Our egos often have a difficult time accepting our mortality. Jung suggested that, “Shrinking away from death is something unhealthy and abnormal which robs the second half of life of its purpose.”
However, our psyches or souls may see death as merely a necessary transition into another phase of existence. Dreams as well as spontaneous drawings of terminally ill patients show archetypal images with a clearly healing function.
Susan Bach’s studies revealed drawings which contained strong indications that people facing terminal illness knew “deep within themselves not only whether they would recover, but also when their life will end.” The unconscious, whether we term it soul, psyche or higher power, has awareness about its psychic and bodily conditions, and prognosis.
One of the functions of dreams is the preparation for some approaching phase or transformation in life. Dreams can help the dying grapple with their fears, move them through the dying process and find larger meaning in their lives.
For example, a retired merchant-marine captain, dying of cancer, and consumed by fear, dreamt that he saw himself sailing in uncharted waters. He felt the thrill of adventure as he pushed through a vast, dark, empty sea, knowing he was on course. The next morning he stated, “Strangely enough, I’m not afraid to die anymore.”
Themes in pre-death dreams included going on journeys, reuniting with deceased loved ones, seeing stopped clocks, and frustration in not being able to control situations. Pre-death dreams are more vivid, more memorable and at times luminous. As psychologist Alan Siegel observed, “The need to dream is intensified” when facing end-of-life.
Themes in dreams of dying people show death as healing and transformative. For example, dreams present images of dead people being baptized, resurrected and regenerated through fire. In over 2,500 dreams studied of dying patients, not one pointed to a final end, rather; they indicated a significant change or transformation.
A dying woman dreamt of a candle on her hospital windowsill being snuffed out, engulfing her in darkness (which is a part of death that scares her). Soon after, the candle spontaneously relit suggesting to her a new beginning after the darkness. She was more comfortable facing the inevitable darkness.
Dying brings new focus, centering, transformation, rebirth and new creative energy. Perhaps we will be able to celebrate death’s ultimate threshold crossing as Jung did. Wishing to celebrate his passing as a special occasion, his last words to his housekeeper were, “Let’s have a really good wine tonight.”