Well, I sure left things on a depressing note last time, didn’t I? I know it sounds like a lazy writer’s excuse, but as I’ve said before, take it as a good sign when I haven’t posted in a long time. I have been moving forward with my life, and while grief never entirely goes away, it did get easier pretty quickly through help from my family, my friends, the universe, and the sheer passage of time. Along the way, I’ve learned to recognize and accept comforting signs around me, and they particularly help on days like today: the eight-year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing, which happens to fall a day after the four-year anniversary of Ben’s. I’ll discuss, over time, different factors that guided me through the darkest moments and continue to do so, but today I’d like to focus one of my favorites: dreams. Since my grandmother’s death, I’ve come to look at certain dreams as much more meaningful than others.
This is a dog blog, so I have not said a whole lot about my Granny here before. But since she taught me so much about unconditional love and since losing her fed so heavily into how I handled Petey’s and Ben’s deaths, she will be a big part of this post (and probably future ones).
My Granny was my Dad’s mother, and she helped raise me. From my infancy, she took care of me every day when both of my parents worked. She taught me how to read and write as I got older, and when I started kindergarten, she persuaded my parents to send me to the school down the street from her so that she could pick me up in the afternoons. By the time my parents came for me each evening, my Granny had already bathed me and fed me dinner. She got me through the toughest times of my childhood, including my parents’ divorce when I was six, and she even kept me at her house the whole time I had the chicken pox so that I would not pass the illness on to my sister, just a baby at the time. While I was sick, she collected my work from my first grade teacher and brought it to me each day. She praised how well I sounded out the words and made me feel like I could do anything, even from the cot at the side of her bed. She was my hero–and still is. I was lucky enough to have her in my life for thirty-five years.
On June 28, 2009, my Granny passed away after a long and difficult struggle with cancer. I now lived across the country, but I woke up that morning feeling agitated. Rob, Henry, and I had just returned home from a trip to the mountains, and we had gotten little sleep the night before because Henry, only 18 months old then, had woken up around 1 a.m. screaming, apparently from an earache caused by the changing altitude. Nearly two months pregnant, I was still groggy and continued to lie in bed, but my mind raced. My Granny had been in hospice care and had basically slept, medicated for the past week. The whole family knew that the time was approaching. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a light shine on one of my bedroom’s interior walls. It looked like the sun was hitting it, even though that wall never gets direct sunlight. As soon as I looked, the light disappeared. I got up and went downstairs. A half hour later, my stepmother called me to tell me the news.
By now, I’d been reading a lot on what happens after we die. I felt comfortable in my belief that my Granny was free and would be watching over us. I did not expect, though, how she would let me know. The dream I had the morning after her passing remains fresh in my memory today.
I’ve read several times that “visitation dreams” happen in the wee hours of the morning, between three and six, when we’re in our deepest, least interrupted sleep. This dream came to me within that time frame. In it, I was at my Granny’s house, lying in the room where I normally stayed when I slept over as an adult, snuggled in the blankets. She sat next to me on the bed, and we talked and talked about everyday events, just like we used to whenever I visited. Her voice very passionate, she had so much to say. She couldn’t believe what certain people we knew were doing. As I listened, I gazed at the door, which was surrounded by narrow, rectangular windows. I could see a bright blue sky through them and knew that heaven was out there. Eventually, when our conversation quieted, my Granny said, “Well, I better go check on Grandpa.” She got up and, at the foot of the bed, folded a couple pieces of laundry first. I sat up. “I love you, Granny,” I said. “I love you, too, Darlin,” she said without looking at me, keeping things as normal as possible. And when she left the room, it felt like she had just walked into the living room, leaving me to relax while she continued to take care of the house. I woke up shortly after that, surprised to be back in my own bed. Her voice still echoed in my mind. It made me confident that she did not leave us.
That dream would precede many other periodic visits. By the time Petey and Ben died three years later, I had accepted these dreams as reassurance that even when our loved ones die, their souls very much live on.
I do not remember having one specific visitation dream like that after Petey’s death. At first, he just materialized briefly in several different dreams. He always appeared in perfect form again, both eyes intact and bright, and he was usually a puppy. In one dream, I went out to the garage to look for something, and I was digging through the double jogger stroller when I lifted a baby blanket from one of the seats. Petey lay there snoring, and as he woke up, he looked at me with big sleepy eyes. I kissed the black spot on top of his head, picked him up, and carried him inside the house. In another, he ran around the coffee table at mega speed, and I only caught quick glimpses of him before he disappeared underneath the table or the rug again. I finally caught him, a tiny, wiggly fur ball, and sobbing, told him how much I loved him. Those moments left me feeling like Petey, now free from his old body, was back to his young, energetic self; he had no limits.
The night after Ben passed away, I went to bed in tears. As I drifted off, I saw him sitting in front of me, hunched over and and staring at me with his heavy, sad eyes. I jolted awake. My sleep remained fitful like this until the early morning hours. The dream I had during that window of time remains, again, just as vivid to me today. I had exited my front gate, heading out on my daily walk, when I noticed two women talking in the driveway across the street from my house. A young lady wearing a baseball cap with a blond ponytail sticking out of the back cradled Ben in her arms. Despite his stocky build, it looked completely natural, like she always carried him around. He loved it, totally surrendered, relaxing. I knew, though, that he would want to walk with me, so I approached the lady and asked her if I could have a minute with him. She put him down, and he ran to me. After I showered him with kisses, we set off for the trail, him running and leaping with all of the energy of a puppy, his eyes on me the whole time.
I could have never anticipated having a dream like this. Like the dream about my grandmother, everything just seemed so normal–the neighborhood, the daily routine, the way the young lady just fit into the whole picture. The outside light was maybe just a little more golden, the trees more defined, and the love and energy more pronounced. I interpreted that dream to mean that Ben’s new home was not far away, and he was perfectly happy in it. Ever the ladies’ man, he’d had no trouble finding a cute, nice young woman to take care of him.
Many more significant dreams have come to me over the years, and I may write about others later. They often happen randomly, but they do tend to occur on significant dates, too, such as birthdays and anniversaries. They always bring me hope, and over the years, they’ve helped me accept how things have worked out. Saying goodbye to someone you love is always difficult, but my story is relatively easy. These dreams remind me to say thanks for all the love life has given me and to embrace the blessings that continue to surround me today.