by Kim Keller
“So, is he in your dreams yet?” I asked my friend Nandi during a recent conversation about her father, who died of cancer a few months ago.
“Oh yes, but it’s awful, they’re nightmares,” Nandi explained with a dejected look. “Every time I dream about him, he’s sick, and I just want to remember him the way he used to be. I keep dreaming that I’m frantically searching for an oxygen tank for him, and when I finally find one . . . it’s empty!”
I’ve always been fascinated by dreams and, in particular, dreams about someone who has passed on. Such dreams can help us re-establish a bond with someone we’ve loved and lost, and that, in turn, can usher in a tremendous sense of peace and comfort.
After my father died, back in July 2006, I too hoped that I’d have a reassuring “visitation.” Instead, like Nandi, I had nightmares. They would jolt me awake in the middle of the night, and then, with my heart racing, the anguish would set in.
In the dreams Dad was always sick and struggling. He wouldn’t say a word but his eyes pleaded with me to end his agony. The setting was the same every time: a dark, windowless room, cramped and dank, with him sitting on either a single chair or a stainless steel examining table, a large porcelain bowl of water on the floor beneath him. In retrospect, it was like a prison cell — solitary confinement in black & white with occasional streaks of blood red.
At the same time, my sister was having a completely different nocturnal experience. “I had a wonderful dream about Dad last night!” Karen exclaimed one day, not long after our father’s death. “I was in our kitchen, in our old house, washing dishes after dinner, and Dad appeared in the window above the sink. He smiled at me and he looked happy and healthy!
“It was great!” she beamed.
I was green with envy. Sharing that kind of happy moment with Dad was all I wanted, too, but it just wouldn’t happen. That is, until one night a few years later, when I finally had my own breakthrough.
That night, Dad appeared in my dream, healthy, happy, smiling at me from across a room I didn’t recognize, but nothing like the dank little prison of my earlier nightmares. He was laying back on some sort of daybed, motioning me forward, a big smile on his face. I was filled with joy and instinctively moved toward him.
“I came to visit you!” he said.
Relief washed over my whole body, but then I realized that it couldn’t be him, that he had passed away. I stopped short. “But Dad,” I said with deep sorrow, “you’re not real, you’re dead.”
“No,” he said, smiling at me. “I’m really here, Kim. Take my hand.”
He reached out, and with great trepidation I stretched to touch him. I was certain that my fingers would pass right through his hand, like a computer-generated effect in a movie. But, instead, his hand was warm and real! I grabbed it and squeezed. It was glorious!
“I’m really here,” he told me. “I just wanted to talk. I’m always here with you, Kim. And we can talk whenever you want.”
That was the best dream I ever had. I’ve tried to go back there ever since, but without any luck so far. Still, I’ll always savor that moment. It calmed me, right down to my soul, and helped me heal.
Did he really visit me or was I just ready to make peace with his passing? I honestly don’t know, and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I needed closure with my father’s death. I needed to see that he was okay and still a part of my life.
Dad, if you’re reading this, how about we get together again some night soon to catch up? It’s been a while.
Kim Keller is the Co-Founder of In Care of Dad. She lives and works in New York City.