What does "Forever" Really Mean?

Have you ever dreamed of a loved one who has died? Have you felt that, just maybe, he or she is still around in your waking life? Perhaps you’ve never mentioned it to anyone, because you don’t want to be told you’re not moving on from your loss the way you should.

Well, you might be interested to know that scientists and academics are proving that experiences like yours deserve attention and respect.

A version of this post was first published in February of 2017, in which we reported that researchers are finally beginning to catch up with what many of us already know: The love we share with those close to us doesn’t die when they do; it carries on, dare we say… forever.

When psychology student Joshua Black’s father died suddenly a number of years ago, Joshua began having dreams about him that later inspired his research into what he calls “Grief Dreams”. You can see our blog about Joshua’s personal story here. Later a PhD candidate at Brock University in St. Catharine’s, Ontario, Black established a Facebook page (see it here) that encourages others to share their Grief Dreams, and to use them as a way to help them through their loss.

Working toward his PhD, Black began studying the Grief Dreams of others and discovered that 75% of the 250 people who participated had dreams of departed loved ones. Further, 77% of them felt those dreams helped with their grief. But, said Black, he found that many people don’t talk about their Grief Dreams, even with friends or relatives.

“They don’t want people to tell them they aren’t grieving properly, that they aren’t over the loss,” he told the Hamilton Mountain News. “They don’t want them changing the meaning of the dream.”

Black’s Grief Dreams Facebook group is one way he provides a safe space for the bereaved to share their dreams and to feel assured that their experiences are valid. The group recognizes dreams of departed animals as well as humans.

Since our original post, Joshua Black has completed his PhD. with Grief Dreams as its main focus. He continues to publish research and spread awareness about Grief Dreams through workshops and presentations, a regular podcast, a web site, and his Facebook group. Black is now recognized as a leading researcher in this new field of study.

But he is not the only academic interested in dreams of the dead. At Hospice Buffalo in Cheektowaga, New York, the Palliative Care Institute has made a detailed study of the way dreams and visions of departed loved ones affect people who are dying. Led by Dr. Christopher Kerr, these researchers have identified several types of what they call ELDV’s (End-of-Life Dreams and Visions) and concluded these experiences comfort dying patients and help reduce their fear of death. You can click here to see Dr. Kerr’s TEDx Talk about his research and what inspired him to get started.

From interviews with 59 terminally-ill patients, researchers found that 88% had at least one dream or vision (as distinct from hallucinations, which would be characterized by confusion, fear and high anxiety). Ninety-nine per cent of the patients believed these experiences were real. As death approached, patients said comforting dreams of deceased loved ones—including pets—became more common.

But many of these people, too, were reluctant to share their experiences for fear of being thought mentally incompetent.

Nevertheless, say the researchers, these ELDV’s need to be accepted as a valid part of the dying process for terminally ill patients. An article on the Hospice Buffalo website quotes Pei C. Grant, PhD, Director of Research for the Palliative Care Institute:

“The study clearly indicates these dreams and visions are a profound source of potential meaning and comfort for the dying…” he says. “Participants in the study overwhelmingly indicated their dreams and visions lessened the fear of dying, gave them comfort and made the transition from life to death easier.”

Since our original post, Dr. Kerr and a group of colleagues have published results of another study that indicates ELDV’s help, not only dying patients, but their family care givers (FCG’s) as well. In an article published in The Journal of Palliative Medicine, the researchers concluded: “ELDVs’ impact extends beyond those experiencing them to bereaved loved ones. Bereaved FCG’s report that comforting ELDV’s experienced by their dying loved ones influenced their grief process…” (See an abstract of the article here.)

At The Meaning of Forever Project, we are pleased that the work of scientists and academics is moving toward something our contributors already know: That the bond of love between souls does not die with the physical body; that life continues after the human shell is finished—and that this continuation of life and love is what gives true meaning to the word “forever”.

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If you would like to share an experience you’ve had with a departed loved one—whether in a dream or in some other way—we would love to hear from you. Just email us at themeaningofforever@gmail.com 

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