On a Thursday morning in June, I drifted in and out of sleep. The last dream I had came to me as the sun rose.
In my dream, my husband Joe and I were getting our house ready for a visitor. My grandfather would arrive at any moment.
When my grandfather pulled his car into the driveway, Joe and I went outside to greet him. My grandfather got out of the car and stood in the driveway. It was autumn outside and just a bit chilly. He wore a suit and coat; the coat was tailored, but the suit hung a bit loose on him. He looked like he’d lost a bit of weight. He was never heavy, but I never knew him to be quite as slender.
I was becoming more lucid in my dream. I stood in the driveway, seeing him as if for the first time. He had a full head of silver hair–the way it had looked when I was young. He smiled at me, eyes shining behind an old pair of glasses I can remember him having when I was young.
A sudden realization hit me. He wasn’t supposed to be there, standing in my driveway. He had passed away 12 years ago.
I became more lucid, knowing that this was a dream. But I ran to him, hugged him around the chest, and began sobbing onto the front of his coat. “I’ve missed you so much,” I said. “I have so many wonderful things to tell you.”
I woke up then. I can’t remember a time in my adult life (even my childhood) where I have woken up in tears.
I was a senior in college when I found out that my “Papa” had a brain tumor. The doctors couldn’t, or didn’t, do much to save him. It slowly robbed him of his speech and ability to move freely. That full head of hair had thinned from the radiation treatment he had undergone. He passed away just a couple of weeks before his 82nd birthday. By now, he would be 94.
My dream had ended before I could tell him those wonderful things. Once I had calmed down, it was like a voice whispered to me:
“What were those wonderful things you wanted to say to him? What are the wonderful things you would say to him?”
A few things came to mind quickly: If he were standing in front of my house, I could introduce him to Joe. I knew Joe before Papa had passed, but they never had the chance to meet. I would tell Papa about how Joe and I had met and gotten married, and how we had just celebrated seven years of marriage and 11 years total together. I could show him our home.
I would tell him that my little brother got big, got married, and now has a beautiful daughter with his wife. I would tell him that Mom and Dad had retired and are happy.
I would tell my Papa about how Joe and I had visited Sweden, the country where he was born, in the fall. Growing up, my Papa would tell me stories about the city where he was born, Kalmar, and the castle nearby.
A few of my relatives from Oskarshamn, near Kalmar in southeastern Sweden, had visited us when I was in elementary school. I thought it was so amazing that they had traveled so far. I wondered if I would ever be able to do that. My grandparents talked about visiting Sweden, but as the years went on, they traveled shorter distances and less frequently, until they had stopped entirely.
I’m not entirely convinced that the afterlife exists. Some people might find the notion of their loved ones “looking down on them” when they’re gone comforting. I’ve never really been a believer of this idea. But two distinct events in Stockholm made me question my beliefs.
The first: I wanted to do something special for me and Joe after our first full day in Stockholm. I saw that there was a dinner “cruise” out to Vaxholm Castle and thought that sounded fun. But when I tried to book tickets online, the website kept crashing. We got down to the harbor only to discover that the ticket booth had also closed.
We sat on a bench in a nearby park, and I became moody. I said that I regretted going on this trip because, while I had planned plenty of activities during the day, there wasn’t as much that we could do at night. (We’re really not bar/dance club kind of people, so our options seemed limited.)
Joe tried to cheer me up. Since we were near the boat, we decided to wait until it got close to boarding and see if we could buy a ticket, if there was any space left.
To my surprise, there was. The staff led us to a table and pretty soon we were off. Even better, we paid for dinner but were never charged for tickets, which would have added another $40 to $50 USD to the bill.
As we were debating which fancy dessert we wanted, I noticed that there was information about the ship’s history in the menu.
The boat, the S/S Stockholm, was built in Oskarshamn and designed to ferry mail between Kalmar and Öland, a nearby island. The boat dated back to 1931–about four years after Papa and his family left for the States.
That’s right: the ship was built where some of my distant relatives live and used where my grandfather was born. I don’t know if any of our relatives worked for the post office, but it’s entirely possible that they sent or received mail that traveled on that ship.
The other coincidence, if you could call it that, happened on the last day of our trip. I had wanted to go to the flea market at Hötorget, but we had to hurry to get an early start walking to Skeppsholmen to the Museum of Modern Art.
I looked around and didn’t see much that caught my eye. (I couldn’t bring much back on the plane anyway.) Just before giving up on the flea market, I stopped at a table full of books because, well, that’s what I do.
Then I found this:
My grandfather loved P.G. Wodehouse’s books. He had almost all of the Jeeves series and few other collections as well. Several years after he had passed, I began reading them and now have them in my collection. (If you want to know what they’re like, look up the Jeeves & Wooster TV series with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.) This one, even though I can barely read it, was well worth the 50 kronor (about six dollars) I spent on it.
A ship from Kalmar, built in the city where my family still lives. A Swedish translation of a book from Papa’s favorite series.
Okay, I get it. Thank you, Papa.
These are the stories I would want to tell him.
There’s one more thing I would have told my grandfather, had I seen him on that June morning. I would tell him my grandma, his wife of more than 60 years, would have been so happy to see him, too.
After having this dream, I thought about the image of my grandfather, traveling alone in a large car. Where was his final destination? It appeared our house was only one stop on a longer journey.
A thought came on me that I didn’t want to accept at the time: he’s on his way to pick up my grandma.
At the end of August, my grandma passed away–a little over a month after her 93rd birthday.
I like to think that Papa was on the way to see her. I didn’t think she would go so soon–just a couple of months after I had this dream. She missed him so much, and even in her last days, she would talk about how much she wanted to be reunited with him.
I had another worry when I woke up on that June morning. What if I didn’t have enough wonderful things to say? What if I’m not living a life that gives me beautiful things to talk about?
That’s the goal for so many of us, isn’t it? To do wonderful things that fill us with joy. To do the things that make us most proud.
That’s not to say that we won’t go through difficult times. But if my grandfather were standing before me today, I wouldn’t feel the need to bring up the not-so-wonderful things. They’re not important.
I’m making it my goal to see, feel, and experience as many wonderful things as I can in life. Because if I ever come face to face with my loved ones who have passed on again, I would want them to know that I’m living a life that they can be proud of, too.