The Lark Ascending



Part 1

Introduction                                   3

Dreams                                         5

Symbols                                      24

Predictions                                   46

A Rationale                                  50

Message of the Dreams              54

Implications                                 57

Part  2

Fighting Cancer                           59

Reflection                                    98

Tributes                                     100

Part 3

Appendices                               106

Bibliography                                  123



One day my father told me a dream which he thought warned of his death. He asked me what I thought.

It was so clear. I had to agree it ‘might’ be a warning. But I delayed visiting to hide my concern, and we played it cool.

Nothing happened. Perhaps it wasn’t a death dream. Or perhaps it was a long distance warning. How much warning did dreams give?

Two months later, I had a dream - it seemed one of my parents would die. I worried about a flight they were taking and spoke to my sister. They returned safely.

Then my father had a second dream. This time he didn’t mention death, but I knew it was in his mind. I visited immediately and seven weeks later he died suddenly from an aneurysm.

I discovered he had used the dream warnings to phone friends and relations. And he called me too just days before he died to ask about my plans, an urgency in his tone.

Two months later, I dreamed Mum was making light of a cough that could be fatal; then that she was seriously ill; and then ominous, symbolic dreams over three years until I dreamed of her death. This was April 1999, two and a half years before she died.

Perhaps they were anxiety dreams or symbols of some psychological ending, because Mum was alive and well. But I look back and wonder how it could never have occurred to me they might be indicating a hidden, terminal illness.

About 10 June 2001, I dreamed of a black cat leaving me. I didn’t even write it down at first, it seemed too corny. If black cats were unlucky, there were no clouds on my horizon.

Then my sister phoned. Mum was ill. I called and immediately felt something serious was wrong. I went down with my brother. The doctor diagnosed a viral infection, but Mum did not respond to treatment and he insisted upon tests. From her first night in hospital she became paralysed below the neck. They called it a stroke, until cancer showed from her lung to her spine.

I may not have made best use of my dreams, but they prepared me for the suddenly awful prospect of Mum’s death. It was no less heartbreaking, but I was not so taken now by surprise and denial.

The last six months of Mum’s life were intense in every way and we became really close.

Mum had two dreams. In the first, a Voice gave her an option to stay or to go. But in the second, she heard footsteps in the corridor: her spirit guide arriving as a dinner companion. I did not give my interpretation. After the first crisis, Mum spoke about getting better.

After she died, I decided to collect together the dreams. What could I learn from them? What comfort might they bring? As I put them together, the message seemed so clear. It was no good saying, as I did, ‘How could I be so blind? So afraid?’ I began to think it had to be this way. And when the surviving family gathered for Christmas at a house called ‘The Lychgate’, I felt sure.

The ‘bird’ was a favoured symbol for Mum’s soul in my dreams, and the dreams indicated her ‘migration’ to another country with my father. They showed also her spiritual ‘wedding’ and a ‘birthday party’. She told me one day, near the end, she could see angels in the room. And after her death, she sent me a message.

These dreams, and the accompanying events before and after her passing, persuade me there is order and purpose in the world. And there are signs, if we can read them. As I described some of these dreams and signs to a friend, she said, ‘Ian, the Universe is talking to you.’ I believe she was right and that the Universe, or God, talks to us all.



1. Migrating Birds, 14 January 1995

I am standing in a garden (almost like Hassocks) with a wooden kitchen type chair beside me, and supervising the landing of a large number of birds,* so they will fit into the space and not get in each other’s way. This is achieved.

Then I see another large flock of birds (swallows?) wheeling in the sky and setting off on their migratory journey. Some of the birds in the garden, as if magnetically attracted, fly up a few feet in the same direction before settling again.

I notice a baby and a toddler, a dog and possibly an adult in the garden. The dog* is small and amicable, and the baby crawling over the grass. I think I give up my chair to them.


Birds are a common symbol for the spirit or soul.

The 2 flocks represent 2 people, ‘magnetically’ drawn to each other. The 2 people are Mum and Dad, who lived at Hassocks. One is to die: the flock that migrates; the other wants to follow, but is helped survive the loss.

Dad died 3 months later on 16 April 1995. Mum was distraught and in a letter, which she left us to read after her death, said: ‘How anyone can get through life after the death of a husband without the love and support of family, I do not know.’

Linda had married in the previous year and was hoping for children. Mum (the remaining flock) was destined to see them, and they helped to ‘ground’ her.

The little dog is Mandy, who also helped to ‘ground’ Mum in the days after Dad’s death.

If the kitchen chair is a symbol for Mum, giving it up may forecast her death, around the time the children reached those ages. In the event, they were 2 and 4 years old.

The ‘migration’ symbol shows the spirit continuing to live in another country, i.e. in the After Life. Dad dies on earth, but his spirit lives. He will be joined in time by the other flock. The bird symbol for the spirit continues in later dreams.

[The * beside a word shows there is more information on it in the next section, ‘Symbols’, below.]

2. Mum in Glider, 15 January 1995

I think I must have been in India, in the garden, perhaps of our bungalow at Bokel. Looking up into the blue sky, I saw my mother piloting a glider. I had the impression that she had flown over the bungalow to say hello, or to see how I was.


The glider seems to be an extension of the previous night’s ‘bird’ symbol. At the time I thought it must represent the migrating flock, as it was in flight. And as Mum was the pilot, I thought it warned of her death. Maybe it did, but only after she had settled her children.

Mum and Dad were due to fly to India in a couple of weeks. I worried this might be dangerous and talked to Linda about whether to say anything. Later Mum said the flight was so uncomfortable that she fantasised about a highjack, in which she was the first and willing victim. Recent evidence has linked cramped conditions on long distance flights with subsequent heart attacks, and Dad died 2 months later from an aortic aneurysm.

I had spent some time learning to fly a glider and always returned to base. Gliders do not usually make long overseas flights, and perhaps this was the clue that the dream glider represented the flock that landed rather than the one that flew away. Mum said that one of the reasons she did not wish to die immediately after Dad was that the strain of losing both parents would be too much for her children. In the dream she circles to see how I am, and this keeps her from migrating, and eventually brings her down to land.

Mum in a glider is an image for her soul. If the dream is saying that she will not leave until she has seen us OK, it is also suggesting that she is preparing to fly away.

3.  Bowled Out (I), 20 January 1995

I go out to bat in a cricket match. I find I have a jar of marmalade in my pocket and am pleased that the umpire allows me to put it behind the stumps. I notice that the stumps are not straight. The bails might just be still on, but it looks as though a ball has already hit them. I wait for them to be put right, and see that the bowler has already started his long run. I make no attempt to play the ball and it hits my stumps. The umpire gives out and I protest.


To be bowled out is clearly a possible death symbol.

At the time of the dream, I used to take Mum jars of sugar-free marmalade. This gives marmalade an association to her. However, the marmalade in the dream was a sugar marmalade, which I ate myself. The first time I took sugar marmalade to Mum’s house was six and a half years later, when she was ill in hospital. I made a point of not taking the same brand, but it made no difference.

On the face of it, the dream might be referring to my own death (see also Dream 19: ‘Cliff Fall’). But the symbols of the sugar and sugar-free marmalades only come together during Mum’s final illness. The marmalade goes behind the stumps, so that hitting one is equivalent to hitting the other. Perhaps it signifies 2 connected deaths.

Mum’s ‘stumps’ were first hit in June 2001, when cancer, which had spread undetected from her lungs to her spine, paralysed her. I was able to spend 3 or more days a week with her over the 6 months of her illness, doing my best to guard her stumps, while waiting for the doctors to straighten them. Unfortunately her condition was terminal, the bowler had started his run, and there was nothing I could do to stop the next ball in November.

4. Mum’s Cough, 26 June 1995

Mum had a cough, which, although she tried to downplay it, had implications of possible death.


Mum had stopped smoking a few years before. After this dream, I listened particularly for her coughing but did not hear anything that seemed significant. 6 years later when she did have a persistent cough, I had unfortunately forgotten about this dream.

In August 2001, I asked a staff nurse at the Hospice whether Mum’s cancer of the lung might have started back in 1995, maybe triggered by the stress of Dad’s death. She replied that cancer could be slow or fast acting, and so it could have started then. She added that her sister had prophetic or psychic dreams, so she took my dream seriously.

5. Death Bird, 6 October, 1995

While visiting Mum in Bexhill, I dreamed of a woman who wanted to turn into a bird* after death and before her next life. I think she was in her 30’s or 40’s. I called out to someone I knew who was responsible for birds and asked him to arrange it.


Here is a return of the bird symbol from Dreams 1 & 2: ‘Migrating Birds’ and ‘Glider’.

In August 2001, when she was ill in the Nursing Home, Mum asked me to buy her a recording of ‘The Lark Ascending’ by Vaughan Williams. She only said to me that she had heard it on the radio, but when by chance I heard a repeat of the programme, there was a woman talking about death, and identifying herself with the lark, and the lark with the soul.

We later played this piece of music for Mum at the crematorium.


                                                   The Lark Ascending

Composed by Vaughan Williams in 1914, and

played by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields



“All of the dreams of people who are facing death indicate that the unconscious, that is, our instinct world, prepares consciousness not for a definite end but for a profound transformation and for a kind of continuation of the life process which, however, is unimaginable to everyday consciousness.”

p.156 On Dreams and Death (ODD), Marie-Louise von Franz

“The sceptic will naturally insist that these are merely wish-fulfilment dreams. One can say in reply that the theory that dreams reflect only unconscious wishes does not accord at all with general experience….In cases where the dreamer has illusions about his approaching death or is unaware of its closeness, dreams may even indicate this fact quite brutally and mercilessly, as, for instance, in the motif of the dreamer’s clock which has stopped and cannot be started again, or the theme of the life-tree, which has been hewn down and is lying on the ground.” 

p.ix ODD   [See Dad’s Dreams: 1 ‘Terrifying Void’.]

“It seems to me that one can ‘feel’ whether the figure of a dead person in a dream is being used as a symbol for some inner reality or whether it ‘really’ represents the dead. It is difficult, however, to set up universally valid criteria for the ‘feeling’.”

p.xv ODD

Metaphysical dreams “are indeed different from the majority of dreams we work with in psychotherapeutic practice. Somehow they cannot be interpreted very well on the subjective level, that is, as symbolic representations of subjective inner processes. This means that they cannot, in Jung’s terminology, be ‘psychologised.’ One feels compelled to leave them in space as a symbolic statement about another reality from which we are separated by a mysterious and dangerous barrier.”

p.156-7 ODD

Nevertheless – “In the course of this work, it will become apparent that almost all the symbols which appear in death dreams are images that are also manifested during the individuation process – especially as it unfolds during the second half of life…In principle individuation dreams do not differ in their archetypal symbolism from death dreams.

p.xiii ODD

“Finally, it should be noted that many people from middle age on begin to have death dreams. Such dreams do not indicate an immediately impending death, but are rather to be understood as a memento mori. They appear for the most part when the ego has an overly youthful attitude toward life and they call for meditation on the part of the dreamer.”

p.xvi ODD


See My Dreams: 1 ‘Migrating Birds’, 5 ‘Death Bird’, 14 ‘Kitchen Bird’, 23 University, Bird and Lion.

“The flight of birds leads them, naturally, to serve as symbols of the links between Heaven and Earth. In Greek, the word itself could be used as a synonym for forewarning and for a message from Heaven. In Taoism, they carry the same meaning, while the Immortals take on the shape of birds to signify their ‘lightness’ and their freedom from terrestrial ‘heaviness’. Those who offer sacrifices, or ritual dancers, are often described in the Brahmanas as ‘birds flying skywards’.

“From the same point of view, the bird represents the soul escaping from the body…Cave paintings from Altamira and Lascaux showing bird-men may be taken in a similar sense, either as the flight of the soul or the spirit-flight of the shaman.”

p.86-7 Penguin Dictionary of Symbols (PDS)

The Upanishads defined the soul as a migratory bird “in accordance with the belief that the soul migrates from body to body until its final flight to the nest where it is safe from the perils of transmigration.”

p.88 PDS

Among the Maya, a “bird named Noan, with the words ‘living grain’ on its beak, helps the soul to its rebirth.”

p.36 ODD

“In ancient Egypt, the immortal ba soul…was represented as a bird or as a star.”

p.40 ODD

“The earliest evidence of the belief in the soul bird is undoubtedly provided by the myth of the phoenix. This purple-hued fire-bird – that is, a creature composed of the life force – symbolised the soul to the Ancient Egyptians.”

p.90 PDS


See My Dreams: 1 ‘Migrating Birds’, 28 ‘Wedding’, and Dad’s Dreams: 2 ‘Leaping Deer’.

“There cannot be a mythology which does not associate a dog…with death…

“Evidence of the primary mythic role played by the dog, that of psychopomp, is worldwide. Having been man’s companion in the light of the living day, the dog becomes his guide through the darkness of night. At every stage of Western cultural history the dog has featured among such powerful psychopomps as Anubis, Cerberus, Thoth, Hecate, or Hermes.”

p.296 PDS

“Popular beliefs of the Germans and Swiss have preserved legends in which the appearance of a black dog announces death….

“The dog is also often described mythologically as a healing and protecting escort into the Beyond. Thus the Egyptian dog-headed or jackal-headed god Anubis is the agent of resurrection; and among the Aztecs a yellow or red dog, Xolotl, brings the corpses in the kingdom of the dead back to life. In India, too, Shiva the destroying god of death is called Lord of the Dogs.” 

p.69-70 ODD



This is my experience of Mum’s encounter with cancer. So much happened so fast. One wonder pushed out of mind the next. I needed to slow things down, to stay grounded, and to treasure the ordinary moments charged with extraordinary spirit. There was so much in this intensely lived period to inspire, console, learn from, weep over and enjoy. If the spirit burns most brightly before it dies, this is a recollection of that parting warmth and light.

It appears very largely as it was written, in the 6 months from Mum’s diagnosis to her death. The entries up to the last 10 days were made weekly, and after that daily, or even hourly. Events forecast in the dreams take their allotted place.

The great majority of staff at all levels that I saw did a magnificent job. There were never enough, and the resulting pressures could cause problems. But with all our natural human shortcomings, they were competent, caring, kind, helpful, hard working, generous people doing good. Without their efforts my mother would not have had the 6 months of life recorded here, which meant so much to us all. I am deeply grateful to each one doing their best in most difficult circumstances.

9 July, 2001

It is really hard to remember all that has happened in the last 3 weeks.

I visited Mum from 7-10 June. She stood to meet me in the hall, dressed with careful elegance, straight-backed and still. She let me come to her. I sensed a concealed fragility. She didn’t mention it and neither did I. She was fine.

One day we went back to Hassocks — walked down the High street, lunched at the Bull, had tea with Mary and looked next door at our old home. Mary’s long garden, the changing light on the hills, the front garden of 76, which was not as it was. This was something Mum had wanted to do for a while, and I had a sense of final farewells.

Then there was the food – eggs and bacon for breakfast; a new dish, lentil moussaka with Jersey potatoes and a herb salad; the favourites, chicken and tarragon, fish pie, and a curry on Sunday, which we couldn’t eat in the garden because it rained. Rice pudding and pear crumble, perhaps an apple almond. Coffee ground, and cream.

I had garden duties, edges to trim, waste for the dump. Mandy was walked and taken to the vet. Usually we watched a video one evening or went to the pictures. Next weekend, Linda and family were arriving.

On 17 June, Linda gave me a call from her mobile. On that Sunday morning they had gone out, and returned to find Mum had collapsed and was looking very white and drawn. She had managed to call Davina who came round, and the doctor visited. Mum’s main concern was for lunch. She seemed better by the afternoon.

When I phoned, Mum sounded very weak. I was alarmed and asked the doctor to call again. I phoned Bruce, who was driving back from Yorkshire with Clare. He decided to go straight on to Bexhill. I didn’t think we both needed to go down, but he valued support and I was anxious.

Bruce was there when I arrived, and Mum was surprised but not alarmed to see me. She was very weak and pale, and there was no clue what was wrong. We sat in the kitchen and then maybe moved into the sitting room. Mum soon went to bed, unhappy that we had to make our own beds.

Next morning, Mum started weak but had a nap and made a dramatic recovery. By lunchtime she wanted to go out and we had a pub lunch at the Star. We all had fish and chips, Bruce and I some good Harvey’s beer and Mum a glass of red wine. Mum had got over some 24-hour virus as we thought, and I left on the Monday evening to return to work. Bruce intended driving to work next day, but Mum got worse again in the night and he stayed till Friday when I returned.

In a way I really enjoyed those few days looking after Mum. I took a week’s holiday. Mum could do less and less for herself, and so it was a full time job doing everything for her and Mandy and the house and garden and myself. But Mum began to show different aspects of her character — a black, quirky sense of humour, courage and fortitude, vulnerability. We would have tea in the garden, where it was cool in the shade and warm in the sun, as she was sweating one moment and shivering the next. The doctor diagnosed a ‘virus’ — unnamed.

When I came down again that Friday, I used the excuse of fitting a new camshaft to the car at her local garage, thinking she might object. Later excuses were not needed, and Mum said how relieved she felt that I was staying on. For Mum to ask for help was unprecedented. Later, when she got her ‘cancer’ diagnosis, she told me that in one way she was relieved: she wasn’t a fraud.

She became increasingly wracked by excruciating pains in the upper back and shoulders. One night I remember taking her to bed and returning later by chance to find her still sitting where I left her, unable to lie down without assistance. Sometimes we would hear her coughing in the middle of the night and go down to give her some water or else help turn her in the bed. One day Bruce and I returned from somewhere to find that she had been caught short. She was very embarrassed that I cleaned up, but she also knew she did not have the strength.

There were many rich, warm, amusing, loving moments from those days that I wish I could remember. She could still walk and talk. She quickly lost her appetite and we resorted to Complan, which she didn’t like. I cooked her a fish in the bag with over-salted potatoes (not eaten) and tinned salmon with unsalted potatoes (also not eaten). Linda arrived on the weekend and cooked a fish pie to Mum’s recipe, which seemed to have an especially wonderful aroma and taste. It was Mum’s last meal in the house.

Just over a week of looking after Mum at home, but so busy and full of emotion, incident and change, it might have been a lifetime.