HOULTON, Maine — When Rev. Terrence McGillicuddy, a Houlton native and the pastor of St. Brigid of Kildare Anglican Church in Medway, Mass., first began serving as a hospice chaplain more than two decades ago, he was intrigued when a growing number of patients reported that their dreams grew more intense and vivid as their illnesses progressed.
When he first reported this to the nurses and doctors who were caring for them, they shrugged it off.
“They told me that this was a side effect of pain medications they were getting, or a progression of their illness, or even a part of the dying process itself,” McGillicuddy, a pastoral counselor who holds master’s degrees in theology and counseling psychology and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, said late last week. “They just dismissed them. But that was something I didn’t want to do, something I couldn’t do. Whenever I visited them, I encouraged them to hold the dreams close to them and to talk about them. I wanted to work with them to find spiritual connections and deeper meanings in the dream images.”
That desire and the results are illustrated in his first book, “Sacred Dreams and Life Limiting Illness: A Depth Psychospiritual Approach,” which came out in January.
Published by WestBow Press, the book explores the history of dreams in scripture, Christian antiquity, and through the history of psychology. It also shows how dream amplification can help the terminally ill become less fearful about the dying process. McGillicuddy also included three case-study presentations from his own experiences, conversations he had with two terminally ill women and a man and the dreams they had before they died.
“As a hospice chaplain, I found that end-of-life dreams were a way of drawing the individual closer to God,” said McGillicuddy. “And if the individual was open to talking with me, I wanted to help them do that.”
McGillicuddy said that during his research, he found that the most commonly shared dream was the dream of seeing oneself totally cured from illness. At the same time, when individuals woke up after having the dream, they had different reactions.
“Some people told me that they were greatly reassured or even had a sense of joy when they had this dream,” he said. “Others were angry, or they felt that God was mocking them. They felt that God had perhaps let this happen to them, and now He was reminding them of it in this dream. Others experienced futility and hopelessness. But again, these dreams were a vehicle in which we could talk through their emotions and anxiety and make connections to God and scripture.”
McGillicuddy said that he tailored his book to appeal to anyone interested in the subject area, but he said that it is also written for chaplains, pastoral counselors or anyone interested in a more psychospiritual approach to those with terminal illness.
He said that he learned a great deal from Joyce, Ann and Fred, the first names of the terminally ill individuals who he included as case studies.
“Joyce was the hardest I ever prayed for someone to get well,” he remarked of the 40-year-old woman who eventually died of an aggressive form of breast cancer. “She was this kind, beautiful woman and I am sure that everyone who knew her realized that she would have given so much more to this world had she lived.”
Ann was a 70-year-old Protestant woman suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Fred was an 80-year-old man who described himself as agnostic with end-stage Parkinson’s disease.
Each individual taught him new things and they were able to make new spiritual and psychological connections together, he said late last week.
“To me, dreams really are like doorways,” he said last week. “Dreams are used as a way for God to make breakthroughs and to connect with us. I think it is always important to keep interpreting them.”
For more information on McGillicuddy’s book and to purchase a copy, log on to his website at www.psychospiritualdreams.com. The book is also for sale on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com and at various bookstores.