I had a most peculiar dream last night. I was working at my computer. In fact, I was thinking about writing something, but, as always, pondering what I could possibly write that any person with an IQ above the room temperature would actually want to read. At that point, my Grandfather walked into the room. I was mildly surprised to see him. It seemed as though it had been a rather long time since I’d last seen him, and there was something vaguely disquieting about this, but I couldn’t put my finger on why, so I just dismissed it and greeted him.
“Hi, Grampa”, I said, using the name I had used for him since I’d been old enough to talk.
“Hey, Stevie!”, he replied, using not only the name but the same cheerful greeting he had used for me since I had been old enough to understand the English language. I usually dislike being called “Stevie”, but with him I never minded.
He seemed to have aged a little since I had last seen him, the eyes not quite so clear, the voice a little raspier. I asked him how he was, and had to repeat the question several times, but that was not so strange, as he had always been hard of hearing although this too seemed to have progressed a bit further. When he finally understood what I had said, he replied, “I’m always better when I see you”.
And this, too, I found slightly odd, as my grandfather was not usually a man to show his feelings this readily. That he loved me like the son he never had I knew, had always known. From my earliest moments of cognizance, his love for me was an unwavering point of reference throughout my childhood, adolescence, extending even into adulthood. It wasn’t just that there was nothing I could ask for that he would not gladly and freely give, although that certainly was true, it was simply that, in his own understated way, the expression on his face, rather than his words, always made it so obvious how glad he was to see me whenever we met. While I have been blessed in my life with an abundance, perhaps even an over abundance, of people who love me, I never felt that love more keenly than from my Grandfather.
So while I thought his remark slightly out of character, I was pleased by it. I wanted to hug him, but I knew that would make him uncomfortable. So we shook hands, while I patted his bicep with my free and as he did the same. There was more warmth conveyed between us in that gesture than in a hundred phony hugs. That was our relationship in a nutshell. There was no more demonstrating because there was no need for it. We loved each other and nothing more needed to be said or done. I basked in a sort of warm glow, as delighted at that moment as I had been as a child to see him again.
And then I woke up. For a moment or two I basked in that delicious dreamlike state that lies between sleeping and full waking, and I happily recalled seeing my grandfather again. As I moved inexorably towards full waking, I wondered uneasily why it had been such a long time since I’d seen him.
Then with full waking, I remembered: he died in 1991.
At that point the dreamlike state was gone, reality came crashing in, and I was filled with such an overwhelming feeling of loss that it ruined my whole day. I remembered the day I sat with him in the hospital, holding his hand, as the little green line on the monitor measured the degrees by which his life was ebbing from his body. I remembered how desolate I felt as I tried to come to terms with the fact that, for the first time in my life, this man who had in many ways been my best friend would no longer be a part of my life. Fifteen years had, of course, dulled this pain, but never fully erased it.
But now, as I awoke from this wonderful dream, the pain returned as fresh and as bitter as the moment when I sat watching him die, and at that moment I would have given anything, anything at all, to be able to really have one more day with him. One more day to talk to him, work in his beloved garden with him, play checkers with him, and yes, maybe even to have hugged him.
But that will never be.
I still have things to remember him by. I keep his old pocket knife in my pocket, the one I used to watch him cut chestnuts with every Christmas. I wear his old Lord Calvert watch every day. It was made in the 1940’s, and after a little cleaning it still keeps good time. When I dress up I wear the gold pocket watch that his uncle gave him for his Confirmation in 1921. Beside being objects of beauty in themselves, in a way they still keep me close to him when I wear them, a daily reminder that he once lived.
It is the great tragedy of the human condition that our loved ones must inevitably and irretrievably part company from us. The greater the love, the more we enjoy their company in life, the more keenly we feel the pain when they are taken from us.
Over the course of my life, I’ve had thousands of dreams, most of which I’ve forgotten. But some dreams, for some reason, stay with me and are never forgotten. It’s not just the subject of the dream that makes me remember them, although that obviously plays a part. Some of my dreams are just so vivid, so real, that I still feel them long after I‘ve awoken from them. The week before I met my wife, I had a dream about her (I knew it was her because we had known each other in high school some twenty years before, but had not seen each other since) but that’s a post for another day.
This dream about my grandfather is such a one, and I know it will never leave me. Did my subconscious bring him back to comfort me during a time of great stress in my life? Or perhaps, as some believe, is his spirit still with me, using dreams to somehow breach the barrier that divides the physical world from the spiritual one?
Rightly or wrongly, I choose to believe the latter.