Grief-work - or - Digging for Answers

Dreamer: Joseph, North American Male

I am a 45 year old male, and father of four children. I normally do not dream, or do not remember dreaming. The other night I had a puzzling dream, which has stuck with me. My pet dog was ill, and I took him to the vet, where he was put to sleep. My oldest son and I prepared to dig a grave for the dog, and we selected a very barren patch of ground, close to a set of railway tracks. Everything was very dark, and I tried to visualize how the plot would look, with a few flowers on it. We started to dig the grave, but by the time we had finished, the excavation was the size of a rather large room. I was now alone, in the pit, and the dog was somehow alive again, standing beside me, wagging his tail. I recall being surprised, and started to fill the hole in again, by dragging, the mounds of earth back in with the flat of the shovel. I woke up, feeling very drowsy. This dream has stuck with me for a few days now.

I believe that I associate the dream with concerns about death and mortality. The son that I mention in the dream has been diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder (Schilder's Disease), and he has been unable to work for the past two years. He has threatened to commit suicide. His mother and I are worried sick, and feel helpless.

I recently visited a cemetery with my aging mother, and visited the graves of my relatives and many people I grew up with. My mother will be buried there as well. I suppose I associate my dream with death...or a pre-occupation with it of late.

Mr. Hagen's Reply: Grief-work or Digging for Answers

The dog can be viewed as a symbol of your faith.

This is a terrible and nightmarish (i.e. helpless) thing that is happening to your son and your family. However, never lose your faith, even though you may lose your son. When we lose our faith we also lose hope. Perhaps that is what your son needs help with now. Hope works against the machinations of fear.

It is difficult to dig your own grave (i.e.; your son is helping you to dig the grave for the dog-- the grave it seems may be your son’s). The Egyptians and the Tibetans have written books (Egyptian and Tibetan "Book of the Dead") which were written in order to help people deal with the process of death in relation to their faith. More conventional wisdom on death has been offered by Elisabeth Kubler Ross i.e. "On Death and Dying”.

Narrative forms that deal with death include eulogy, elegy and epitaph, which we have developed to deal with the death of loved ones. These poems, inscriptions and prayers all help us to do the necessary grief work (i.e. mourning) that occurs with all loss. A eulogy is a composition praising the character or life of a person. An elegy is a lyrical poem which meditates on one's mortality and expresses grief. Elegies lament over one's loss yet end with the search for consolation. An epitaph is an inscription which commemorates life and pays tribute to the dead.

A film that deals with this topic is Lorenzos's Oil (see film trailer). From a popular music perspective Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven (listen to music video) appears to fit the sentiment of you grief. When the grief-work is incomplete, closure is not possible.

Other literature of interest includes:

  • Norman Cousins "Head First: the Biology of Hope"
  • Arnold A. Hutschnecker "Hope: The Dynamics of Self-Fulfillment"
  • Ernst Bloch "The Principle of Hope"

Hope these thoughts are of help and provide some insight,
Mark H.

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