This morning, I woke up from a scary dream. In the dream, I'd been diagnosed with cancer, and my prognosis was not looking good. I was going to die. And I was not — I repeat NOT — ready. It was end times for me, but luckily, my 7:30 a.m. alarm had other plans. I woke up, rolled over, and told my boyfriend with all the urgency of a 7-year-old losing her first tooth: I had a bad dream! I almost died! When he didn't gasp in horror, I prodded on: What do you think it means?
It probably means you're going to die one day, he replied sweetly before readjusting his eye mask and turning over. Well, clearly, he's in on this plot against my immortality, but it left me wondering: What do dreams about death mean? Why don't we tend to actually die in our dreams? And why on earth did I have a dream about death after a particularly nice, life-filled day? Are dreams about death always nightmares, or could they actually be signs you're becoming less afraid of your own mortality?
Clearly, since my boyfriend is probably still sleeping, it is time to scour the Internet for the answers from my favorite pseudo-science: Dream interpretation. (Hey, if it was good enough for Freud, then it's good enough for Google.) Here are some theories as to what dreaming about death actually means.
First Off, Can You Actually Die in Your Dreams?
I've had plenty of dreams about my impending death, but I tend to lack when it comes to the follow-through. I've heard the rumor that you can't actually die in your dreams, because that would mean a total loss of the ego. (So, presumably, Buddhist monks could die in their dreams?) But is it true you can't die in your dreams, or is it just a myth?
According to the International Association For The Study of Dreams, the idea that you would have to die in real life in order to die in your dream is a total myth. "Many people have dreamed that they died or hit bottom in a fall and they have lived to tell the tale! You can explore the meaning of these kinds of images just as you would explore any others that might occur in your dreams."
So What Do Dreams About Your Own Death Mean?
There are lots of different interpretations of death dreams, but basically, they all boil down to the fact that death symbolizes an ending or transition in your life.
Psychotherapist Jeffery Sumber told the Huffington Post that dreams about death often indicate "the symbolic ending of something, whether that's a phase, a job or a relationship." But before you get all superstitious, Sumber adds, "It does not, however, suggest that [a person] will actually die imminently."
The leading dream interpretation site, DreamMoods, gets even more specific:
[To] die in your dream symbolizes inner changes, transformation, self-discovery and positive development that is happening within you or your life. You are undergoing a transitional phase and are becoming more enlightened or spiritual. Although such a dream may bring about feelings of fear and anxiety, it is no cause for alarm as it is often considered a positive symbol. Dreams of experiencing your own death usually means that big changes are ahead for you. You are moving on to new beginnings and leaving the past behind. These changes does not necessarily imply a negative turn of events.
OK, But Couldn't You Just Be Having a Nightmare Because You're Afraid of Death?
"We dream in order to learn about ourselves and develop undeveloped elements of our personality. The only way to avoid anything from the unconscious is to do our inner work and make peace with it," Sumber says. "I can potentially learn that part of me is not at peace with the notion of my own death or the ending of something big in my life. ... I have the opportunity to look within, take stock of myself and make adjustments as needed."
Right, make peace with death. Make peace with death. Does anyone have a Post-It?
But What Does It Mean When You Dream That You're Going To Die Soon?
What about my dream that I had a terminal cancer? Is it a bad omen? DreamMoods thinks it could actually be a good thing.
If you dream that someone is telling you that you are going die, then it implies that you are being pressured to make an important change or choice. You are about to embark on some new life adventure.
That might explain why I had the dream now — I was just told by my landlord that I have to move out of my amazing steal of an apartment so that he can remodel. (Which, to be fair, is pretty much the equivalent of a death sentence in New York City.)
Why Do You Tend To Wake Up Right Before You 'Die' in a Dream?
Apparently, it could be that some of us simply lack the imagination and experience with death to begin with. "We don't really understand what happens to us after our bodies die, [so] dreams about death typically end abruptly before or after the point of impact — when the shark bites us in half or the gun is raised to our head," Sumber says. "The mind's computer just doesn't have enough data to complete the simulation."
So What Does It Mean When You Dream About Other People Dying?
DreamMoods says that dreaming about the death of a loved one is actually far more egotistical than you'd think.
To dream about the death of a loved one suggests that you are lacking a certain aspect or quality that the loved one embodies. Ask yourself what makes this person special or what you like about them. It is that very quality that you are lacking in your own relationship or circumstances. Alternatively, the dream indicates that whatever that person represents has no part in your own life anymore. In particular, to dream about the death of your living parents indicates that you are undergoing a significant change in your waking life. Your relationship with your parents has evolved into a new realm. If you dream about the death of a child, then it implies that you need to let go of your immaturity and start being more serious.
What About Dreaming You're At Your Own Funeral?
If you're having a Tom Sawyer moment, are you just an egotistical bastard having a twisted fantasy, or is something else at play? DreamMoods has you covered.
To dream of your own funeral symbolizes an ending to a situation or aspect of yourself. You may be repressing some of your feelings or parts of yourself. Thus, the dream may be a signal for you to recognize and acknowledge those feelings. Instead of confronting a situation, you are dealing with it by burying it and trying to forget about it. If you are nearing death, a funeral dream may relate to your feelings/anxieties about your own death.
And What if You're Dreaming About Someone Else's Funeral?
Again, DreamMoods is ON IT.
To dream that you are at somebody else's funeral signifies that you are burying an old relationship and closing the lid on the past. You may be letting go some of the feelings (resentment, anger, hostility toward someone) that you have been clinging onto.
To dream that you are attending a funeral for a still-living parent suggests that you need to separate yourself from your parent's restrictions and confines. The symbolic death may give you the courage you need to take the next step toward your independence and autonomy.
But Couldn't This Maybe, Just Maybe, Be a Bad Omen? Should I Go To The Doctor?
Thinking that we can predict our own deaths is apparently "a very classic pop culture myth," Sumber says, adding that we might have that power "in The Matrix , but not true in our current existence."
Psych central backs that up. "The most common myth about dreaming is that some of us don’t dream. The next most common myth is that if I die in my sleep that I’ll never wake up. This death dream is more about our overall anxiety and confusion about death and less to do with any reality about dreaming." Man, psychology is really cramping my inner-salt-thrower's style. But good to know this isn't a sign I'm leaving town anytime soon. (Just my apartment.)
So ... sweet dreams everyone! And remember: Apparently, a dream about death is a good thing, so no need to be afraid.
Images: AMC, Tumblr