About 5 months after my dad died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest, I have my first dream with him in it. In the evening before I sleep, we sit at the kitchen table with my mom and husband, as we do most weekends now, and talk about life and the world. We try not to sit and wallow in our sadness too much by talking of other things, but sometimes we speak of the reality of life after dad. Mom says that even though she’s going to church regularly now — for the first time in our entire 25 years in Canada — she doesn’t know if she even believes in heaven, because she doesn’t feel like she knows ‘where’ dad is. She doesn’t have faith in a concept she’s been told since she was a child, since she can’t really make sense of where he is if he’s not here, with us. I try to console her tears, and say that I’m okay not knowing where he is, I don’t feel the need to believe in a place where our souls go, because for me, that person will always exist in my heart and in my mind, as long as we have memories of them.
Later, we sleep in our room, the bedroom that once was my dad’s, on the side of the bed he used to sleep on. It’s such a lovely giant bed, I am happy to share it through time. I have a dream closer to the waking morning hours that I can still remember now, a few weeks later.
I am on a 4-way phone call with my brother, mom, dad, and myself.
The experience of being on the phone is usually a singular one, you can only perceive the world around you on your end of the call, but the visualization in this dream is as if there is a dark void all around me and each person on the phone has a bright little vignetted circle of their face, a phone pressed to the side of their head. We are just floating in the emptiness, facing each other in a circle, the 4 of us together in one space. My sister is oddly absent, making it feel less like an important family conference, and more like a spur of the moment congregation, like we all scrambled to get on the call once we knew we had dad on the line, my sister seemingly unavailable at the time.
I feel like I can’t look at the vignettes, but I always sense their bright presence in my periphery, like they are adjacent to me — dad on my right and a bit in front, brother on my left kind of behind me, mom across from me slightly to the left— and I stare more so at the emptiness, as people do when they look idly at nothing while on the phone, focusing your attention solely on your auditory sense rather than your visual one, listening to someone’s voice existing body-less beside you, funneling into your brain. I feel as if those around me are doing the same thing, all of us given a window through space and time to see each other but none of us using it.
The content of the early conversation is blurry, I can’t recall it much now, but I remember the tones in which people spoke. My brother never speaks, he is merely listening in the background, not content to open himself up on this unusual call. My mom’s voice is worried and frantic, the matriarch taking on the concerns of the family onto her shoulders, trying to ask questions to ascertain what there is to be done. I sense her pleading for something, in a mix of begging from sadness and demanding in anger.
When my dad speaks, he doesn’t sound like himself as he used to when we would speak on the phone, because dad and I were never very good at talking on the phone in a natural way. We were kind of lovingly awkward and stumbled our way through small talk, since most of our relationship was based on the very opposite of small talk — big talk of big ideas and big thinkers. The everyday mundane in a short hello call was not the forum in which his communication thrived, so I received mostly short, benign inquiries and big, warm sentiments. In this call, he is more casual and relaxed than I ever remember him being, just calmly talking to us in a sort of earnest melancholy, like there is something sad we are all aware of but not really saying.
There is this very present feeling that dad is gone somewhere, but we don’t know where, and all we can do is talk on the phone.
It feels like what I imagine making a call to someone in prison is like, when you know they cannot come to you and there is nothing you can do to change the situation, but this feels more inexplicable, like I don’t know what the insurmountable obstacle that keeps us apart is, I only know it exists.
I remember this exchange fairly well — I naively ask dad to come back, and he says he can’t, without further explanation. He says it with an apologetic tone, the way that a newly divorced parent has to tell their young child that they can’t just come back and be normal again, things are different now, trying in vain to convey a grave situation to someone who cannot fathom a concept like ‘divorce’. Then my Dad tries to tell me where he is, so I can go see him. He says “The Molson Hotel” and my brain conjures a vague familiarity with the concept, a mix of the Best Western facade in our home town Cobourg on Elgin St., but with this big M on the front, like on the Molson building in downtown Vancouver.
While I am still on the phone, wedging it between my shoulder and ear, my perception shifts out of the vignettes floating in the void, down to my lap where I have a laptop. I try to Google Map the location on a browser, but my dad is still talking, saying something about the location, and I am trying to pay attention. I feel like I can’t properly complete the Googling task with my full attention, which feels frustrating and is making me take a long time. While still trying to juggle listening and Googling, I keep coming up against some seemingly irrational technological problem, like I do sometimes when I want to Google something on my phone, but I have too many apps open, or the page loading hangs, or the app crashes. The computer is inexplicably causing barriers to access information that I am now frantically trying to get to, feeling a kind of urgency, like the call is going to end soon and this is my last chance to understand.
Constant hurdle after hurdle for what felt like 30 seconds, becoming annoyed by my technology while I tried to remain on the call, I don’t realize what I know in real life and have experienced many times before— in dreams, you often cannot read words, or numbers, or look at anything with logical detailed information and actually parse it the way we can consciously, it feels like we’re trying to understand a blurry incoherent mess; something about the way our mind is conjuring the reality of the dream seems so clear until you need to access something really specific and we realize none of it really makes sense, we just perceive that it does.
So I just stare at a white screen, with the vague semblance of a browser or search features —Google without the results — with no way to find out where my dad is.
I can’t remember if we ended the call with any sort of parting words, if I stopped the dream and kept sleeping, or if I woke up then. Upon remembering this surreal event shortly after waking, I genuinely feel like I had just talked to my dad, like this all happened last night, and that he really is still here on earth, just not with us for some reason. But then in remembering the oddness of the vignette void and the fictional Molson Hotel, I realize it wasn’t real. My telephone call with the departed was merely a fiction my subconscious wanted me to experience.
I was not saddened by the dream, because I already live with the same feeling my mom had voiced that very evening — the idea that likely triggered the dream in the first place — that I do not know where he is. But more so than my mom, I have trouble understanding that he isn’t alive at all, since he is the first major death I’ve ever experienced, and I still struggle to comprehend the idea that someone can cease to exist in living space, that the entirety of a person’s life with all their experiences, knowledge, relationships, and aspirations just ends in an instant. I do not have a belief system that allows me to believe he has gone anywhere; I cannot really understand how people can actually feel faith in a heaven, or hell, or another space where souls go, when the sudden absence of a life for me feels like an unwilling hard turn into an oppressively empty abyss, a void with no vignettes.
Now, a few weeks later, the whole dream feels like a weird metaphor for his passing .
Like a fable you tell a child, his passing as I experienced it through this dream could be summed up into a few abstract ideas — he is somewhere I don’t know and cannot look up to go visit, just a white space that I cannot comprehend, and he knows he can’t come back to us, but its possible for me to go to him, somehow, someday. Perhaps it’s my Christian upbringing that has tinged my non-belief of an afterlife to sound suspiciously like what heaven is said to be. My mom is often one to try and read into dreams and ascertain their meaning, as if every bizarre neural soup our brain concocts while we sleep is some kind of omen or sign. Just today she told me she had a vivid dream with dad in it too, for the first time since he died —I wonder if hers was as bizarrely metaphorical as mine; I’m sure she will find a way to perceive it as such because we all are trying to find meaning in something so meaningless as the absence of life.
I don’t remember him saying anything meaningful in the dream, like a message from beyond, but I could feel in my conjuring of him the kind of emotions I would expect he would have, if he could feel emotions, wherever he may be — a remorse in his voice, for not being here for his family in our sadness; a longing in him to be together again, like we weren’t done spending time together; a warmth in our exchange because we’re family, something that will never be untrue, no matter where we are.
I guess that’s as good a message as I could hope for — even if it’s just my own voice in the echo chamber that is my unconscious mind, it feels oddly reassuring — that we will always be family, that he misses us as much as we miss him, and that maybe we’ll be together again someday.
Miss you Dad. Hope you’re having a nice time at The Molson Hotel. See you later, maybe.