Home > Death, Dreams, Family, Personal, Reflections > Maybe they are just going home

Maybe they are just going home

Try as I might to remember, I forget most my night dreams.

By contrast, one night dream I wished to forget clung to me for many years before I finally accepted its memory will be a constant companion throughout my life.

I am sitting in a doctor’s office with my sister Rache. She holds my hand as her elderly doctor informs her she’s not only sick with cancer, but that it is so invasive and malignant within her body that she has at most three days to live. Rache seems resigned; she simply pats my hand while I weep.

I’m suddenly by myself outside a large church. I gaze up at it and think, “How could you, G-d? How could you?” I walk inside the empty church and see that, though no lights are on, it’s full of sunlight filtered through stained glass windows. The church’s paneling is dark, so the light mostly emphasizes the nostalgic darkness of its interior.

Without being aware of having moved, I’m in the center pulpit of the church. I fall to my knees, look skyward and try to see the beauty of the panes above me. Instead, I see only beauty which my sister will soon never be able to see again. 

I scream. I scream, and scream, and scream, until my voice is lost and I can scream no more, and the ground around me is drenched with my tears.

I heard that same scream this afternoon.

I was enjoying the outdoor seating of my favorite cafe, basking in the goodness of having written 840 words in my WIP after a writingless week, when heartwrenching cries filled the air. My own heart plummeted to my feet as I thought, I know that sound. While I didn’t know its exact source, I knew it almost certainly had to do with the hospice next door.

I was wrestling with the warring urges to offer comfort and ignore it lest my offer be rejected when the middle-aged ladies the next table over stood up.

“Are you going to go talk to her?” I asked. They nodded as they strode away from their belongings and food.

When they returned a few minutes later, the older lady touched a hand to her heart and said, “She just admitted her son to hospice.”

My own hand rose to my heart as I said, “I recently lost my mom, so . . . I’m glad you guys went out to talk to her. I was struggling with whether I should.”

A few minutes later, as I prepared to leave, the woman further from me asked, “How long ago was it?”

I explained that it’s been more than a year now since my mom passed away. “It’s much easier now, but it’s hard to hear that and know someone is just beginning that journey themselves. The inevitability of it. I’m so glad you guys went and talked to her. I just wish I hadn’t waffled . . .”

Immediately, both women spoke.

“You’re just fine,” said one.

“Sit with us for a little!” said the other.

I shook my head and said I had to go, but thanked them again. They wished me well and I felt sorrow and gratitude warring in my heart.

As I turned to the left and started to walk past the hospice, I saw a woman sitting on a bench outside it. She was quiet, but her body was shaking with her silent sobs. I kept walking, seeing as if there were cords connecting them that the two people nearest her in the courtyard were with her.

What good could I do, anyway? I kept walking.

A cry escaped her as neared the end of the hospice. I froze and thought, “I’d rather say something, no matter how inane, than not say anything at all.” I turned around, walked back, and felt tears sliding ever faster down my face as I approached.

“Is there anything I can do?” I whispered, even though I already knew the answer.

“No,” the woman said, her sobs continuing. “But thank you.”

I didn’t say anything else after that. What could I possibly say? But I said a prayer as I walked away, wishing her comfort and love to see her through the tumult ahead.

I remembered that dream. And I was glad I couldn’t forget it, because how it ended was very different from how it began.

It’s the third day. Rache and my godmother are sitting on a hillside, basking in the sun. Rache waves at me and pats a spot next to her on the grass. “If this is all the time I’ve got left, I’d rather spend it here than crying in a dark room somewhere.” I smile, because that seems so right somehow.

I lay down next to her on the grass and she holds my hand. There are so many balloons in the sky, all of them drifting upward toward heaven, that I think maybe they are just going home.

  1. July 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Oh. My first thought which initially seems insensitive is 1. Thank goodness there is a hospice for her son to go to.

    My second thought after reading your blog (wet eyes) is I really like what you say about better to say something no matter how inane than to say nothing at all. I think that is the right approach. I will remember that.

    • July 18, 2011 at 8:47 pm

      I wouldn’t say it sounds insensitive so much as like something written by one who works in the hospice field! Still, that being said, as one who’s benefited from hospice . . . the marvelous assistance its workers offered in dealing with the practicalities did not help with the emotional hardship of knowing the end was nigh. In those moments, the grief of knowing goodbye is imminent is no less for knowing trained professionals are there to assist.

      Of course, I don’t want saying that to sound like I’m ungrateful for the hospice workers. They were a light, and their gentle guidance away from guilt was both needed and welcome!

      It’s funny, though. It was my NP here in LA who was the most comforting of all those I talked to. As I was in getting my prescription refilled, I showed her a couple of pictures of my mom and Li’l D. She said, “You know, I was a hospice nurse for years before I became an NP. Just in case you’re worried, I want you to know that not once from all the hundreds of deaths I saw did people cower in fear. No, their faces lit up as they called to loved ones. So if you’re worried about that, stop worrying. I don’t worry anymore.” I thought about that a lot as I flew up to Eugene, knowing the trip would be the last I’d make while my mom still breathed.

      As for the second thought, I keep thinking about those ladies. I wish I’d sat with them, and exchanged numbers with them. What an inspiration they were, as others shook their heads and muttered the word “crazy”! I wish I had their contact info, but I’m heartened to know they’re out there, ready to lend a hand whether or not such is welcome.

  2. Liz
    July 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Once again, Deb, you have found a way to touch me. I sit at my keyboard with tears dripping down my face. I wish you love, I wish you light. I wish you lived closer because the only thing we could do is embrace. I love you, my friend.

    • July 18, 2011 at 8:49 pm

      There are so many days I wish we lived nearer. It won’t be soon enough, but someday (I hope someday sooner than later!) we will exchange ample hugs to make up for all the years we had to settle for electronic ones.

  3. July 17, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    You are a wonderful writer of stories, Deb. This is beautiful. I am glad you stopped and talked to the woman. Nicely done.

    • July 18, 2011 at 8:55 pm

      I feel so sad that it took me so long to reach that conclusion, but I’m heartened by those women’s reassurances I’m “just fine.” Maybe it really is better late than never.

  4. July 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Beautifully written, Deb. You have a wonderful way with words. I’m so glad you spoke to her. Just knowing that someone cares enough to reach out is a comfort. What a melancholy dream; it makes my heart ache even though the ending has a shred of hope. I’ve just finished reading Stop Pretending, so, yeah, my eyes are all wet.

    • July 18, 2011 at 5:58 am

      I couldn’t agree more!

    • July 18, 2011 at 8:58 pm

      I really, really wish I could remember the details, but I know there was one time where I was crying in public that someone walked by . . . then stopped. He backtracked and asked if there was anything he could do. I told him there wasn’t, but that I was grateful he’d stopped to check. The fact he cared enough to stop despite misgivings is what sticks with me, though the rest is lost to my horrible memory.

      I hope someday down the road she remembers these three ladies and knows that, if we’re not there to help her with her grief, we would if we only could.

    • July 18, 2011 at 8:59 pm

      I should add that my memory isn’t totally hopeless! It’s just that events have to fit into a certain framework for me to remember them. If they’re nestled within a larger whole, it’s easier for me to recall them; if they’re standalone, they’re often as good as instantaneously forgotten. :/

  5. July 17, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    In Jewish culture, we call what you did–reaching out to the woman outside of the hospice–a MITZVAH (good deed). What makes it match the definition of mitzvah and what makes it even poignant for me is that you were not seeking approval. From the depth of your empathy, you were compelled to talk with this woman. I wish that more people would act the way you did. And, instead of worrying that we will say the wrong (“inane”) thing, we should just say something.
    You’ve really touched me with this story. Thanks Deb.

    • July 18, 2011 at 9:07 pm

      It’s been almost a year since I converted to Judaism, but this is something I haven’t internalized yet. I love the idea of a mitzvah, and I love the idea of the levels of giving, but I haven’t reached the point where I understand that’s what something is. (Something to strive toward? Or something to hope I achieve, even without cognizance? Points to ponder!)

      I know what it’s like to have someone stop and ask me, even if I can’t remember the circumstance. I would like to be that memory for someone else. I wish I’d come across it sooner, instead of fearing my voice would crack or I’d start crying before I could ask her. She didn’t mock me for crying, or think less of me. I don’t think she cared. I think–hope–that what she’ll take from it is what I took from it: that someone cares enough to stop, even if they feel ridiculously impotent as they do.

      I’m so grateful to those two strangers who went out first. I’m glad they talked to the mother first, and that they comforted me when I was doubting myself for how I hesitated. It lifts my heart to know they’re out there still, ready to lend a hand, an ear or a heart, as needed, even if they lose their wallets in the process.

    • July 18, 2011 at 9:08 pm

      Also, ♥

      You’ve touched me with this comment.

  6. July 18, 2011 at 5:02 am

    We have antennae. Each antenna can probe an experience, an insight, a truth or knowledge. Your antennae touched someone at the level it was needed. Again, my friend, you capture for us the need to sensitively be aware.

    • July 18, 2011 at 9:09 pm

      I love your words. I love them in your entries, your emails, your comments. Thank you, Georgette.

  7. July 18, 2011 at 6:16 am

    Beautiful post, I’m sure just showing her you recognised her grief gave her some comfort!

    • July 18, 2011 at 9:10 pm

      I hope so! I know it isn’t always immediate, but I hope in the days to come she remembers these three stranger ladies and knows–as I did at the end of my dream–there are people willing to help her through her grief, though that doesn’t diminish the grief itself . . .

  8. July 18, 2011 at 6:38 am

    It’s so hard knowing what to say to people in situations where no amount of words or hugs can make a difference. But well done for stopping and letting that woman know she wasn’t alone. I think sometimes people who are grieving are avoided lest their tragedy be “catching”. Beautifully written as ever. x

    • July 18, 2011 at 9:15 pm

      I have seen that avoidance of tragedy before. I’ve wondered about its source, but as I scan some of my memories against what you’ve said, I see some of them are easily attributable to this.

      I hope other instances are just fear of saying the wrong thing. That is something more readily overcome, I think, as we walk with grief; sometimes it’s not the “right” thing that makes the difference. Sometimes it’s just the things we’ve said with the right heart, even if the words came out wrong.

      Indeed, one of my girlfriends lost her dad unexpectedly shortly after my mom died. When I sent her what words I could to comfort her, one of the things I thanked her for was always, always stepping up and saying something, rather than being fearful of saying the wrong thing. Sure, she was anxious, but she was also supportive and loving, determined to be there with us no matter how awkward it was. I told her I wanted to be a little bit more like that, and it’s my hope that in more time I’ll do it as unpreconsideredly as she does.

      Thanks, lady. ♥

  9. July 18, 2011 at 7:58 am

    Oh, this is such a beautiful post. Your courage and selflessness inspire me.

    • July 18, 2011 at 9:16 pm

      Thank you. It was those ladies the next table over who inspired me. I wish I told them, but I hope they know . . .

  10. July 18, 2011 at 10:16 am

    This post brought me to tears. Very brave of you to stop and speak to that woman. Death, dying and grief is universal, it will touch us all and it’s a shame we don’t take the time to share with others so maybe they can know they are not alone. I can tell you that that woman will remember what you did. I was very grateful for those who had the courage to speak to me when I was grieving for my dad. Just a simple word and gesture meant the world.

    • July 18, 2011 at 9:22 pm

      Your comment really helped me see this in a different light. As I walked away, and even as I typed this, all I could see was how long it took me to decide to say something. I don’t suppose that’s something she’ll see, eh? I don’t know what the people who comforted me while I was grieving thought about. I don’t really care. What I remember, and what I carry with me, is the goodness of their speaking though they doubted their words would matter. Maybe, then, it’s not my delay that counts . . . but that I got there in the end.

  11. July 18, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this experience, Deb. I spend a lot of time feeling as if the “world” doesn’t have time for anyone anymore. This post proves me wrong, once again! And…that is a very good thing.

  12. July 18, 2011 at 9:23 pm


    I am so grateful to those women who sat near me. I read about many examples of lovingkindness demonstrated to strangers, but to see it? It reinvigorated my hope, and my love.

    There’s so much we’re capable of, if we band together to show it.

  13. July 18, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    This is so touchingly beautiful… and the last sentence took my breath away. At the yoga and meditation retreat I attended last week, the master teacher spoke about what happens when people die… She described their souls as colorful balloons floating up to heaven…. You must have been at my yoga retreat in spirit. WoW! 🙂

    • July 20, 2011 at 5:35 pm

      Thank you! Reading your comment and a PostSecret about balloons and heaven within a short periods of my posting this left me with an eery but not unpleasant sensation. Maybe there is something to it!

  14. July 19, 2011 at 7:56 am

    Beautiful story. Beautifully written. I am glad Chris led me to your blog and you to mine. 🙂
    You must be an amazing woman, to have so much compassion for a complete stranger. Brightest blessings to you. 🙂

    • July 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm

      Thank you, and seconded! I very much look forward to reading more of your entries, for it’s a gift when that much heart makes itself apparent so clearly, so fast.

  15. July 19, 2011 at 8:25 am

    What an awful dream! I never remember my dreams either…just the ones I don’t want to remember.

    It was nice of you to say something to a stranger.

    • July 30, 2011 at 7:26 pm

      Occasionally I remember a dream that delights. There was one a few months after my mom died where I was folding laundry with her. It was such a small thing, but so sweet! There was another one where I was a detective on a fantasy world where everything was so freakin’ beautiful I could hardly stand it. I’d like to remember all dreams like these, if I could.

  16. July 19, 2011 at 9:08 am

    This is a beautiful post, Deb, although it made me profoundly sad. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to hear the echoing scream of your dreams interfere in your real, day-to-day life.

    I guess some days we just need to come to terms with the fact that there are hard things happening to people all the time, and we don’t always have the power to help.

    • July 30, 2011 at 7:29 pm

      It’s a rough thing to come to terms with, huh? :/ Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all the things I can’t do, and at those times I try to hold on to thoughts of The Parable of the Starfish. There are so many we won’t be able to get back into the water in time, but . . . for the ones we do, that’s the world left open for them.

  17. October 19, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Beautifully written recount of your dream, as well as your encounter with the woman that was just beginning the dreaded journey. I love how you describe being torn as to whether or not to talk with her; so glad that you eventually did. A simple show of concern is more of what this world needs, and I’m not surprised you offered it.

    Like you, I, too, have lost my mother to cancer, and it’s surprising as to what a struggle it is to find the correct words, to offer someone that is just beginning to deal with their loss.

    As you knew that there was nothing you could do (you knew having been there), your simple offer of kindness showed the grieving woman that a total stranger can make a positive difference.

    I came across this post, from reading the one of today (10-19-11); so glad that I did!

  1. October 19, 2011 at 9:03 am
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