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So today I'm posting an essay about my dad.

My Father in Dreams

When I was eleven years old, my mother had a baby, (my little sister Myra,) my grandmother was recovering from a broken hip she got trying to kill a cockroach, and, one morning, my father couldn’t get out of bed. This was a man who was no stranger to incapacity: he had been struck by lightning, lost the tip of his thumb to a car door, was paralyzed for a year from a car accident, and swelled up to double his size in a spectacular and almost fatal reaction to penicillin. For about a year, we thought his difficulty this time was caused by a back problem. His doctor diagnosed him with a “slipped disk” and he learned to hobble around with a cane while he got physical therapy and heat treatments on his leg where he had swelling and the sciatic nerve seemed particularly sensitive.

Then, after it was too late, we found out that the swelling was a tumor pressing on the sciatic nerve with the pain a cruel imitation of back trouble. By then the old tumor had started breaking up to spread to various parts of his body. The rather grisly result of a dozen major operations trying to get rid of the cancer while saving his leg,was a medically historic removal of his leg up to his waist. And he still fought to live for some time after that, living for a total of ten years after that first morning he couldn’t get up.

This illness and death traumatized the whole family and we all went nuts (to greater and lesser degrees) in our individual ways. That is to say, we grieved in our own ways. The real locus for my grief was in my dreams. For reasons not altogether clear to me, I wasn’t able to express my sadness even to myself except in the vulnerability of the dream state. And so I had a recurrent dream over many years about my father.

I would be somewhere with my father. He would be healthy, joking around as had been his style up to and including his last words, and then he would go into another room and I would have the awful realization that he was dead. Then I would sob and sob until the force of emotion woke me up, shaking. I would have this dream once or twice a month and would feel heavy and drugged by it the next day, and blue or irritable for a few days. That was the pattern.

Then one night, not too long after I had begun studying with my spiritual teacher, I had a different kind of dream. I dreamed of my teacher and my father walking toward me, my teacher looking as he normally does but my father dressed in the suit he wore for church or formal occasions, It hung on him loosely as though he’d grown quite thin. And his skin hung on him in a similar way. He took my hand and put it in the hand of my teacher. When I awoke and thought about it, I took this to mean that as my father had been responsible for my life, he was giving me over to my teacher, for him to be responsible for my spiritual life. When I spoke with my teacher about this he added that my grief was holding my father back (this was more than ten years after he died) and that it was time to let him go; he had other things to do.

After that I didn’t dream of my father in the same way. I remember one dream that brought the old series to something of a conclusion. It began similarly to the old recurrent one: I was somewhere where my father was (though from the beginning of this dream he was in that “other room,”) and I got a feeling of great confusion and said, “Something is not right. Father is in the next room and he’s fine and all, but I REMEMBER GOING TO HIS FUNERAL!”

The people in the room looked at me and nodded and shrugged, saying something like, “Yes, and what’s the problem?” like it was the most natural thing for a person to be dead and still be there. I woke up from that dream feeling great! I thought the dream was funny and chuckled to myself about it.

Except for one brief glimpse of my father in a dream a couple of years ago --he was standing at the back door of the house I grew up in, looking out toward the back yard, and turned to me and said, “So, you want to build a house?’ And I said, “Yes.”-- except for that, I’ve only had one dream of him since the one I found so amusing. This was an amazing dream and to understand why, you had to hear about all the others.

I’ve been writing these little essays for about six months now, and several weeks ago I began using them for an ESOL class I’ve been teaching a few times a week. Then I also had the opportunity to read the one called “Getting Up Hay” to a group of about 35 people two weeks ago. They seemed to like it and I was thinking a lot about what I’d write next when one night I had this dream:

I am at an office with several people I know doing different kinds of work when I finally settle down to work on my essays, I decide to write about my father and start describing what I want to write about to someone in the room. I tell her: “ I really want to write about him because it’s so hard for me to know if he is alive. He’s been in so many parts of my life and yet he’s also not there, I just can’t tell. And then I begin thinking about incidents of things I have done with him since he supposedly died, when we went places and did things together and then times I could feel he wasn’t there, as though dead and gone. And so, thinking all these things, I begin to write the mystery.

When I woke up, what I found so amazing was the fact that in the dream I was accessing memories of previous dreams and that the mystery of my father’s state was so real to me in the dream that I was able to explain it to others and then try to write about it. In the waking state there is no such confusion, but an inability to put into words the reality I felt and the strangeness of waking to a different but oddly equal reality.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 10th, 2012 12:55 am (UTC)
Wow, it is remarkable that you can remember your dreams so well. I had a reoccuring dream when I was very young that I remember and I recall that I had a lot of dreams about death during my teens. But nowadays I don't recollect dreams when I wake up. If I do, I only remember them for a max of 30 minutes.
Jan. 10th, 2012 01:01 am (UTC)
PS. It was interesting to hear things about Grandfather's life. I didn't know that he and I had electrocution and penicillin poisoning in common.
Jan. 10th, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC)
You didn't!
I didn't know you had those things in common, either. Wow!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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