A Dream of My Brother From the Great Beyond

My older (by three years) brother will have been gone 14 years this September, felled shortly after he retired at age 62 from a rare, always fatal brain syndrome known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think of and miss his presence in my life. Fortunately, he pops up in my dreams intermittently, always in some strange circumstance (dreams being what they are), but often gratifying nevertheless for the touchpoint they add up to, the real-seeming encounter in which he is alive to me for those moments, moving once again through space and time as a physical presence—until I wake up.

I’ve written here before about the often riotous imaginings of the dream world, the caution against trying too hard to drag them into our current waking life via some great literal “meaning” we can apply to become better, happier persons, all the wiser for our visitations from the Great Beyond.

But Good God, such Mystery runs rampant through this ultimately incomprehensible universe and this most strange species of homo sapiens that beholds and gawks and gasps at it with the intensity and profusion and curiosity it does! What do we really know, after all?

That said, dreams can be great sources of satisfaction, sometimes just for the sheer pleasure and/or fascination of encountering a departed loved one, other times for the questions they may pose for us to ponder over our morning coffee. If we’re fortunate enough, that is, to remember whatever fragments we can as the motion picture camera of our brain records the rapid-fire images begotten by our neural firings of the night.

A couple of mornings ago, in the last dream I had before awakening (the ones we naturally have the best chance of remembering), my brother paid another brief but powerfully experienced visit to me in yes, another strange circumstance.

And this one posed some intriguing questions I’ve been toying with ever since. No answers, of course. This is the dream world, after all, where questions and intrigues abide.



My brother is by my side (on the left) in the photo above, as he often was through a childhood in which tagging along with him was the most important thing in my life. But in my dream, he is standing above me on some sort of stage, as if he’s prepping to give a presentation of some sort, but no words come out of him.

He’s just standing there, beaming. I’m overjoyed—My brother, oh my God!

I seem to know in the dream that he’s long since dead, but he’s very alive up there right now, and I can barely contain myself. I just want to stay here and exult in his presence, and though he’s the very picture of happiness and contentment, he makes no move to interact with me.

Instead, he just stands and smiles, gazing out at some kind of crowd that has gathered, though it doesn’t appear that the crowd is there for him alone.

It’s more like he’s up there with other (faceless to me) people, but I have no clear sense of them, nor of the people around me, having eyes only for him.

Finally, he seems to drift close enough to me that I can grab one of his hands and put it in both of mine, grasping it avidly, glad beyond words to behold him in the flesh once again.

And happy as I am and he seems to be, I can’t help but notice he’s not really looking at me.

Oh, his eyes sometimes drift toward me, but it’s as if he’s gazing just beyond or through me.

He seems totally self-contained, without any clear focus on anything or anyone in particular. There’s a big smile on his face that does not vary, but he neither speaks nor intimates that this is any particularly significant occasion for him.

Untouchable, in a sense—allowing me to hold his hand for a few moments but not really responsive to it.

And one more thing: As the dream proceeds, I note that he’s really buffed—not to absurd dimensions like a bodybuilder but definitely in serious, ripped shape. He’d always been physically active—a fine high jumper and basketball player in his youth, avid cyclist as an adult—but this was kind of Clark Kent-like after he tears off his work suit, puffs out his chest and gets on with the business of saving the world as Superman.

I find myself wondering where Pete has been pumping iron and what led him to it, but the question fades as the nature of his “presence” dawns more clearly on me. Because he’s here, yes, in front of me as this embodied entity, but also a million miles away, his outward gaze diffused, unengaged with me or anyone else in this dreamscape.

With me, but no longer of me, no longer capable (or desirous?) of any personal, emotional, relational interaction.

A visitor, here for a spell from another time and place and reality altogether, and nodding approvingly over it all. But largely unmoved.



It’s tempting to see this dream from the prism of my brother still alive but simply in another dimension now. A kind of next step on his karmic wheel in Hindu terms, more evolved but less personal. Or in a kind of heaven of eternal bliss in Christian terms, though without the personal dimension that Christianity promises.

The Christian angle would beget the question, however, of whether the lack of personal interaction stems not from his end but from mine, unable to grasp him from this limited earthly realm. In this scenario, were I to join Pete in the next dimension tomorrow, we would meet there on equal, interactive footing, relational as can be. (And hey: Might I be seriously buffed, too? If so, will I have to work out for it, or will it just be gifted to me, toil-free, once I lift off from this mortal coil?)

Longtime readers will know I remain skeptical of all literal representations of God and anything resembling an afterlife. I place my bets here, in this place I know and love, and if something were to come of it all, fine, I won’t be a refusenik. But the point of this life is to live it to the fullest, content in the hope I have done some good while here.

But Good God, such Mystery runs rampant through this ultimately incomprehensible universe and this most strange species of homo sapiens that beholds and gawks and gasps at it with the intensity and profusion and curiosity it does! What do we really know, after all?

Many people know a lot more than I do, but nobody knows much in the grand scheme of things, that “Grand Scheme” perhaps a useful metaphor for an idea some people choose to bring down to earth and imagine knowing as God.

For my own part, I’m just glad to have hung out with my brother the other morning, courtesy of the imaginings conjured by my supposedly sleeping brain, a brain that seems uncanny in running wild with activity from one dimension to the next in that sleep state, making pit stops across the sprawling, fathomless universe contained within it.

And maybe, for all I know, with that universe housed within my brain standing as but a limited edition entryway to universes far beyond…



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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: larry@rosefoto.com

Pete as toddler, with Andrew, and on bike all from Hidas family archive

7 comments to A Dream of My Brother From the Great Beyond

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    Dreams do seem to have a mind of their own, often obscured from rationality but nonetheless truthful. In some ways, they’re like Picasso’s 1937 portrait of his girlfriend Dora Maar. While there’s no mistaking it for anything other than a woman, the cubist abstraction hides her inarguable beauty and replaces it with a distorted image of a woman leaning on a chair, one green eye and one red, and a face fractured by a combination of profile and frontal views. Isn’t this convergence of reality and fantasy the most compelling aspect of dreams? Freud thought so.

    My older brother Dave and Pete graduated from Eagle Rock High School in 1966. My memories of Pete, as well as my brother’s, are fond ones. I see Pete clearing 6’5” in most of his Northern League high jumping competitions. As a JV basketball player myself, his varsity games followed mine. Of course, then there are those many images of you and him together both at home and school. Oh, by the way, your mom, dad and sisters are hanging around there, too. Common to nearly all my memories of Pete is KINDNESS.

    The emotional, gut-wrenching experience of losing someone far too early as you did with Pete is unimaginable to me. I haven’t suffered that particular grief yet. My parents had long lives, 89 and 96 respectively. Certain comforts accompanied their passings. The suffering ended. The good times of their 63-year marriage far outweighed the bad. Now, especially when visiting my own children and grandchildren, I sense their presence. There’s comfort in that continuity.

    My wife, on the other hand, lost her son before his 30th birthday. His type 1 diabetes at age seven was devastating. Eventually, it required a pancreatic-kidney transplant, and he couldn’t overcome its built-in complications. While his death constantly haunts her, those wonderful, shared moments have never dimmed. Thank God for that.

    Finally, it was nice seeing Pete’s photos; they were images beyond my recollections.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Your reflections here remind me again of how much richer life is at this age, Robert, than my not-at-all-unhappy younger years. It’s mostly that everything gets broadened and deepened with time and experience, not just the good times but the bad times, too, all of it tossed together in a great big salad of different colors, different emotions, joys, griefs. The end is nearer, the physical decline unmistakable, many more sufferings no doubt await, but the appreciation of time, history, fellowship, nature, the mind-bending complexity of consciousness, whatever health one is fortunate enough to maintain and yes, that continuity of the succeeding generations you mention—just sublime, all of it. I feel fortunate beyond all reason to have lived long enough to experience it.

      • Jeffrey Cohen  says:

        Thank you Andrew. I ascribe to the belief that those we’ve lost remain alive to us and others who remember them but only through the portal of our dreams. Also, that when they appear (visit) they are doing so of their own volition……they choose to visit us. The communication is most often garbled…we’re asleep after all, but their presence is unmistakeable and “real”. So in that sense we have been treated to a visit, from someone we miss (or loathe) deeply. I appreciate these visits and am comforted that they’ve taken the time to stop by. I’m glad your cherished brother continues to stop in at your place.

        • Andrew Hidas  says:

          Thanks very much, Jeff. So you see this as some kind of continuing identity after death, in a kind of spirit realm where the departed has access to us but only through the sleep portal? The occasionally garbled or downright weird experience we often have of that would fit with the possibility I mentioned near the end of the post—that my brother seemingly out of my emotional reach in my dream may have been more from my lack of capacity than his. As you say, “we’re asleep after all,” with all the seemingly helter skelter neural firings that accompany the sleeping state.

          But then my rational mind asks, “Jeez, if the departed can reach us, why don’t they wise up and choose a more reliable platform than our dream state?” To which I imagine one might answer: “Because that’s one of the few avenues in life where our rational waking mind is not in control—a chink in the armor we use to keep the irrational at bay.” Might you have a different or additional take on that matter?

          I’m genuinely curious how you see some of the details in this kind of communication across worlds, which it most certainly is, no matter what its actual basis might be. All while fully aware that we are engaged here in hints & guesses & fun speculations, and there are no wrong damn answers! :-)

    • Jay Helman  says:

      Robert and Andrew, I too have fond and vivid memories of Pete, and fully agree that Kindness emanates from all memories of him; in addition to his incredible ability to leap and seemingly fly as a high jumper and as a basketball player. My sister, Orma, died suddenly and unexpectedly eight years ago. Unlike Pete, Orma lived until a mere two weeks before turning 80. Similar to your dream experience(s) of Pete, Andrew, I cherish those occasional dream visits from my sister and awaken thankful that she remains so clearly in my sense of her. I do not search for meaning or symbolism in the dreams in which she appears. I simply give thanks that I have some experience of her laugh, her smile, and the wonderful times I shared with her. By the way, the Billy Joel tune is a supberb addition to this post. Many thanks bro Andrew.

  • Kevin Feldman  says:

    I am forever jealous of folks like you, Jeff, and Robert for whom dreams are so vivid and quasi-realistic. I am left more with inchoate feelings, while my wife Denise is a super vivid dreamer who regularly remembers her dreams in great detail and regales me with these lucid dreaming tales! The one HUGE exception was my brother Kim who visited me a few days after his untimely death at age 28 (I was 24). I can still recall the clarity of the experience of finding Kim at the edge of my bed assuring me that he was “OK” and urging me to do my best to help our Mom and Dad through this trauma. I know that so-called lucid dreaming, dream journaling, and various forms of “dream work” have been around for ages and that many folks clearly find them very useful. Thanks for the post!

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Kevin, that is quite an amazing & vivid & on-point dream, especially occurring so soon after your brother’s death. There was a time when I would have chalked it up to a lovely gift of wish fulfillment, end of story, but I’m much less certain of that now. Our own individual psyches being as powerful & creative as they are, who the heck knows what’s going on in the collective of the entire universe? (I suspect Jung barely scratched the surface of that idea, with a lot of modern physics & such taking it from there.)

    I do think at least in my own experience, when I’m able to adhere to a discipline of focusing at bedtime and imploring myself to remember my dreams, it’s more likely to happen, though I’ll also say this: the very last sleep of the morning, when I’ve woken earlier but manage to lay my head back down for maybe a half-to-a-full hour snooze, is even a better bet for dream remembrance, and usually in much clearer images & detail than whatever wisps might remain from earlier in the eve. And from there, telling someone about it or writing it down soon after awakening also seems to help retention.

    Jay, you’re right the visitation itself is the primary joy of these encounters, and it’s interesting that I rarely if ever hear about sad or frightening scenes of a departed loved one invading people’s dreams. Mostly pleasant and joyful, some, like this one with Pete, a tad strange and engendering some scratching around for what it might “mean,” if anything. I tend to look at dreams, like astrology, psychotherapy and a good amount of religion, as at least in part giant projection screens, upon which we try to work out the knots and tangles of our psyches, our relation to our lives and loves, regardless of the objective “reality” of the particular tool we employ. Some tools work better for certain people than others, certain times of life than others, vive le difference, and onwards we continue into the mysteries behind it all…

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