Monday, April 9, 2018

The Dream

She was a young mother when she had the dream, just thirty, with four little boys between the ages of one and five.  She would not give birth to her fifth, and last, son for several years.

She was normally not a dreamer.  Always an exceptionally deep sleeper (the alarm had not yet been invented that would easily wake her--except, of course, for the middle-of-the-night cries and calls of her children), she rarely dreamed--and even when she did, she even more rarely remembered the details of her dreams, which would grow hazy as soon as she opened her eyes and then quickly evaporate, like a misty fog being chased off by the sun.  "I was having the strangest dream," she might tell her husband.  But when he asked her what it was about, she could almost never clearly recall the particulars.

This dream was different.

THIS one the heavy-sleeping young mother remembered vividly upon waking--every excruciatingly painful detail of it.

In the dream, it was obvious that the young mother was no longer of this world.  She was floating down to earth, ghost-like, to visit her husband and sons, the beloved family from whom she'd been cruelly separated by a premature death (the reason for her untimely demise unclear, unexplained).  She had been unwilling to ever purposely leave them while she lived; separation anxiety had been a hallmark of her brand of motherhood.  How unbearable it was for her to be separated from them now!  She just had to see them again.  She had to.

She located the house.  There they were: her boys!  Hopefully they would be as glad to see her as she was to see them.  She passed easily through the see-through roof and floated inside, her heart fluttering in anticipation of the sweet reunion.

Sadly, nothing about this reunion was sweet.  In a similar fashion to those nightmares where you try to run from danger but you realize with horror that your legs are suddenly paralyzed, she kept yelling frantically, through tears, trying in vain to get her boys' attention, but it was as if she had no voice at all, or as if they had gone completely deaf.  Going to them one by one, she cried, "It's Mom!  I'm here!  I'm so sorry I had to leave you!  I miss you and I love you!"  Not one of them turned his head at the sound of her voice, not one; they didn't hear her or see her, didn't feel her presence, even though she was pouring her love out over them with every ounce of strength she had left.  It was as if she didn't exist at all.  They kept doing what they were doing, heads bent over their toys, utterly engrossed, oblivious to her presence; the youngest napped peacefully in his crib...and from all appearances, they were as happy as they'd ever been.  How badly she wanted to hug them, to see their faces light up and to hear the older ones say, "Mom, you're back!  We've missed you so much!"

It seemed as if they'd forgotten her altogether, and her heart felt as if it was cracking into a million tiny pieces.

Profoundly saddened, she reluctantly left her babies to go in search of her husband, her only love, the high school sweetheart who'd been her best friend for half of her earthly life and with whom she'd been chosen by God to raise those precious boys.  On her way to him, floating down an unfamiliar hallway in that unfamiliar house, she passed a doorway and looked in to see a lovely woman sitting in an easy chair, with her head bent over a book...and she was visibly pregnant.  The sight of this woman, a complete stranger who was now the woman of this house, apparently, pierced the young mother's heart.

Finally, she found him--the high school boyfriend-turned-husband who had always and forever been the only man for her.  He was alone in the master bedroom--a room that he should be sharing with HER, she thought, and not with that other woman out there who was sitting in a chair, reading and growing a new baby.

When he saw her, the husband dropped the folded-up t-shirt he was holding and his face immediately lit up with joy.  "It's SO GOOD to see you again," he said, and she could tell that he'd missed her and he loved her still.

"You can see me?  Oh, thank God you can see me!" she said.  She could always count on him.  "The boys..."  A sob caught in her throat.  "The boys can't see me!  I tried to talk to them, and they can't hear me, either."

He looked at her with love (and pity, too, perhaps) in his eyes.  "We're okay.  We're doing okay.  You don't have to worry about us; we're all going to be fine."

How could they be fine without her?  How could they be?  Oh, yes...that woman reading in the chair, who now had the coveted job of caring for her boys--she was their mother-figure now...

It was then that the young dead mother in the dream realized that her beloved men--all five of them--had moved on without her, and she began to keen...

The young mother's eyes popped open.  She had woken herself up with the actual sound of a strangled cry in her throat, a sound that put a merciful end to the unspeakably painful dream, and there were actual tears soaking her cheeks.  This had never happened to her before; she had never cried herself awake.  She was shaken to her core.  It took a long time for her to feel the consolation that comes from realizing that none of that awful stuff had really happened, that it was all just a bad dream--that she was alive, that her precious boys were sleeping in nearby rooms, that her husband was still all hers.  But it had seemed more real than any dream she'd ever had (if you didn't count the part about floating down from the sky and passing through the roof of a house!).  She could not seem to shake the sadness it left in its wake.  Not for hours.

The question I pose now, dear readers, is this: was it a bad dream, or was it, in some ways, a good one?

Yes, yes, I know: it was very sad, for what mother can fathom leaving her babies motherless when they're so little?  But it was also ultimately hopeful, wasn't it?  Didn't the young widower prove, by marrying again (even though he still felt love for his departed wife), that with the grace of God, we can endure even the most painful losses and still find a reason to keep on living?  Wouldn't any mother be comforted to know that her husband and children were going to be okay, even if she couldn't be with them?

You might have guessed by now that I was the young mother who woke up crying, having just experienced in my dream existence what was one of my greatest real-life fears at that point in time.  (My other fears were so terrifyingly painful to imagine that I guess my subconscious didn't even dare to produce dreams about them--or if it did, I was thankfully too heavy a sleeper to remember them.)  At the wise old age of going-on-60, however, I realize now that my faith back then was not what it should have been; and had my faith been strong enough, I might have found more comfort than sadness in that dream--which I imagine now could be a glimpse of what Purgatory might be like for someone like me.

Blurry 1988 snapshots, from the day we brought son #4 home from the hospital.
We think we love our children more than anyone possibly could, but God loves them even more than we do.  It's taken me a lot of years to really understand that, and to put my trust in Him.  We don't know what's truly best for us, and for our loved ones; only God knows that.  And His plans for us are more perfect than any we could make for ourselves--even the tragedies of this life can lead us to greater happiness in the next.

It's easy for me to look back on this dream now and wonder why it tormented me so at the time, I guess: after all, I have been granted the privilege of living long enough to see my boys (all five of them) grow up; to see the four oldest get married and become fathers; to live past middle age with my first and only love and meet a dozen of our grandchildren (with more already on the way).  I am luckier than most.  God's plan for me was not to die young and leave my sons when they were small, and for that I am eternally grateful.

When I was a young mother, I had an intense and irrational fear of flying that could more accurately be described as a fear of dying.  (And I'm married to an airline pilot--go figure!  I know better than most how safe airline travel is, and yet...)  I am a bit ashamed now that I wasn't able to put my life completely in God's hands back then, to trust in His goodness and mercy and without fear say, "Your will, not mine, be done."  Because of my fear of flying and my separation anxiety, I couldn't bring myself to fly AWAY from my boys; but when they grew up, left home, and scattered to the winds, I was able to fly TO them with little trouble.  Wanting to see them when they were far away cured me of my long-held phobias.  I wish I could say that faith alone had done it.

I still fear death (which is to say that I am like most normal humans).  I can only hope that when my time comes, I will be so much stronger than the dream-frightened young mother I was 30 years ago, and that I can fly to Our Lord without fear, like my father did when he died in November of 2016.

When Dad was given his final prognosis--that the chemo was not working, that his leukemia was terminal, and that he had only a week or two to live--he took that news bravely and thanked the doctor for his honesty.  He calmly faced his end, surrounded by his family for one beautiful week that I will always remember with fondness.  His last week on earth was one of peace, grace, courage, love, trust, and acceptance.  He gave himself back to God without one tear falling down his face, without one complaint--even though he knew that he was saying goodbye to my mom, the beloved partner with whom he'd shared his life for 60 years.  His was the happiest, holiest death anyone could ever imagine.  Right before he passed, as he was struggling to take his last breaths, his eyes suddenly popped open and he stared at a spot on the ceiling.  His lips moved as if he was trying to talk to someone.  My husband and I both believe that he was seeing Our Lady, and that She was there in his last moments to take him to Her Son.
That's my dream now: to die the way my father did.

(I'm sorry if this post was a little heavy!  I just recalled that long-ago dream the other day and felt compelled to write about it.  Actually, I used memories of this dream as inspiration for some parts of Finding Grace, when talking about Grace's mother, Peggy, and her feelings regarding faith and motherhood.  Perhaps there will be a Grace-filled Tuesdays Book Club post tomorrow?)


  1. What a vivid, momentous dream! I would have awakened crying too. I'm glad it wasn't a premonition and you've seen your sons grow up and have their own children (I also had four boys in a row, then a wider gap before having more children so your photos really resonate with me : )

    1. Hi Sue, thanks for stopping by and leaving this thoughtful comment. I'm glad it wasn't a premonition, too! I have been the luckiest woman on earth, blessed beyond measure.