My mother came to me in a dream about death last night. I’m not saying that’s the only way she can speak to me now. She’s still alive. Or she was yesterday morning. That’s when I spoke with her last. Soon, I’ll screw up my courage and ring-her-up, expecting to hear that usual cheerful “Hello, Sonny Boy!” I’ll ask her how she’s feeling. Did she sleep well? Is the arthritis better with this improving weather? I’ll ask about plans for the day, and tell her of mine. Did she remember to refill her medicines at Wal-Mart? Does she recall how Daddy loved sunny but cool spring mornings like the conditions we both are enjoying today? This fair weather is shared, even though there’s a thousand miles between us. One thousand miles of memories connecting her in her home in Tennessee to me in mine in New York. No matter. Love leaps any distance with a single bound, in a single beat of the adoring heart.
So in my dream, Momma said she’d had a dream. One that told her she was about to die. A dream, cradling a dream about death. A delicate layering of reality and emotion undulating, alternating—oscillating like the pendulum on a grandfather’s clock. Her clock. I can hear it.
She didn’t seem unhappy about the notice of impending doom. Still, I tried to shush her in the middle of the telling. In my dream, I felt if she finished it, then it would become real. Still her words tumbled out, knocking mine over even as I was beseeching her to hush. But her dream of passing to a different realm wasn’t real—or that’s what I told her in my dream about crossing over. Mine was the real dream. I dreamed that after she told me, it came true the next day.
Maybe she wouldn’t mind going. It’s fierce how she misses her husband. In their life together, they’d had a hard beginning, financially. But it worked out pretty well. There was some good luck, I guess, but mainly their improved lot came through hard work. Literally, from the sweat of their brows. They started with nothing but each other and made a home in a house they built and paid for themselves. Then they added on to that house—babies, my brother and me. By retirement time, they’d been able to set aside enough savings for food and clothing, for house and personal upkeep, and for limited travel.
The children turned out decent enough, if you don’t mind the incongruity of a near-hermit mountain man (my brother) and a somewhat more urbane and gregarious gay man (me).
At some point, my momma started saying, “Sometimes I just want to walk away. That man tries to control me too much.” It’s true, he did. But it was out of love. He was brought up to believe the man was the head of the house and was supposed to make all the decisions, while protecting his wife. But my momma was a woman of the times, and she saw the value of women being equal partners in life. Then, after Daddy passed, Momma became fond of saying, “How I miss my sweetheart. He was so good to me. We had a wonderful life together.” She has buried the bad memories with him, and I’m not one to go digging in cemeteries; so I never have had the heart to remind her of the shortcomings she used to see in him.
The thing is, she’d never been alone before. She went straight from having a tyrant for a father to making a life with a good, but strong-willed husband. After Daddy’s passing, she discovered life alone isn’t so grand. She didn’t enjoy making decisions on her own. Oh, she still likes feeling she has control of her life. But she has come to rely on the advice of her two sons. So my brother and I have learned to couch things just right. We never say, “Momma, you need to do such-and-such.” No, we say, “Momma, have you thought about this possibility?” It has worked pretty well to plant the seed in the garden of her mind and walk away to let it germinate.
If Momma gets advice from one son, pretty soon she’ll be calling his brother. When she rings me after talking with my brother about some quandary, I’m likely to say, “It sounds reasonable to me, Momma. I’d go with his advice on this one.” Of course, when she calls me for that second opinion, my brother and I have already discussed it. We have come to mutual agreement. I’m just watering the soil now, to help the seed sprout. If this sounds devious, then so be it. We have Momma’s best interests at heart, just like Daddy did.
This morning, even after my fitful night’s sleep, I awoke well before the alarm rang out. I gazed into the closing night, watching without moving as dawn’s invading fingers reached past the curling edges of the pulled shades. Soon, dawn was brushing lights and shadows on my ceiling, its canvas. I studied what dawn’s finger-painting was foretelling. I stared at the revelatory images forming as long as I dared. Then I got up, raised the window shades on the world and went to work.