Interview – Joshua Black on loss, grief and dreaming

Joshua Black is a youthful, academic researcher and oddly enough (and at the very same time!) a wise, elder Sage. I called him a Grief-Dream Whisperer in my teaser about this interview. Josh liked that! He *is* that.

Joshua shares a similar (grief) history with my children, who suddenly lost their father to a unexpected heart attack. He (like my adult children) was not able to say goodbye (You mattered. You will be missed. I love you.).

Months later, Josh’s father came to him in a dream. And the rest, as they say, is history.

This interview barely scratches the surface of Josh’s work. I hope you will connect with him if you have any questions… because he is as open and generous as he is wise.

So, Josh… I have a few questions…

What exactly IS a grief dream?

I use the term to refer to any dream that occurs after the death of a loved one (human or animal) that reflects the loss. One type of grief dream is when the deceased loved one is present in the imagery. Most people want to talk about this type of dream and I will focus the following answers on that.

Why are grief dreams important?

There is a lot I can say on this, but I will keep it short. They are important because my research is finding them to be a very common experience in the grief journey (to have at least one). Yet, there is very little academic research on the topic, which causes issues for the bereaved who have questions. Due to the lack of research, people who work with the bereaved are not trained in discussing the topic. Understanding these positive and negative dreams can help in the recovery process.

Where in the grief recovery process does this kind of dreaming occur?

These dreams occur throughout the grief recovery process. As your grief changes these dreams seem to change. In the beginning these dreams can reflect more of your grief over the loss, and as time moves forward they can change to reflect your current life. For example, if you are having issues in a relationship you may have a dream of the deceased providing you advice or comfort.

Please share the positive impact and healing you have seen from those who have shared their dreams with you.

The positive impact these dreams can have is incredible. I always like to say, one positive dream of the deceased can be like 10 years of psychotherapy. It can completely change people like nothing I have seen before. You don’t need to be spiritual for the positive dream to help in your recovery. The common factor I see in these dreams is this feeling of Love. If someone is spiritual the dream may help them deepen their spiritual beliefs and realize that deceased is safe. Negative dreams can help the recovery process too, as we can learn from negative dreams about issues and concerns that perhaps we have not yet given enough attention to in our waking life. Many negative dreams in my experience can reflect issues with unresolved anger, guilt, etc. or are reliving of the actual traumatic event.

In your research and experience, has there been any negative result to this type of exploration?

Before I started researching this topic, many people voiced their concern or unimportance of the topic. I remember a couple pastors saying I was doing the work of the devil and I needed to stop. I never knew the biases people had on this topic (in religions and in bereavement organizations) until I started. I have come to learn that people just didn’t have research to go off of, so they view these dreams through their own understanding. I should mention that I had other pastors say I was doing the work of God (so it wasn’t a Christian thing…it’s a people thing). Same thing with bereavement organizations as some valued the work, whereas others found it unimportant. Now that I have done so many academic studies in my PhD, people are accepting this topic more and more. The issue now is raising awareness on the topic in order to help answer questions the bereaved have. People have been getting really bad advice over the years on this topic and I’m just trying to correct it.

Can a grief dream be about a pet or something intangible, like a lost job?

Yes, I have done research on pet loss and prenatal loss. Dreaming of the deceased is very common in those types of losses too. Technically, a grief dream can be about a lost job, but that is not what I study. The way I use the term “grief” is more for when some has died.

And finally, do you have anything else you’d like to add?

It is important to learn to sit with people when they share their dreams. Don’t try to interpret it, but allow them to tell you how it makes them feel. Despite most people (even children) having these dreams, many do not share the experiences unless asked.

Bio and Contact info:

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Joshua Black’s research interests are in the area of grief dreams, with a special focus on dreams of the deceased. He is currently in his PhD at Brock University and will be graduating this Fall. Joshua has published scientific literature in the area and is considered one of the leading academic researchers in this field. To raise awareness on this topic Joshua wrote a children’s book  called “Dreaming of Owl” which can be found on Amazon. Additionally, he started a website (www.griefdreams.ca), Instagram and Twitter account (@griefdreams), Grief Dreams Facebook group, and Grief Dreams Podcast (with co-host Shawn Ram).