects (we were outside) and the chatter of people in the background. I knew he wasn’t supposed to be there, I knew no one could see him, but I didn’t know it was a dream. I felt everything, smelled everything, heard everything. It was like I was really standing in front of him. Dreams are different, there isn’t background noise, you can’t feel everything. And his voice was inside my head, he was speaking out loud but also speaking inside my head, if that makes any sense.

With that info, we can check off two more boxes:

  1. The vividness and sense of realness.
  2. Telepathic communication.

I’m comfortable suggesting to this person that the experience is actual spiritual contact with her godson. The last thing I want to do is give her false hope, and if I’m wise I’ll always add the caveat that I can’t say for sure. What’s more important is what it means to her. The dream gave her peace.

Now consider this example: “deceased father in shared dream“:

The night after my father’s funeral, my grandfather, step-mother and me all had the exact same dream with the exact same message: My father said to us, “Everything will be fine. Don’t worry about me. Got it all figured out. I love you.”

I take this dream at face value because I’ve read so many similar accounts. The dreams of all three people are identical in content. It’s possible these family members experienced something symbolic and extraordinarily coincidental. I wouldn’t be surprised if three related people all dreamed in the same night about a recently departed family member–they have just experienced a tremendous loss and their dreams are going to reflect it.

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Some branches of dream psychology vehemently insist that dreams about contact with the deceased are wish fulfillment and nothing more, even going so far to say it is primitive and counterproductive to suggest otherwise. Assume for a moment though that what the dreamers’ report is true and three family members had the exact same dream the day after the funeral of another family member. What do you think it means?

interpreting dreams about the deceased

Are you getting it? Has the light turned on in your head?

Emotional balance opens a channel

My understanding is that family members who are too grief-stricken to handle contact with a recently departed family member won’t get it. The first rule of spiritual contact is ‘do no harm.’ Nothing can be forced. You have to be emotionally and personally ready to make contact. This fact can be vexing for people who wait and wait for contact with a deceased loved one and it doesn’t happen.

A son who recently lost his father dreams about balancing the water temperature in a fish tank. When he achieves that balance his father appears next to him and they converse. The dream is incredibly vivid and the son has a strong sense of the presence of his father. His father tells him about life in the next world and says that he wishes to visit other family members (especially the dreamer’s mother) but they are too grief-stricken at the moment.

Balancing the water in the fish tank symbolizes balancing the dreamer’s emotions, and the father appearing after that happens is a clear indicator that spiritual contact with the father requires that the son be emotionally ready.

More examples of visitation dreams

I can’t tell you if the next example is actual contact or wishful thinking, but it’s fairly typical for dreams about deceased loved ones. Read “son meets deceased father in a dream” and I’ll pick up with the discussion next.

The part that strikes me is the father is alive and well in the dream. It can be a way of saying that the son has processed the fact that his father died long ago before he really knew him and is OK with that fact. But it also can be a way of saying that consciousness survives death and people live on in another state of being. They can be happy. They can love. They can communicate with the living through dreams.

Here is another dream where the dead communicate with the living. A grandfather visits a very young grandson–a grandfather who died long before the grandson was born–and gives him some solid advice about life. Again, it is very possible there is a symbolic explanation for the dream. The grandfather could be an invention of the boy’s unconscious mind to deliver the message, so in this sense the grandfather’s identity as a dream character is a “mask” for a part of the dreamer that provides sagely advice. Grandfather’s are known for giving sagely advice, right?

Then again, he was three years old and had a dream involving adult subjects that few children that age are even aware of, and he recognizes a picture of his grandfather based on what he remembers from the dream. It’s not scientific proof, but one of many examples of similar dreams.

dream interpretation dictionary

Practice at interpreting dreams will help you distinguish symbolic dreams from actual visitation dreams.

But where’s the proof that deceased loved ones visit in dreams?

unlock the meaning of your dreams

Unlock the meaning of your dreams by learning to decode dream symbolism

I think there are good reasons for why we don’t have hard scientific evidence of spiritual contact or life after death. However, I have run across a number of accounts of the spirit of a deceased loved one visiting in a dream and passing information that’s unknown to the dreamer. The woman who had many dreams interpreted by Edgar Cayce was given remarkable information from her mom in dreams. Read about this dream where the spirit of a father warns about a leaky roof. I remember an amazing account of the spirit of a relative warning that a snake was in the shower … and the next morning a snake is actually found in the shower! What are the odds of it being coincidence?

Sally Rhine’s book The Gift has many mind-blowing accounts of dreams giving information that couldn’t possibly be known by the dreamers through conventional means.

Proof is in the preponderance of evidence. It’s not proof in the absolute sense, but it’s the best you’re going to get unless you are visited, too.

For further exploration, check out these dreams featuring communication between the living and their loved ones:

My Dead Grandmother Contacted Me – This appears to be spiritual contact via the dream.

I Keep Dreaming of My Stepfather. Started the Night He Died. – This dream uses the deceased person as a character in a story. It’s symbolism.

Looking my Grandma in the Eyes – Note what the dreamer says about the eyes.

Reddit Discussion About Contact with Deceased Loved Ones – Note the many accounts of visitations in dreams.


Dreams about deceased loved ones are interpreted in various ways, as you see from what is covered here, but they all share something in common: All are opportunities to heal, to cherish memories, to say goodbye or even to say hello. The images from the dreams are vivid and can be used to create daydreams that promote healing and growth, a process pioneered by Carl Jung called active imagination technique. Whether or not the dreams are actual contact with people in the afterlife, they are only meant for the good of the people who experience them.

On a final note, read what Camille Wortman, an expert on grief and loss, has to say about communicating with the deceased. Whether real or imaginary, it is viewed as beneficial and part of the healing process.

Also, I like what Erin Pavlina has to say about the subject. Here is an excerpt from her blog post about contacting deceased loved ones:

The most common way spirits try to communicate with their loved ones is through dreams.  If you have a dream that your loved one comes to you and gives you a message, it often feels very real, very clear, and like you really were talking to them.  I believe 100% that these are real communications.  Dreams are the one time and place where your ego and objective mind are relaxed and you believe anything is possible.  Your vibration is high and you’re open for anything.  Spirits can more easily reach your subconscious mind than the clutter of your conscious mind.  So be on the lookout for “those” dreams.  Not all dreams of deceased loved ones are communication, however.  Sometimes your own subconscious mind simply conjures their essence into a dream.  The difference is how it feels and what happens in the dream.  When there is real communication, usually the deceased spirit offers a message of love, reassurance, and connection.  Sometimes they tell you what’s coming up in your life, so pay attention.


I'm the author of "Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret, and Live Your Dreams," and "The Dream Interpretation Dictionary: Symbols, Sign and Meanings." At reddit.com I'm known as RadOwl. I began studying dreams in the early 1990s and delved into all major schools of thought, especially the writings of Carl Jung.

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12 Responses

  1. Darline Redlich says:

    My father has passed many years ago. He came to me in a dream last night. My landlord and his family were doing work outside of my place. They just walked right into my place without knocking.The man walked upstairs and the family sat with me in the livingroom. I had a blanket over my bottom as I had no pants on. I told them this so they would leave. Next thing I know, we were in a tavern. The landlord is the bartender. I tell him how wrong it is to come into my home without knocking first. When I tell him I had no pants on. He made a face. I turned for help and there was my dad. I was about to ask for help. Then I woke up crying.
    What do you think this means?

    • RadOwl says:

      Is your father someone who would tell you to protect yourself personally? I ask because if you step back and simplify the dream, it’s about being “caught with your pants down,” which means “exposed” or “vulnerable.” It might connect with a situation with your landlord — is your privacy compromised? — but your landlord and his family could symbolize your family. Dreams like to create a layer or two of distance so they’re not too obvious.

      The tavern…first question to ask about this setting is, do you drink? If yes, do you something drink too much and it makes you vulnerable? It’s just a possibility I see for the symbolism.

      Consider the possibility that your father in the dream represents something he taught you, and the dreams-story is about trying to remind yourself of it. If your dad could see you now in your life (and I’m pretty sure he does), what would he say?

  2. My mother passed away a month ago suddenly. This was almost 2 years to the day of my dad’s passing. I had a very vivid dream last night that I can’t get off my mind. I was looking in a mirror at a spot on my nose and squeezed it to have an excessive amount of liquid come out. I thought at first this was a good thing…my nose would be smaller, but then it falls off and looks hideous. I pick it up to go to the hospital. It is important to mention that I am in the house I grew up in from my hometown. I left there 8 years ago when I got remarried. My parents lived next door because I had bought the house from them with my ex husband.
    So I have my nose in hand and I call my mom on the phone and I know she is dead. I don’t remember her saying anything but her and my dad show up at my front door. They look healthy and younger, smiling ear to ear. I wonder why they are smiling because I am quite distressed about my nose. I know they are dead and we don’t discuss that. I feel at ease about everything. I don’t remember us talking but I felt that they told me not to be concerned about things like my nose. It really didn’t matter in the grand scheme. All that mattered was the next life. The little things just are insignificant. They didn’t say it was going to be ok or try to comfort me about my nose, they simply said that this too would pass and we just have to get on to the next phase in our life.
    My take away was that they were together, happy and well. My mom had grieved so much since my dad’s passing. I felt a sense of calm. I woke up singing a line from a contemporary Christian song… “I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God”. I don’t recall hearing it recently or know why it has been on my mind all day…

    • RadOwl says:

      Well, a nose is important of course but I think when used in this dream-story that the meaning stands out, and you know what it is: don’t worry about the little things. My thought as I read the description centered on the phrase “cut off your nose despite your face.” It means “overreact and cause yourself embarrassment.” I think the basic message is right on: focus on what’s most important here and now. The next life … well, you’ll be there soon enough so it’s not something to dwell on, in my opinion. But the next phase of life, yes, that’s what this dream really seems to speak to. Something new is waiting for you, but some sort of fear has been holding you back, is my guess. The spontaneous song lyrics really sum up what’s happening below the surface. You are realizing you have no reason to fear and that fear only holds you back. You are a child of God and can live your life with freedom and courage.

  3. amysiad1 says:

    I dreamed of my deceased father wearing black pants, gray shirt and black jacket. He drove a black hearse. He parked the car at the back entrance of the school where I work. He walked toward me and I was sitting on a bench. While he was walking I asked:But aren’t you dead? He answered with a happy smile:’No, I now I take care of the dead. He sat down next to me and hugged me firmly. He looked younger and radiant. It felt like no dream at all. Like sharp and real images. He said: ‘I have to go, I have more work to do’. And he stood up and walked away. He got into the hearse, but there was a body inside under a sheet. I woke up feeling happy after having “seen” him. But now I’m overthinking what does this dream mean?

    • RadOwl says:

      In my article I say that the intense realism of visitation dreams can be a sign that they’re “real” contact with the spirit of the deceased loved one, not personal symbolism. But dreams in general can be intensely real and vivid so it’s not a sure sign. In this case, look closely at the details. They really seem to point toward symbolism.

      “Taking care of the dead” can symbolize taking care of yourself so you don’t end up dead before your time! It can mean doing the things to commemorate your father such as remembering him and doing rituals such as setting out photos of him on his birthday, just as an example. In my home, May 5 is the day my mother in law died and it will forever after be “her” day — a day for us to remember her. In a sense, when we remember her we are taking care of the dead. See what I mean? Your dream appears to be personal, a way of visualizing something happening inside you or in your life. However, I do want to add though, just because it’s not “really” your dad in the dream (not saying it is or isn’t him; who can say for sure?) is no reason to feel disappointed. You said you felt happy to “see” him and he looked to be in good health. At the very least, you can take that as a sign that you are doing all right. And when he says he isn’t dead, what that can mean is he’s still alive within you. See what i mean?

  4. Kylie says:

    My biological father passed away last month and i never got the chance to meet him because he spent 27 years not knowing about me and then when he did find out about me he was killed in a tragic accident just a few short months later.

    I keep having dreams about him though. A couple of them i was actually meeting him and spending time with him and then some others i was just looking at a wall with pictures of him.

    Last night i dreamt i went to his moms house (whom i have never met) with my mom and she was super happy to see my mom and she was showing us all kinds of pictures of him.

    What could this mean??

    • RadOwl says:

      To me, this dream imagery appears to be visualization of internal processes as you sort your memories (a normal function of dreaming) of your father, but you don’t have memories of him, you have memories of thinking about him and picking up little pieces of info about him. You appear to be trying to figure out how the pieces fit.

      The dream with your mom meeting his mom must be symbolism — it doesn’t reflect an actual event in your life. But perhaps it reflects what’s been going on in your head as you wonder what he was like, what influenced him the most (his mom), and how it all connects back to you and your history (your mom). The happiness of that scene is a good sign that you are coming to terms with this situation where you gain your dad and lose him all in a short time. I suggest, if there’s something you really want to know about him, keep your heart open to allow the answer to come to you.

      My great-grandfather is a mysterious figure in our family tree and one thing we know for sure about him is he abandoned his wife and kids when my grandfather was a child. That decision perplexed me, and since I never knew my great grandfather I could never ask him why he did it or even get enough second-hand info to guess why. One night I was “in the zone” — deeply at ease and just open to everything — and a voice came into my head. It identified itself as a friend of my great grandfather’s. My wife was next to me and heard it too (all in our minds). It said that my great-grandfather regretted his decision to abandon his family. With that bit of info I was able to put a big question to rest. I’m not saying that you will experience something like what I did, but if you want to know more about your dad you might be able to find it out if you open your heart and receiving the answers to your questions.

  5. Crystal says:

    My mom passed February 8th and yesterday I had a dream of her that was so real. I was at a family reunion after her passing. We were all laughing and having a good time. Just like she would have wanted. I was getting a picture with all my aunts and she was lounging in a chair. I asked my brother if he could see her. He said yes and walked away.Then I started taking pictures of everyone, but when I tried to get one of her the camera wouldn’t work. I asked her what she was doing here and she said “I’m here cause you need me”.

    They had found my mom unresponsive in her hospital room. They asked me if I wanted life support or hospice. My dad wasn’t there at the time, so I said life support. They lost her in the elevator on the way to ICU but were able to get her back. She never wanted on machines. But I couldn’t let her pass without my dad being there. We kept her on the machines for 4 days. Which gave my brother and nephew a chance to get here and see her. I feel I made the right call and would do it the same way again.

    • RadOwl says:

      Hello Crystal, your comment is timely because my mother in law passed away two weeks ago and my wife and I have been dreaming about her.

      When you try to take a picture of her with the family and the camera doesn’t work, that could symbolize that she’s no longer “in the picture,” meaning, no longer physically present with the family. But since you and your brother see her, it could mean she’s present in your heart. She could even be with you in spirit, literally or figuratively or both. Perhaps you still need her in the sense of need to feel a connection with her. A point will come when you can let go, but there’s no hurry. Perhaps her spirit is still around, but my sense is that scene describes something going on in you.

      It’s natural to second guess yourself after having to make a decision like you did to resuscitate your mom. We had to make decisions about my mother in law and it was really tough. But we know we did everything as best we could and made decisions with our best intentions, so it is what it is. If I can leave you with one more thought, remember your mom in her prime. See her as the healthy and happy person you knew. We have struggled a bit with remembering how ill my mother in law was at the end, and the other day I got a strong feeling that I should counter those memories with the better ones. I’m told that the spirits of the deceased do not want to remember their last days of being ill, and that it can actually push them away. So remember her well and welcome her into your dreams.

  6. Jay says:

    My mother died exactly three weeks ago today. It was horrible because I tried everything to save her but I was unsuccessful because she no longer had the will to live. Almost two year ago, she was hit by a SUV while crossing a street in the pedestrian crossing. She spend almost two months in coma and miraculously regained consciousness but suffered traumatic brain injury and that changed her personality. She lost something about her persona. For a year an a half I did everything to help her recover and after she was succeeding she felt too depressed and began to give up. She began to abandon her physical exercises and then she began to eat less to the point to reach an anorexic behavior. It was a losing battle.
    Three weeks ago, she was under my care and she too weak, she refused to eat and was way to anemic. My situation was getting desperate. after I calmed down I went to se her at her room and she was conscious but unresponsive and giving a shallow breathing. I realized this was bad and called the ambulance to send her to a hospital. She never made it.
    These three weeks I had unusual dreamless sleeps since her death until last night when I finally had my first dream. I was with my mother and she was showing me about antique stuff, how homes were back in the 50s and 60s when she was younger and it was extremely real. Then we were in a boat trip and there was this loud and deep male voice calling her name followed with “WE NEED YOU, IS TIME TO GO”. There was more after and I’m trying remember the entire message. After hearing that message, that’s when I came into realization that I was dreaming. I never wanted to let her go but I realized this is the chance I needed to say goodbye. I began caressing her face when everything began to turn dark and that’s when I woke up. I don’t know if i said goodbye before or after I woke up but I know I did. I even cry for typing this. For these three weeks I was wondering and hoping that she recovered what she lost in that accident because she became a different person and it was like she was my daughter instead of my mom. I sacrificed two years of my life fighting a losing battle hoping to save my mother and carry out the plans she had. Before the accident, my mother celebrated life. She was fighting a cancer like decease and she was the kind of person who rather fight till the end. That’s one of the qualities she lost in the accident. I promised her I would help her fight and came to the point that I alone was fighting for her life. Not only I miss her but I feel like I had failed her.

    • RadOwl says:

      A week ago my mother in law died after a long struggle w Alzheimer’s, which changed her personality as the disease progressed. During this past week I’ve learned a lot more about her history and have a new respect for the talent and strength. I didn’t know her before the disease set in.

      Your dream has the feel of a processing dream. The reference to how homes were back in the day could be a way of saying you are trying to remember her as she was, before the accident and personality change. Boats in dreams tend to symbolize the voyage of life, a big picture way of illustrating where you are going in it. The message of the voice could be a message to you, that you need to get on with your life after caring for her these past years.

      Your comment about caring for her like a daughter struck home because that’s what my wife and I did with her mom. The closer she came to the end, the more she regressed to a childlike personality. We felt honored to be her parents.

      Like you, we are struggling with the feeling that we failed. There were times when we didn’t live up to our own ideals and weren’t the best parents. It’s natural to feel that way. I told my brother about it and he said he’s like that with his kids, always second-guessing, and in the end you just do the best you can and know you are giving your loved ones the best you’ve got. It’s truly a special and honorable thing to take care of someone like that. Be at peace about it. And get on with your voyage, so when you join your mom in the next life, you can tell her about all the cool things you did that she wasn’t around to see. Or don’t wait, and take her with you in your heart as you continue your journey. I have a strong sense that our loved ones in the afterlife stay connected with us and can hear when we speak with them in our hearts.

As Dr. Frasier Crane says, I'm listening. Leave a comment.