Interpretation of a Nightmare: A real-life murder turns into a dream


A police investigator enters the house as Mavis Phillips reacts outside the scene of a double murder, Sunday, March 29, 2009, in Milton, Mass. Phillips said she was a co-worker of Regine Revelus whose son murdered two of his sisters and injured a third before being shot by police on Saturday. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

On March 28, at about 5 PM, 9-year-old Sarafina, probably in tears, talked to the 911, while her 23-year-old brother was stabbing her two sisters with a kitchen knife.

When police arrived, less than a minute later, he was decapitating 5-year-old Bianca, the youngest of the family, while Bianca’s uneaten birthday cake still lay on the kitchen table. Then he turned on little Sarafina herself, stabbing her several times before police could put an end to his rampage, shooting him dead right in front of her.

Happy birthday, Sarafina.

She was taken to the hospital and eventually recovered from her physical wounds.

My brother was one of the paramedics who witnessed the aftermath and carried her out to the ambulance.

It was a normal Saturday evening, until…

My father called me and asked, “Do you know what’s happening with your brother J?”

“No,” I said. “What’s happening with him?”

“I don’t know. He asked if he and C [his fiancée] could come over and stay the night. He just said, ‘Look at the news.'”

So I looked at the news. We eventually found out from C what had happened, and that J was pretty shaken up over it.

(BTW, I’m reconstructing this story from memory. If I’ve misquoted anyone, please forgive me. The gist of the story is accurate.)

My wife and I then had a short conversation, the exact content of which I don’t remember, about crime and about what it’s like to be a paramedic, being called to accident and crime scenes to pick up any surviving human beings.

I thought: This is what he signed up for, despite the trauma he must encounter. This is what he wanted to do. He has a degree in graphic design, but he decided to study to become an EMT, and then a paramedic, because that’s where his passion is. I hope he doesn’t lose heart.

And then I thought: Is the world getting more dangerous? No. This sort of extreme case is the exception, not the rule. We’re much more likely to be killed in a car accident than by a murderer. And horrific crimes like this get reported because they are the exception, not the rule. We should not be afraid or hesitant to live our lives nor to help those who are in distress.

And then I slept…

Earlier, I wrote about scientific dream interpretation, using the Expectation Fulfillment Theory of Dreaming. Here’s another example, this time of a nightmare.

At about half past four the following morning, I awoke, having had a vivid, emotional dream. I immediately wrote it down:

I am at my grandmother’s old mobile home with my wife, whose trailer it is, and my father, who is injured. A man is outside, attacking us with a gun or grenades, but we are safe as long as we remain inside the trailer. However, we must get my father to a hospital. The police are on their way, but they haven’t arrived yet. I ask my wife if there’s a back way out. Yes, there is, and she and I try to sneak out thereby, but the attacker finds us out and prepares to attack. Fortunately, the police arrive and take him away before he can hurt us.

What the dream means

I believe…

The trailer represents my brother’s occupation. My brother works in an ambulance, and an ambulance is similar in some ways to a mobile home, making it a good metaphor.

The attacker is the horror we are exposed to, by the news and–in the case of my brother–by our careers.

My wife is the part of my brother who signed up to be a paramedic. She is a natural choice for this metaphor, because in real life, my wife is also in healthcare, because she too has a passion for the work.

My father represents my brother’s heart, which I imagine as being injured by his experience. My father first told me that my brother had been on the scene of the multiple stabbing and was concerned about him, so it makes sense that he would represent my brother in this way. I don’t want my brother to lose heart, which is why in my dream I want to get him to a hospital.

As long as we’re in the trailer, we’re safe from the attacker’s volleys, reflecting my belief that my brother wants to be a paramedic. As long as we are inside the trailer, we can withstand the attacks and be happy.

We try to escape out the back way, reflecting my thought that my brother may feel like getting out of the paramedic business. But that doesn’t help us, because even as non-paramedics, we’re exposed to the horrors of crime, through the magic that is 21’st century media.

But the police show up and stop the attacker, representing my belief that our perceptions are distorted by being over-exposed to reports of crime, and once we realize this, the horror loses its power. Even as a paramedic, the horror my brother witnessed is a once in a lifetime occurrence. Veteran police officers at the scene said they had never seen anything like it. That is the exception, not the rule.

Interesting, but so what?

We all have nightmares. Sometimes, nightmares that disturb us greatly. Even make us question our own thoughts and feelings and choices.

But what I found is that understanding the dream takes the power away from it. Even though it was a nightmare, I no longer find it scary.

Nightmares, like any dream, are how our minds deal with unresolved traumatic emotions. They’re good for us, because they help our emotions to discharge so that we can face the next day afresh.