04/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Dream Analysis: Trapped On The Road To Retirement

Q: Do you do dream analysis? I heard the greatest dream on television yesterday from an aging rock star. He said he's had the dream repeatedly over the last year and is quite plagued by it. He doesn't know what it means and seemed to be looking for some kind of explanation from the interviewer. However, the interviewer himself seemed to be at a loss and just sympathized with the distress it must be costing the star.

I couldn't believe it. To me, the dream seemed so obvious and was quite similar to a dream I have recently been having myself. I, like the aging rock star, am approaching retirement. The rock star actually isn't retiring, but he and I are around the same age and he knows he can't go on forever. He says he's going to sing as long as he can, while I have been preparing all my life for retirement. In spite of the lousy economy and my reduced projected yearly income, I will have housing, health care, and some money to spend. I just won't be able to travel or to give my family what I had wanted to. I am leaving a lifetime of enjoyable work and a sense of being important to the world and to my family. (I am a pharmacist and have enjoyed being close to my customers and to their families and problems.)

I don't know if the rock star has the same financial security that I have or if he has spent all he made and therefore needs to keep working -- sex, drugs and rock 'n roll, after all. In other words I don't know what his problems may be other than this annoying recurring dream. But the dream is a vivid one. In it, he feels that either he or someone close to him has done something terribly wrong.

With a feeling of impending disaster, he somehow finds himself hiding a body in order to help either himself or his guilty loved one. The police come and he finds himself locked up or closed up in a small place. Whatever the location, the dreadful feeling for him is that cannot do what he wants to do. He is pinned, trapped, confined.

My dream is very similar, but in it I am not the criminal. Still, I have the feeling of being enclosed and unable to move. I am on a speeding train and I can't move or stop it from speeding. As I am clutching the arm rests, the train crashes and I am pinned in the wreckage. I scream and scream and wait for someone to rescue me.... That's how it ends.

I think both of us are feeling retirement closing in on us and there is nothing we can do. How's that, doc? Pretty smart, huh?

A: Yup!! Pretty smart. You have certainly correctly identified what both dreams have in common, even though the surface stories of the two scenarios are different. Nevertheless, they are both examples of helplessness, powerless, and unavoidable conclusions. The rock star's dream has him a bit in greater control since he in fact hides the body while you are holding on for dear life while the train is speeding towards the inevitable. One can almost feel the wind whooshing past your head. And then you both find yourselves in closed positions that don't allow for movement or independent action. The rock star is locked up, you are pinned in debris. You hope for someone to pull you out, while his dream ends with a feeling of dread that he cannot do anymore what he wants to do.

What you haven't identified is that both dreams incorporate a fear of death. You are in an accident which you survive, but the rock star describes his lock-up as an enclosed space. Just as I could feel your speeding train, I could almost feel the tight space with no air that could be his confining coffin. You may actually survive with the help of someone else if your screams are heard, but the rock star is totally on his own, trying to hide the body by himself. I guess this doesn't work since he then finds himself caught and enclosed. I also had the strong feeling, or maybe my own prejudice, that he may be scared that the bill for a dangerous life is coming due -- the "done something terribly wrong," that you mentioned. He is trying to hide the damage he had done to his own body. But he can't hide that sort of thing from Father Time (Death?). It finds him. He is discovered and enclosed.

Your dream has another element as well. You have prepared yourself financially for retirement but in your case, retirement will amount to more than just not going to work in the morning. You're a caregiver. People rely on you. Families rely on you. You got to know your customers and their families. You are appreciated.

You are obviously important to a lot of people. You give service, they give gratitude. Sure you get paid, but the money is just a part of your compensation.

In addition, you set up a financial structure so that you could give to your family -- another form of giving. Because of the economic climate, your capacity to give has been diminished, but not ended. You can continue to do that. It's as important to you as it is to them.

You fear that retirement could end all of that. But once a caregiver, always a caregiver. I can predict that wherever your new retirement takes you, you will be volunteering to do something for others in the new community. And while you may not be able to give financially to your family, I suspect you will find other ways to be helpful. Our lives do go by us quite rapidly but you, unlike the rock star, don't seem to have a part of your life that you are anxious to hide. Good for you!