by Norman M. Brown Ph.D. |
The Dream: I had a dream last night that my deceased husband came back and I was so excited. We were affectionate with each other and he proceeds to tell me he was going to marry another woman. I was furious. I took care of him for over 2 years during his illness and made sure his life was full of friends, family laughter etc. until the end. What does this mean? He has been gone for over 6 years. He was the love of my life. I even had a name for this new woman at the time of the dream. It woke me up at around 2 in the morning. My heart was pounding.
Interpreter: You may be surprised to find out what your dream is really doing to help you move forward with your own life. I have studied many dreams about deceased husband visitations that are similar to yours. (I then asked her a few questions to help target the interpretation compared to similar dreams, but she didn’t respond to questions at all.)
Many Western cultures expect one year of mourning to follow the death of a close relative. All humans are able to call up the image of the dead, so they might be able to continue imaginary relations with the dead for as long as they live. But the vast majority of dead husband visitation dreams I’ve seen that occurred beyond the first year by half a year to many years show little to no interest from the husband in continuing the marriage as it was before his death. Your dream begins with some nonspecific affection, then promptly shifts to him intending to marry another woman. He even intensifies the dream’s “rude awakening” by naming his new betrothed—as if to intentionally hurt you. Why?
Your dream is more complex than most in four ways: 1. Such dreams with declarations that “I’m moving on to another woman” usually come around one year or more into the dreamer’s widowhood, but this one comes after over six years have passed. 2. You mention more affection and excitement than is usual for such dreams. 3. Most widows are upset when told their husbands are “moving on.” But you are vividly furious about all you did for him. 4. He even gives his new fiancée a name to make his breach of marital vows painfully realistic. Yet classical American wedding vows include a concluding phrase you have forgotten: “til death do us part.”
Interpretation: Your waking thoughts furnish the best place to begin. You have written “I was furious. I took care of him for over 2 years during his illness and made sure his life was full of friends, family laughter etc. until the end. He was the love of my life.”
It’s normal for people who have lost someone they dearly loved to be very conflicted about ever feeling anger toward him after he has died. Yet your husband met your excitement with affection—which would naturally rekindle expectation of the marriage you had. This would naturally intensify his cruelest possible response—perhaps perfectly designed to unleash your righteous fury.
It’s pretty unlikely that “the love of my life” progressed consistently until death’s parting with no anger at all. But it’s possible that you suppressed most of your anger during the last two years of caring for and cheering him up, as you carried on instead with passionate intensity as the good wife and compassionate caregiver that you believed was the best you could do for him. And perhaps you’ve been unaware of any anger at him (such as for leaving you) thereafter as well, while longing to see him in imagination and perhaps dreams ever since.
If we assume that our dreams don’t come to torture us, but to enhance our health and wholeness, then your anger might be a very valuable emergence in your dream. This is a classic nightmare since it piles up negative feeling generators to intensify your husband’s message that he’s going to marry another woman (“on the other side”) that occurs often in post-mortem visitation dreams. Like other nightmares it comes to wake you up “with heart pounding” so that you can stop hanging onto a dead man and embrace new life, and even new love. It’s also far more likely that a living widower will try to find a new partner to love (“on this side”) than will a widow. Some nightmares are the result of dreams that have become increasingly insistent because the dreamer has ignored their guidance on previous occasions. Many men find new love after a long and happy marriage, and your husband has now found new love “on the other side.” So turnabout is fair play and you can love again too (“on this side”). That’s the positive message of this nightmare. You’re in two different states of being, two different worlds: You’re alive and he’s dead. He’s dramatizing for you that he loves someone new in his world—the afterlife. So you can love someone new in your world of the living.
In my decades as a therapist I’ve heard many women speak with worshipful admiration about their dead husbands—in part because they have experienced their mates as unique safety providers, especially since almost all women have had a few or more encounters with strange or even familiar men who were threatening, and hence unsafe. You need your righteous fury that he’s giving the love once meant for you to another woman to push him off your pedestal of worship and back to earth as a man among men instead of a demigod. Hanging onto your conviction that “he was the (only) love of my life” could keep you from gaining new experience of life—that could give you more growth and value, and perhaps also benefit other people you will meet and love if you let go of your larger-than-life image of him. So this nightmare makes the irrationality of your semi-conscious assumptions excruciatingly painful and outrageous!
Conclusion: Apparently when you were caring for him so affectionately during his illness, and even after he passed away, you never let yourself feel the full force of your anger that you had to lose the love of your life, and there was no way to stop him from leaving you. Feeling anger at him for abandoning you, even though you know rationally that it wasn’t his choice to leave you, or feeling anger at doctors, God or fate for taking him away is very hard for a grieving person to experience; but it is essential for working through the grieving process. This dream makes you furious because you need to feel fury in order to burn up some of your emotional attachment to past love make room for more passionate living. This dream’s moral suggestion is to stop living in your past and start finding a new future for yourself–even if it means loving other people, who aren’t larger than life.
Post Script: Carl Jung asserted that dreams offer us a chance for serious partnership between our conscious and unconscious minds. But this partnership needs to honor an equal balance between our waking ego, where the will-power to take actions resides, and our unconscious source of wisdom about the deeper reality of our whole being. This woman’s unconscious wisdom seems to be inciting her fury against her dead husband to make her choose the massive uncertainty of new life over six years of widow-habits. But only her conscious (waking) ego has the power to initiate that fundamental change; it’s much easier to continue as the loyal grieving widow she already knows. She doesn’t have to change her ways in life because her unconscious has given her a nightmare. She has freedom of (conscious) choice.
But I have another record of a nightmare series that reflects what might happen when a widow refuses to choose new life: her dead husband of 4.5 years keeps coming back but “he does not want contact with me, he’s leaving me, he has a girlfriend, he’s drunk or falling asleep and won’t listen to what I am trying to tell him, etc.” Thus refusing a dream’s prompting to change might lead to endless variations on the same theme, perhaps until the dreamer does something consciously to change her waking life. I can’t state this as a hard-and-fast rule for widows, but appears to be a significant tendency of this kind of dreams.