Maggie A's Meanderings




January 16, 2011

If I Die Before I Wake

There's an old wives' tale portrayed in TV and the movies.  It's that if you die in a dream, you really die.  Or a variation is that your mind will not let you die in a dream.  Instead you wake up because if you died in your dream, you'd die.

As someone who has died many times in my dreams, I can say definitively neither of those is true.  You can actually die in a dream.  And you don't really die.

For those of you who have never died in a dream and are wondering what happens when someone dies in a dream, let me answer from personal experience.  I've died in my dreams more times than I can remember.  It's never a natural death from peaceful old age; it's usually a violent death.  And for people who think you can't feel pain in dreams, you're wrong on that.  It's no fun having your guts ripped out in a dream.  It hurts.  A lot.  (But mostly my dreams are pretty entertaining, so if occasionally I get my guts ripped out or otherwise die in agony, overall the entertainment value of my dreams is worth it.)

Dreams where I die can be regular dreams (where I'm not aware I'm dreaming) or lucid dreams (where I'm aware I'm dreaming).  But they are never the type of dream where I have control over the events of the dream.  (It's a misconception that you have to be aware you're dreaming to control the dream, or that if you're lucid dreaming you can always control what happens in the dream.  In dreams, awareness and control are two separate elements.)  I have never been in control of a dream and decided I wanted to get killed in it.  Every time I've died in a dream it's been out of my control: an event that happens during the course of the dream.

Here's the list of what's happened when I've died in my dreams:

  1. I die.  I wake up.  Typically these are nightmares.  My death propels me out of sleep, breathing hard and repeating to myself, "It was only a dream."  (And, no, just because I get killed in a dream doesn't automatically mean the dream's a nightmare.  It takes a lot more than just dying for a dream to qualify as a nightmare in my book.  What that says about my dreams, I'll leave for you to decide.)
  2. I die.  The dream ends.  The dream period ends, and I stay asleep.
  3. I die.  The dream ends.  A new dream begins.
  4. I die.  The dream continues.  I hang around as a disembodied ghost that no one else in the dream can interact with.
  5. I die.  The dream continues.  I'm stuck in my dead body.  I have an awareness of what's happening around me, but can't affect anything.  I've even been placed in my coffin.
  6. I die.  The dream continues.  I become another character in the dream.  When this happens, I'm aware of the transition and will be looking at what used to be "my" body now lying there dead.  (For those of you who watched the TV series "Quantum Leap," think of the "Double Identity" episode (time 40:35) when Sam switched bodies in the middle of a fight.  It's that same basic effect.)
  7. I die.  The dream continues.  I get "kicked out" of the dream.  Instead of being an active participant inside the dream, it's like I'm in the audience viewing a play up on a stage.  

To state the obvious: At no time have I ever died from dying in my dreams.  If that were true, I would have never made it out of my childhood.  And I certainly wouldn't be able to type this.

I don't know.  Maybe I'm unusual in dying in my dreams.  I doubt anyone's ever done a scientific survey to determine the percentage of the population who have died in their dreams.  Given the prevalence of the old wives' tale about dying in dreams causing real death, I suspect that most people don't die in their dreams, or else this particular old wives' tale would have died a long time ago.

If I Die Before I Wake

Want to read more on legends, then check out "The (Not So) Great Zombie Apocalypse." Or check out the Archive for a variety of topics.



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