“I Had a Nightmare that My Father was Dying.” A Dream Interpretation.

Originally published on The Hairpin.

portland_dreams_therapyDear Satya:

I took a nap and I dreamed about my father passing away. He was laying in a coffin, but in real life he is still alive. This dream was a nightmare for me I was crying and very afraid.

Dear Dreamer: I’m so sorry! Those dreams are awful. You wake up confused about who’s dead and who’s alive, and maybe worried that the dream is a premonition of an actual event. As you’ve adjusted to daily living, you’ve probably come to find that your father is alive and not in literal danger. So what does this dream mean for you?

Without having spoken with you, I would gander a couple of strong possibilities: your father complex is dying due to some new events or awareness in your life, and/or you have an unconscious and confusing death wish for your father. Let me explain.

If you’re anything like anyone alive, your relationship with your father is complicated. In your own particular blend of feelings that all children share, you love your father and are angry with him. You are hurt from past events and also grateful for things. Unconsciously, you balance out all of your conscious beliefs about him with their opposites. For instance, a woman may dream of her father all the time but in therapy will proclaim to have had a very good childhood with him, with nothing more to say. After months pass, however, she may begin to have conscious memories of his angry episodes or feeling his cold tone filter throughout the house. Consciously, she liked her dad. Unconsciously, things were much more complicated.

Carl Jung’s notion of a “complex” is a little like what acupuncturists work on when they’re seeking to clear a stuck point in the body: it’s a bundle of energy in your system that, when triggered by a word or a life event or even a nostalgic smell, can release all sorts of information. Until it’s triggered though, a complex sits there quietly, unconsciously, invisible to everyone except in certain patterns of behavior. Your “father complex” is your bundle of memories and experiences related to your father and other influential men in your life–including cultural images of the father or men in leadership positions. As an adult, some aspect of the way you view all men is filtered through this complex. A male guru, for instance, may appear all-knowing to a woman with a positive father complex. On the other side, for women who grew up with an angry, unpredictable father, even the kindest, simplest man may appear conniving.

So I would ask you, in what ways has your father complex been triggered lately? Have you begun dating a new man? Do you have a new male teacher? Or has your relationship with your father in life changed in any way? Listen to the image: The father is passing away. The father is dead. The father is going to be buried. What does that evoke for you? Perhaps you’re moving through a chapter of growth and you are gaining your own authority and leadership within yourself, or perhaps you’re able to be that much more present with a male partner now because you can see him more clearly for who he is. If you take some time to journal about this dream, letting your mind wander and your body experience the image, some significant insights are likely to arise.

As I said above, the second major possibility to explore is that you have some unconscious death wish for your father. To get into this tricky territory, let me quote Carl Jung on a woman’s dream of her dead mother:

…there does exist in our dreamer the tendency to be rid of her mother; expressed in the language of the unconscious, she wants her mother to die. But the dreamer should certainly not be saddled with this tendency because, strictly speaking, it was not she who fabricated the dream, but the unconscious.

Note that Jung is careful to emphasize what I want to emphasize with you: “The very fact that she can dream of such a thing proves that she does not consciously think of it. She has no notion why her [father] should be got rid of.”

Knowing absolutely nothing of your particular situation, it is hard for me to venture a guess as to why your unconscious may be harboring some infantile death wish for your father. Again, however, I wonder if your current romantic relationship status may have something to do with it. Are you seeking to enter into a relationship of which you feel your father would disapprove? Are you considering marriage and therefore–forgive my awkward heteronormative take here–needing to psychologically supplant the primary man in your life? Consider the deep cultural roots around the replacement of the father with the husband–think of the tradition of fathers “giving away” their daughters in wedding ceremonies.

Whether it’s a secret death wish or simply an increasing awareness around the father complex in your life, your dream suggests a threshold time. Some significant aspect of your life is changing. The image of death says as much. It is not a sleeping image or a wounded image, it is not a near death, but death itself. Old social customs and mythological tradition holds that when an old king dies, a new king is born and begins his reign. Consider this. The ground is being prepared for a new paradigm; an old ruling paradigm is falling away and a new one is coming.

Have you had a dream like this? Leave a comment and share!

Satya is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon specializing in dream work, the quarter-life crisis, and work with individuals in their 20s and 30s. www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com

Originally published on The Hairpin.

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12 comments

  1. mollybyock

    Yes, I dreamed my Mother was dying and I was responsible. A wise dream therapist counseled me and I learned that in my position as a supervisor of young people at work, I was treating them like children and it wasn’t working. So my desire to kill the “controlling mother” in me was a part of my growth process. It had little to do with my own Mother, except for the archetypal symbol she represented in the dream. I then proceeded to transform my relationship with my underlings, treating them with the respect they deserved as adults. I am so grateful to my therapist for her wisdom!

  2. Anonymous

    The dream started when my whole family was in a party and i don’t know why everything was in black and white my brother and I who were in our 20s were like talking on a hard sand dune and sudden outta nowhere he fell off and died maybe some1 pushed and most ppl thought i did it but i was proved innocent and everything went on suddenly i saw my whole family was sitting side by side on a broad railing and we saw a ghost who entered a car and tried to hit us but my father and his brother saved us and we made fun of the car laughing because the car got stuck and then the ghost entered my dad’s body and i don’t remember how but my dad got killed in that because of that ghost another thing in my dream when my dad died every memory of me and my dad doing stuff together flashed like a movie after that i saw nobody cared about although in real we all are close and care for each other i saw that my dad’s death was a big deal for me but others seemed to not care at all and i tried talking to my mom in my dream whether it was a dream or what is happening and then everything came in my mind like I’m gonna go poor because my dad is the only one who earns and i have to take responsibility of my mother and sister and grandma and i didn’t know anything and realized i should have studied better in my high school which has exams in like 2months later in real life so then i woke up terrified, thinking it was all real and crying thinking about my dad and thinking he’s dead and how am i gonna handle everything on my own tears were not stopping rolling from my eyes and then i called my dad thinking maybe he’s still alive and he picked the phone up and we talked about it and told me it was just a dream i love you and everything will be fine and ur a big boy now don’t cry and then i calmed down…it was a horrible experience for me.

  3. Beth

    I had a dream that I was in my child hood home and in my old room my dad was sitting in his recliner and he was slowly dying. I was so sad crying and crying because I didn’t know what was causing this .. He does had diabetes? I’m not sure what the reason was I was just so heart broken ,me and my dad always had an awesome relationship.. can you please help me understand the meaning of this dream …

  4. Anonymous

    This morning I woke up very disturbed by a short dream of my father dying.

    My parents went somewhere out, to a theater or something, and I stayed home with my sister. I got into the living room where my sister was watching TV, when suddenly her cell started to ring. She ran into the other room and I knew something bad happened so I ran after her. She just started crying and told me some weird sentence like “mom went with the container and dad is dead”

    Suddenly my throat got full of some phlegm and I couldn’t talk. I ran to the bathroom and started to spit some colorful phlegm. This was the end of the dream when I woke up.

    The whole morning I am very disturbed and worried about my father, searching for the right meaning of my dream so I can do everything I can to prevent this from coming true.

  5. hulahoopsj

    Dear Satya,

    I am asking/posting this because I am really concerned about my dream. I happen to search an interpretation about it and happen to come by your site. My dream goes like this.

    I got a call from my brother (eldest among 3 of us), he was crying and being serious and I already had a notion that something bad has happened. Indeed, he relayed to me the news of my father’s death. The reason was that, apparently my father had an ordinary fever at that time and when he drank a medicine (it said it was an antibiotic) it triggered his health because it was not the right medicine and immediately he died in his deathbed. After the news, I couldn’t believed it and asked myself if it was really true and so I went home to confirm it. We lived like we were in an old apartment building like those we have here, but i can see that it was just one of my classroom back in elementary school redecorated into a home with rooms. So when I went inside the room, my father was still there lying at the upper part of a double deck bed. I touched his hand and cried, he looked really sick, but then he was still alive. He even got up and talked and my mother was there too. I was so confused but then I savored the moment because I was happy that he was not really dead. But then after some time, I realized other people could not see him, and so the reality was that he was realy dead and he was just saying goodbye to me then. I was really crying the whole time and it felt so strong and real. After that there were other happenings with other people and then I woke up and realized that it was just a dream.

    Right now, my father is away from me. He was reassigned to work at his hometown (city) a year ago. But we haven’t lived together since I went to college (now I graduated a year already). My realtionship with him is fine, we are not that close (though I think we used to when I was younger). I normaly hated him before during my rebel days, but I have that full respect and love for him at all times that’s why it’s hard for me to have jokes with him. Now, I don’t think my realtionship with him is bad, I even considered before what would I feel if my dies, and I didn’t like the idea that I even started crying. I always pray for him because I know he works in one of the dangerous part of our country and he always travels. I hope you could enligten me with your interpretation of my dream. There’s a superstitious belief here that if we tell others about our dream,it will not come true but if we don’t it will come true. So I’m contemplating whether I tell my dream to other especially to my family, because I think it’s so awkward and wrong. Thank you.

  6. Kaydence

    I had a dream that my dad was being hurt by 4 people and they wanted to kill him because he said hey let’s go kill those 4 people and he got shot in the heart and I wanted to go to the other room so I did and it was in a garage so I walked into the other room and I saw my grandma and grandpa and we called the police and the ambulance got there and gave him a replacement heart and he was fine,but I woke up and I started crying it was scary because I am only 11years old

    • satyabyock

      I’m so sorry, Kaydence. What a terrible dream to have! I’m so glad the dream ended up feeling better in the end. It’s a great sign that you were able to see him get better again, and that your grandparents were there to help. It’s always scary when those kinds of things happen, no matter how old you are. And it’s always okay to cry too! Sending you a hug.

  7. Ella

    I saw a dream that my dad was eating candy and suddenly it stucked in his froat me and my granny didn’t see it until he fell and strted crying i ran near him and then i woke up i couldn’t sleep for 2 hours i was crying,,,,,,1 day past and today we are leaving holiday and we are not on holiday withmy father only my mom and my brother i said to my mom and she said that the dream says he will live a lot,,,,over 1 month pur relations are comlicated my mom and dad are divorced so i don’t see him that much how i see my mom.I hope my mom said me right😰😰

  8. R.Shaw

    I had a dream my family was carrying my father in his casket. I slapped my mom in this dream telling her screaming and crying “i told you i told you”. I remember a tall light coming off our garage. That light wasnt there in real life! I told my parents they really didnt think much of it. My dad got cancer right after my dream a and passed away 3 months later. I returned home and sure enough there was a light on the garage. My dreams come true to this day. I wake up hot mad sad sweating and have a hard time going back to sleep. I hate sleeping i fight it. Affraid to tell people affraid of what they might think.

    • satyabyock

      Consider looking for a Jungian therapist to work with on your dreams, or any healer who your trust deeply. You don’t have to live with these feelings.

  9. Aulia

    Hello, I would like to ask about my dream too. So I dreamt that there’s this sadistic person (who’s like, the boss) who gathered around 10-15 people, including me, in a house. He and his friends were playing this “let’s see whose family dies today” kinda game. So he also brought our family members (like our mom, dad, or children) but he put them in the different part of the house so we can’t see them. He would give us some kind of task to complete and if we fail to complete it, they would kill one of our family member. I forgot what I did. I think I took a drink (a cup of bubble milk tea, actually) from a stranger or whatever, but I did something wrong and he killed my dad. The sadness was so overwhelming that I woke up crying, and couldn’t stop for the next 15-20 minutes. Many of my dreams comes true so this really scares me. Can you tell me what it means? Thank you so much.

  10. Anonymous

    I just had a dream last night about my father passing away and it was terrible because I love my Dad, but in the dream he literally went poof and disintegrated into dust.
    Lately I have just had several realizations about my Father and noticing he never delt with his own hang ups and baggage and in a way put a lot of unintentional negativity on me and my sisters, I always felt so sad all the time growing up and I realized that the reason for the saddness was anyone’s fault but my fathers own baggage that he must deal with and I am finally getting some peace with that.
    My dream was indeed devastating and terrible I think the part of my father which was negative and all his hang ups and baggage that belonged to my father is what was designating

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