(Image by Joy Filamena)
“Everything is upside down and I’m afraid of losing my balance…of falling.”
“I tell people I’m not afraid of dying but I am…”
“Here comes the grief and tears…”
“I feel lost but I know I’m not lost…”
“I could wake myself up when I was scared…but I can’t anymore…”
“My spirit is alive but my spirit can’t move my body…”
“I’m finding I’m feeling a bit less fear…”
“I have one more river to cross…the river Jordan”
“I feel the love…”
These are some of the words and experiences that unfolded over a two week period when I had the honor of being present with and exploring the many dreams and visions of a hospice patient, Gavin (name changed), until his death.
Even if we haven’t previously paid much attention to dreams, our impending death can create a new and poignant urgency with regards to dreams. End of life dreams can offer a healing presence, an ability to be with our fear and not be overwhelmed by it, a release from what has weighed on us, offering support and even a helping hand across the mysterious threshold.
For those of us offering presence and support, we want to be sure not to diminish the dream or visions by saying it’s not real, that it’s only a dream. It’s like saying our feelings aren’t real and that just isn’t true. We don’t have to be dreamwork practitioners to be of help. We can let the person share their dream, their experience of it, their feelings during it and then acknowledge it…sit with them as they feel their way through. We don’t have to fix it, change it or even understand it. The dream knows what the healing medicine is. The gift we have is to offer our presence and respect in this moment.
Gavin’s ability to speak was quickly diminishing. On my first few visits he was able to tell me his dreams and we stepped into them together. They all contained fear and loss of control and on our first visit, together we took a breath into the fear…a willingness to stay in this most frightening place of losing balance. Yet when we choose to do this most difficult thing…to stay for a moment in our fear…we often see it transform. We get to see what is underneath the fear. And this fear was in the first dream he shared. We went back into the dream and he felt into the fear of loss of control…of falling. After a few moments tear rose and he said, “Here comes the grief and tears.” And together we sat in the grief…the deef grief…of his approaching death…of loss of his family and the life he has known.
A couple weeks later on what was to be my last visit Gavin’s wife texted me. He was losing his ability to speak but he communicated to her that he’d had a dream and said, “I have one more river to cross…the river Jordan.” When I arrived an hour later his voice was imperceptible, he had that distant gaze that many people have as death approaches. There were also moments of clarity where he would look directly at me or something in his far vision. Gavin is a man of words, of thoughts and this inability to express himself…to make himself understood…was frustrating for him. I told him that it was okay…no need to speak…that he was more in the realm of wordless.
We sat for a few moments in silence and then I asked him to feel into the image of his dream, that I would try to bring it to life and to feel into this place…the crossing of one more river. Slowly, I took him to the crossing of the river…being in the boat…how the Boatman knows the way…he can sit there and let himself taken across…lay down that it’s his job, his responsibility…the Boatman knows the crossing.
I asked him to look back at the shore he was leaving behind…the life…his successes…his failures…his regrets…those he leaves behind…and to hear each dip of the oar into the water…the sensual way the water surrounds the oar…and with each dip a different feeling…sadness…loss…regret…fear…love…joy…all the feelings of a lifetime. We did this slowly and deeply…trusting that he can let the Boatman take him to the far shore.
Then I said…I’m not sure when it will be but that he will soon see the far shore coming into view…and to imagine there will be an outcry…”Here he comes…here comes Gavin”…the joy on the far shore of those he will join…some familiar…some new…all waiting for him in love.
Then he was mouthing…not sure what…for water?…cream for his back? I felt so helpless that I couldn’t understand him that tears rose. Finally…simply…I understood…he was saying, “I feel the love…” So we stayed in the boat with the Boatman who knows the way…in the boat…in the love. Gavin reached the far shore a few hours later.
Mary Jo Heyen is a Natural Dreamwork Practitioner working with dream clients throughout the country and abroad in person, phone or Skype. Her dreamwork practice also includes being a hospice volunteer working with the dreams and visions at end of life. Learn more about her work with dreams at www.maryjoheyen.com or www.thenaturaldream.com