In the past week, I have dreamed about my dad a couple of times. He died in 2007 and these dreams have been so awesome! Not filled with deep meaning or any sense of “prediction.” Just my dad showing up and doing whatever it is I am doing in my dream. Sometimes being really funny. I had started to worry I might have forgotten what his voice sounded like, or how he walked. But it was all there.
Shortly after Dad died, my mom had an unsettling experience–unsettling and a tiny bit comforting in a spooky way. (Is that possible?) Every night, she slept in her bed with a bunch of pillows lined up beside her due to some back problems. One morning, after she had been awake for awhile and had her breakfast, she walked by the bedroom. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw my dad sleeping in their bed.
She didn’t go in. He wasn’t really there, it was the pillows. She knew this in her rational mind. But for so long the lump in their bed had been him. It was so familiar! By staying out of the room, she had the feeling for a short time that he really was there and alive and she’d be able to see him again. She stayed out of the room long enough to feel that thrill and little bit of joy/fear.
In the years that followed–even to now–I see Dad sitting in church. The back of other men’s heads, the slope of their shoulders, look just like him. I never want these men to turn around and be who they really are. As long as they face the altar, they are my dad sitting in a pew.
I’ve heard many times (and sometimes said myself) that people live on through the lives of those they touched and taught. And I believe that is true. But in grief there is sometimes an effort to resurrect the lost one in our imaginations, reconstruct the physical person we lost using the sights and sounds around us.
My mom’s experience raised questions for her about what the disciples must have gone through after Jesus died. Did they have similar spooky experiences? For me, the little glimpses I get of my dad still choke me up…I am tearing up just writing this. I feel like I am actually in Dad’s presence again.
I wonder about the experiences others have of lost loved ones. And, vainly, I am curious about what will make others think of me when I am gone. Will the back of a white-haired woman give my son a start? Will my daughter do a double-take when she hears a laugh that sounds familiar? As far as I can tell, it won’t be any of my unique mannerisms or traits or deeds that will make them think I am present with them again. The things that make you special are remembered in conversations and stories and artifacts. But what makes a loved one feel “there” is what is seen or sensed of them in ordinary encounters or routines, part of everyday life. Unlike the accomplishments and relics you leave behind, the way you are “felt” when you are gone is entirely out of your hands except for one thing– really being there before you go.