I finally had that dream, the one I’ve been awaiting for almost two years, anticipating a certain assurance in its arrival.
Though Lou, my mom’s longtime partner who passed in April 2011, has flitted through my dreams every now and then since his death, I usually have only a vague memory upon waking. He never appeared bearing a message, as I’ve heard happen with others who’ve lost loved ones. And there was never a true sense of connection, of some flash of love slipping through the somnolent fog to comfort me in my sleep.
But last weekend, in a house where I sat with my mom and brother in my reverie, he tapped on a window, peeking inside, as if to ensure he had the right place. I saw his face, though my eyes disbelieved. Yet when the knock came at the kitchen door and my mom rose to open it, there he was, a younger, more robust version of the man who’d been ravaged, with swift surprise, by pancreatic cancer.
But his smile was the same, hearty and broad, spreading its warmth to his eyes, and when he hugged me, as he did all of us, he felt solid, sturdy, restored to a satisfying wholeness.
He sat with us at the kitchen table, and though we initially marveled at his ability to be there at all, after a while, it felt like what we’d always done, lingered at my mom’s table, amid the hum of conversation and laughter, inhabiting an easy, wordless kind of love.
Even in sleep, the dream filled me with a sense of peace and even joy. Though I’ve felt Lou with me often since he died and turned to all kinds of signs — a shooting star, the hawks he admired, a Johnny Cash song he loved — to remind me of his nearness, here, at last, was confirmation he was well and happy and still, wherever he was, connected to our lives.
As is often the way with dreams, the kitchen table tableau morphed into an unrelated scene though Lou later materialized again, a disembodied smiling face that then disappeared on a streak of light.
The timing of my dream, with the two-year anniversary of his passing this month, is, to me, a beautiful gift.
But as I also mark six months since my dad passed, it reminds me of just how little he’s “said” since he left, his body yielding to an agonizing onslaught of complications from all he’d been afflicted with over the years. Given his dynamic personality in life, I thought for sure my dad would be a playful spirit. It’s not that I long for any ghostly encounters — aside from a baffling and spooky experience in a Cape May hotel many years ago, I’m not one to seek out tales of haunting — but I expected more than a long, and often painful, silence.
Where Lou remained a tender and vibrant presence after his death, my dad seems to have vanished into a remote afterlife. Save a framed poem that crashed to the floor in the middle of the night after I returned from his funeral in St. Lucia — the poem had been written by my cousin who was at his bedside with me the day he died — there’s been relative quiet. No obvious signs. No solace in dreams. Nothing that kindles, if only fleetingly, a sweet experience of love.
Of course, I know my dad loves me — they were the last words he said to me while still cognizant — and I know he will always be with me. In many ways, I realize the darkness we enter into after the death of a loved one is closely attended by the light, that our dear-departed live on, radiant and transfigured, invisible companions as we journey through our grief.
But sometimes, I long for more brazen confirmation, a glimpse of life from the other side, a reason to believe he will not fade from everyday consciousness at seven or eight months, at a year, at two, with the ticking and tripping of time. I want to know that he remembers me, as I remember him, that months and years may soften the ache but not the love that rooted us, complicated and committed and fiercely profound till the end.
In St. Lucia, my aunts and uncle have his things, the moments that beckon him from the ether, the people who knew him and press them still with stories and praise. Last month, my Aunt Mary wrote of finding a pebble in his car, a souvenir of his many afternoons spent relaxing on Vigie Beach. Though I took the shirt he wore at his wedding when I left, following the funeral, I felt bereft reading her email, wanting, too, more to hold, something to evoke his presence beyond what memory can bring.
And so I wait for the signs, though now at the urging of a friend, trust they will come perhaps in a guise unlike what I believe they should be.
When my eyes recently welled listening to a cover of John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” I immediately thought of my dad, whose wide-ranging music tastes influenced much of my own musical identity. He loved Denver and taught me to love him, too, and as I kept singing through my tears, I imagined his voice, just a breath away, twining with mine, gathering the moment into a paean and a promise.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times