Dreams in which you see a dead relative alive are called ‘back to life’ or ‘visitation’ dreams. These dreams tend to be particularly vivid, emotional, and memorable.
Our close genetic relationships are essential for our survival. So, the mind ensures that our dreams about our relatives are memorable.
Here’s the fundamental key to interpreting any dream:
Look what emotions the dream evokes in you.
Almost all dreams are ways in which the subconscious mind processes and expresses unexpressed emotions.
An emotion or feeling that gets triggered in waking life may not be fully expressed or acted upon for various reasons. But that emotion seeks expression and leaks out in dreams.
Say you see someone eating a cupcake. Now you want to eat that cupcake too. But you’re trying to eat healthy, so you don’t.
You’ll get the temptation to eat that cupcake again and again. The desire to eat the cupcake has been activated. But you’ve been successfully resisting the temptation. If you cave in and eat it, the desire (feeling) will be resolved since the purpose for which it was activated has been fulfilled.
But if you keep resisting the temptation, the desire has to express itself somehow. So you might eat the cupcake in your dream.
Back to visitation dreams
If you dream about a dead relative talking to you, you should first consider what emotions they evoke in you. To figure that out, it helps to analyze your dream interactions and conversations with them.
Even if they didn’t say anything in the dream, how did their presence make you feel?
Common emotions evoked by visitation dreams include:
Possible interpretations of the dream
1. Coping with grief
Death, especially the death of a loved one, is not an easy event to process for the mind. Loss of a loved one, whether by death or estrangement, is a big deal for the mind because it can affect the individual’s survival.
People go through the different stages of grief at their own pace. Generally, the closer your relationship to the loved one who died, the longer it may take you to ‘get over’ their loss.
Your dream will likely align with the grief stage you’re in.
Often, people get stuck in the denial stage of grief for a long time when a loved one dies. They’re like:
“I can’t believe he died.”
“It all feels so unreal. Yesterday, I was hanging out with him. Today, he’s no more.”
There’s a conflict in your mind when you’re in the denial stage. On one hand, you know about the reality of their death. On the other hand, you don’t want to believe it.
This tension is expressed and resolved in the dream when your dead relative says something like:
“Don’t worry. I’m happy here.”
“I’m doing fine.”
This reassurance eases your anxiety about their death:
“Where are they now?”
“I hope they’re in a better place.”
It also helps you move towards acceptance:
“They went away but are in a better place. I can accept that.”
2. Desire for connection
If you had a good relationship with your dead relative, talking to them in a dream could be the mind’s way to relive the good times you had with them.
You may be missing them, or something recently triggered their memory, like watching an old photo or hearing their name in a conversation.
You desire to connect with them but can’t in waking life. So you do it in your dream. Such dreams often replay the old conversations you had with them. If your dream conversations are novel, they may be worth analyzing to figure out how they relate to your waking life.
3. Desire for guidance
If you often sought guidance from a relative when they were alive, they become a go-to person for your mind for advice.
When they’re no more, and you need guidance, your subconscious mind uses them to guide you in the dream because it knows you’re used to heeding this person’s advice. Effective communication from the subconscious.
4. Unresolved issues
If you had unresolved issues with your dead relative, you might get recurring dreams where you’re sorting out those issues with them.
For instance, if you ignored a relative during their last days, they might say mean things to you in the dream. You might justify yourself by saying you were busy or something.
The point is: Your unresolved issues with a relative may not die with their death. In such cases, you’ll have to look for alternative ways to resolve these issues, like apologizing to their family to gain closure.
This is why when people are on their deathbeds, others who’ve wronged them visit them and confess. They don’t want to be psychologically saddled with issues they can’t resolve. To resolve issues with someone, the minimum requirement is they be alive.
A personal example
I was close to my paternal grandfather. He did things for me, and I did things for him. He appreciated and advised me. I spent a lot of time with him.
His death shocked the whole family, even though he had been sick for a while. It was the first time I stared into death’s eyes up close and personal.
When I saw his dead body, I was in shock and disbelief. The person recently walking and talking now lay still, shrouded in white cloth. After a brief period of disbelief, I burst into tears and sobbed. I hadn’t cried like that in a long time.
Months later, he started appearing in my dreams. At first, I just saw him in his room with my grandmother, hanging out, talking, and reading a newspaper like he used to. But the dreams kept getting weirder and weirder.
Once, upon seeing him chilling in his room, I asked:
“Didn’t you die, grandpa?”
“Oh no, not at all. I am alive. That was all fake. They made a mistake.”
He implied they buried the wrong person. The straight-out-of-a-horror-movie thought that he’d climbed out of his grave traumatized me. The small part of my conscious mind still active in the dream knew it was a lie. It knew he was dead, and this was all fake.
Eventually, I woke up, and reality emerged from behind the curtain of my dream.
When I had these dreams, it was evident that I was still coping with the grief of losing him. Mainly, I was coping with the denial and disbelief part of it. That brief period of disbelief that got interrupted (unexpressed) by crying is what manifested in my dream as my grandpa saying:
“I am alive.”
That’s what I wanted to believe then, and that desire was expressed in the dream.