My daughter is not of this earth anymore, but she has come to me in dreams since she died in 2009. Dreams are funny things. They can be nonsensical, or they can be vivid, or even prophetical. The women in my family tend to dream in strange ways. One of my grandmothers saw those who had passed on before her (also Jesus), and the other tended more toward dreaming of her present life or things which had not yet come to pass. The latter is the one I called up, frantic, one day after I had dreamed of my little sister dying in a car crash – in a red car. My grandmother passed on the message to my mother (who had no phone), as she promised to do, that my sister was not to get in any red cars for the time being. That Friday night, the boy my sister was supposed to go on a date with died when he wrapped his red car around a tree.
So you might say it really made me a believer.
Things were never easy with my daughter from the time she was 14 onward. But the last few months of her life, I didn’t worry so much. She was in AA. She seemed to be doing better, but then she was mugged, and that started a sequence of events that led to her death. On Thursday, April 2, 2009, I got so tired in the early afternoon that I had to take a break from work and lie down. It was an inexplicable, suffocating fatigue. When that happens, one has little choice but to stop and rest. I am fortunate to have a job that allows me to work from home and to take breaks when I need to. I have worked this way for 15 years.
During my short nap, I dreamed of Stephanie.
In the dream, I was standing in the doorway of a hospital room, and she was lying in the hospital bed, just gazing at me with a peaceful expression. Her hospital gown was pale blue with navy blue diamonds. She was backlit with a soft glow, and I felt there was something she wanted to say to me. She was very still. I stood there, immobile, crying.
“What is wrong now?” I cried, because clearly something was wrong. She was in a hospital.
She only gazed at me. When I awoke from the dream, the fatigue was worse. It was like moving through Jell-O to try and get out of bed, but I got up and tried to shake off the dream. I was afraid to tell anyone about it because I was brought up with the superstition that you never discuss your dreams before breakfast. The bad dreams will come true if you do. It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I said nothing to anyone. I worked for the remainder of the day, haunted. I texted her but got nothing in return, which wasn’t unusual.
The next morning, both my husband and I were working from home. At noon, the police showed up at the house, and life as we knew it ended.
It was three days before we were able to see her, since she had been sent to the medical examiner in Baltimore. The whole idea that she was dead was somewhat dubious in our minds until we saw her that Monday at the local funeral home. The howl that poured out of me when I saw her lying in the casket under the spotlight at the front of the chapel echoed through the empty room. As I approached her, I saw that she had on a gauzy, high-necked, long-sleeved shirt under a pale blue hospital gown patterned with navy blue diamonds. I knew then that she had come to me to say goodbye.
Now it is nearly 12 years later, and I still dream of her. Not as often as I once did. In some dreams, she is clothed in all white. Her skin is translucent ivory; her long black hair flows down her back. She is smiling. Not all dreams are so pleasant. Sometimes we fight. Sometimes she doesn’t seem to see me. The latest dream, last week, came in the middle of a spate of migraines, on the heels of the death of Bodhi, the bulldog I got with my ex-husband in 2007. Bodhi was 13.5 years old and lived in Delaware with his daddy. I have a photograph of him as a puppy, asleep and resting his chin upon the top of Stephanie’s head as she sat on the couch. In the picture, she has a big smile, just short of laughter. I like to remember her that way. She had an amazing smile and a delightful laugh!
But in the dream last week, Stephanie was dead and lying in my bed. I couldn’t part with her, it seems. I kept her there rather than calling the ambulance or the coroner. Over time, her body began to decompose, of course, so each time I looked, there was less of her. Friends came over to my house, and one of them made a comment about an odor in the house. I claimed I didn’t smell anything, but really I knew there was an odor in the house. I just didn’t connect it to having a dead body upstairs.
My ex-husband was in the dream, too. After my friends left, we went upstairs again. He gently moved Stephanie’s body so that we could lie on the bed together, and he grabbed me in a snug embrace. (Can I just tell you how much I miss having someone to hold me when I really need it?) As I lay there, I noticed that Stephanie’s hand started to move. I pointed this out to my ex. He said he didn’t see anything. But her hand moved again, and suddenly I realized her body was whole.
She turned her face to me and said, “Mom, I’m dead. I’ve been dead for awhile. You have to let me go.”
After that, I called the funeral home and tried to explain why I had not called immediately after she died. I woke up in the middle of that call.
On the surface, one could say that this is a dream that my subconscious cooked up, trying to tell me it’s okay to let go and move on with my life. The dream felt deeper than that, though. It felt as though all of my past had come to visit me. Stephanie, my ex-husband, old friends … they were all there. I think sometimes that the reason I’ve been thinking so much about the past lately is because in this battle against cancer, it’s hard to see the future for myself. In many ways, this sort of “life review” has been good. There are so many puzzle pieces that have snapped into place and so many questions that have been answered. If nothing else, I understand myself better these days. I have become a very calm and centered person (unless I watch the news).
Even given the circumstances in the dream, I felt so grateful to see Stephanie and to hear her voice again. I’m always so grateful after any dream of her. And I was grateful that I felt my ex-husband’s arms around me. I needed that strong hug. In the time of Covid, none of us get hugged anymore. Yes, I hug my son, but you know what I mean. A hug from a lover is something that cures many ills. Touch is so important to our souls. Sometimes I think that’s why our soul is given a body–to experience pleasurable sensations like hugs, the scent of a rose, or the feel of cool rain on our faces.
I wish for all of us that we are soon in a place where hugging is no longer verboten. I wish for all of us that we have long, pleasurable lives. Most of all, I wish for my daughter that she is in some amazing afterlife with all of the joy she can handle.