Almost two months ago I had a dream that was both familiar and unusual. Since my Grandpa Clyde (my mom's dad) passed away in November of 1998 I have occasionally dreamed of him. In my dreams reality most always spills over. In my dreams I realize that my grandpa is deceased yet somehow I am able to see him, hear him, touch him. Most often I embrace him and begin weeping, for the joy of experiencing him one last time, for the pain of knowing that it cannot last. These dreams are a comfort for me . . . sure, a bit painful as well, but mostly comforting. These dreams seem so real to me at the time that I wake up feeling as though I have gotten another brief moment with my grandpa.
The dream two months ago was much the same; I saw him, knew that he had passed, laced my arms around him, and wept. He looked at me and smiled, in that calm, gentle way he always did. I said a few things to him but he never said a word, only made a few noises in reaction to my words. One of those reactions was a deep and soft chuckle, which I could feel in the way his upper body shook up and down with amusement. It was as if he knew I couldn't possibly comprehend how all of this worked -- how I could be in his presence at that moment. And my innocence amused him the way a parent is entertained by a child thinking the sky is blue because God painted it with a crayon.
In that moment when he chuckled I felt something that I have never before experienced while dreaming. In that moment it all felt truly real, not just a dream that seemed real. It was almost as if I had been visited by my grandfather -- that his spirit had come to me in that dream. He never spoke a word to me, and I am still left wondering why. I suppose I didn't need words . . . his tender looks and touch were enough to fulfill the longing I had to feel close to him. Perhaps he knew that words would have only muddled up the experiencing of him in that moment -- that I would have heeded more attention to them and deciphering their meaning, rather than soaking in the moment -- the way it felt and what it did for my soul. And if you know me, then you probably know that words are my life; writing is my bread and butter (or even more specifically for me, my breadstick and garlic butter). But there are times when words simply will not do -- when they become obstructions instead of vehicles. There are times when words cannot speak to your soul the way a silent touch can . . . the way it wraps around you like a childhood blanket on a crisp Autumn day.
As quickly as the moment came, it went. And I awoke slightly shaken, but in a good sort of way. It was a very spiritual experience -- something that transcends reality, reason, and logic. I couldn't tell you what exactly is the truth behind it all, whether my grandpa's spirit truly visited me or if it was a creation of my own mind in an attempt to comfort myself. Either way, I don't really think it matters. All that matters is that it made me feel loved.
A little over a week after having this dream my family, husband, and I traveled to Minnesota to visit my grandma (my mom's mother). I had not been able to go there in eight years, so my excitement was rather boundless. Shortly after saying our hellos and giving hugs I grabbed some of my luggage and began slugging up the stairs to the second floor where my husband and I would be sleeping. By the third or fourth step I began to feel a weight, more than just the luggage I was carrying. With each step I felt more and more heavy. No one else was on the second floor, nor had anyone else entered it before me. I was alone, but I did not feel alone. I felt a presence that began to overwhelm me. I ascended the stairs, walked over to the dresser, and stood for a moment just staring in the direction of the bed and closet. I began feeling so overwhelmed that my chest heaved and my eyes began to blur with a few tears. I stared toward the closet door instinctively, for some reason, and continued to feel a strong presence. For a moment I was so overcome with that sensation that I honestly thought that my grandpa was going to physically appear to me.
He did not. The moment passed, my breathing slowly went back to normal, and I collected myself so that I could finish unloading the van. A little while later that evening I thought again about when I had first ventured upstairs. I thought about the compulsion I had to look at the closet door, and realized something that I had long forgotten. I realized that that very closet housed my grandpa's World War II and American Legion uniforms. They hung gracefully in the closet with only a few other random items. I went upstairs, opened the closet, and gently ran my fingers across the seams of his jackets, wondering if part of his spirit, his energy had been collected there, and I had been lucky enough to experience a little bit of its release.
I have written before about my relationships with my grandparents, and that I have had a void since childhood because of the lack of relationship. I have always loved them deeply and know that they have loved me. But because of living so far away it was difficult to build a close tie with them. I often wondered how interested they were in me -- unsure of just how much they cared. In a roundabout way, I almost feel as though these experiences were a gift to me in that sense -- that they were giving me things that I had needed from my grandparents since I was a child.
A couple nights before we left Minnesota we were all gathered in the family room before bed. As Grandma was getting ready to head off to Slumberland my mom stopped her and told her that there was something that she should know. My brother, Jeff, proceeded to relay a story of experiencing Grandpa's presence earlier that week, and I then told her of mine. As we continued talking about it all I saw my grandma's face flush and her eyes dampen. Jeff and I both stood up to embrace her. And we all just . . . cried. It sounds cliche and corny, but for me, it was beautiful. Even more than that, it was healing. It gave me a deeper bond with my grandma than I have ever known. I felt tied to her with a permanence, a weighty, sturdy rope, rather than a frail and invisible string. I saw in my grandma's face that night a tenderness and love that she has always probably had. But I saw it that night because of Grandpa. And maybe, just maybe that was the reason behind it all. Maybe Grandpa Clyde still sees things that need tending to. After all, that was his nature: to selflessly work and give of himself to his family and church. In 1998 he died, work boots on, helping to build a new section of his church. Something tells me . . . his work boots are still on.