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Why Do We Cry in Dreams?

I was up late last night reading. This morning I woke up early briefly and then went back into a heavy sleep for a couple of hours. Just before I woke up, I was having a very intense dream in which I was grieving the loss of Hannah. The dream included a search for sheet music to a song—a slow melancholy ballad. In my search I came across “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” My dearly departed daughter, Hannah, loved that song. She performed it at her favorite festival one year. We played it as a group of musician friends in the garage on many occasions. In my dream I was in the garage looking for another song (not sure what song) and began to cry uncontrollably as I sifted through stacks of songbooks and papers. My maternal grandmother came over to comfort me. It is interesting that she was present in my dream because my mother passed away four years ago and my grandmother is still alive, although she lives 700 miles away.

The crying in this dream was no ordinary crying—it was deep and almost silent. It was characterized by one long exhale after another with very little room for inhaling. It is not the first time I have had this sort of grieving dream since Hannah left us. Each time the setting is different, but the feeling is the same. It is an agonizing, uncontrollable, physically exhausting cry that goes on until I wake up. This morning I woke up still feeling sad with no actual tears. A month or two ago I woke up in the middle of the night and continued to cry intensely for some time after I woke up. My wife woke up and comforted me that time.

This morning I decided to write about it. I have wondered why I have these dreams. I have hard cries from time to time over Hannah. Sometimes they come as a surprise; other times they build throughout the day before the release comes. At this point, a year and half after her departure, I do not have those cries any more or any less than I did a year ago, but less than I did after it first happened. If I recall correctly, these grieving dreams began sometime after I began to cry less in my waking state. Perhaps I need those crying episodes much more than I realize. Do other people have similar dreams? I decided to research the phenomenon.

I found this statement on

“If the dreamer is crying uncontrollably and nobody comes to help, this can signify a feeling of helplessness and communication difficulties in waking life. If a dreamer wakes up crying, this often signifies that there are serious emotions that are rising to the surface and which can no longer be repressed.”

I cannot remember if others came to help before in these last two dreams, but I do not think they typically do. I think that it was significant that my grandmother was there this time. Also, I did not think that I was purposefully repressing any emotions in my life, but I have been very busy lately and probably have not taken the proper time to grieve. Perhaps this is a sign that I need to make a more conscious effort to allow grieving in my life.

Sometimes you get tired of the sadness and just try to fill your life with busy details to avoid the deep reality of your loss. Yet, the loss is still there, with or without acknowledging it. At some point, it will catch up with you. I believe that our dreams can be a way for us to deal with things that we are unable or unwilling to do while we are awake.

Dr. Marilyn Mendoza wrote in Psychology Today, “Our unconscious mind is free to wander and process the emotions we may try to avoid during the day.” It makes perfect sense. I know that at some point after a loss, we all have to get back to certain routines. Our society is set up so that most of us are forced to get back to routines, or even start new ones, before we are ready. Yet, there are still responsibilities in this life that must be addressed. Even if we didn’t have those responsibilities, at some point most of us would probably find ways to keep our minds distracted by being busy. Sometimes it just hurts too much to face reality. While we dream, our mind is free to “wander and process emotions.”

From what I have researched, grieving dreams are fairly common among people who have had devastating losses. I had never heard of anything like this before we lost Hannah.

After I lost my mother I had deep sadness, but losing Hannah was on a completely different level. I still miss my mom today. I have had a few dreams in which she showed up, but I am not sure that I have had time to even properly grieve the loss of my mother. For more than a decade and a half, we had to be attentive to Hannah's medical needs, which in itself was always an emotional roller coaster.

I have yet to have what psychologists call a “visitation” dream from Hannah. I would like it very much if it would happen; however, it is not the sort of thing that you can actually plan. It just happens for some people; for others, it never does. Psychologists disagree about the nature of these visitation dreams, but many of them are open to the possibility that they are actual visits from our loved ones from a spiritual realm. Many people who have visitation dreams believe that they are real. They are more vivid and realistic than other dreams. I would love to be able to write about a visitation dream someday. Whether that happens or not, I trust that she is in the presence of God and not only at peace, but filled with joy.

My dreams of Hannah are usually situated in the past while I am still taking care of her medical needs. The grieving dreams are different. They impact me deeply; I usually walk around in a surreal fog all day following a grief dream. I believe I am having these dreams because life itself can make it very difficult to grieve properly. The pain of my loss is just too much to process while I am fully conscious. It seems that my subconscious mind is needed to bring balance to my life.

If you are having similar dreams, please know that you are not alone. This is part of the healing process. Your soul needs solace. Be thankful that you can cry, even if it is just in a dream. Be grateful that there was someone in your life that you loved enough that she (or he) continues to impact you whether you are awake or asleep.


If you have not read about the miracles of Hannah's life,

I invite you to start the Butterfly Chronicles.


Image from: How to Lucid Dream: 5 Things You Can Do to Start Lucid Dreaming (

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