Do you believe that dreams can be premonitions? And if so, forebodings of death? My experience is that they can be, based on the powerful dream I had one week before my mother passed away on March 10, 2018, two years ago today.
As I’ve written in other blog posts (Cemetery Tales 1 & 2), my mother had been diagnosed with “rapidly progressive dementia” in 2007 and at the end of her life, resided at a nursing home in Boston. Despite the deterioration in her mental faculties over those eleven years, she still looked youthful and physically robust for her 83 years, and was alert, although increasingly incoherent. Given her stable vital signs, my sisters and I had no reason to believe that the end was imminent. Of course, given Mom’s age and diagnosis, the inevitable was always at the back of my mind. How I dreaded that moment!
One week before Mom died, I had a haunting dream that lead me to believe she would soon be leaving the earthly realm: the two of us were sitting alone in a brightly lit waiting room, when suddenly, a back door opened, and my deceased grandmother appeared, looking quite frail. Mom and Grandma had been especially close, and it broke my heart every time Mom would ask “Where’s my mother?” during my visits. When Mom saw her mother in my dream, she leapt up at once and floated over to and enveloped my grandmother in a huge hug that appeared to absorb or inhale her; they meshed into one being.
This strange visual startled me, and the dream ended abruptly. As my eyes opened, I kept repeating the words: “Love never dies,” which I’d heard as a voiceover in the dream. (I later recognized this phrase from I Corinthians in the Bible.) Even though the image was disturbing, the message that love goes on was very reassuring.
I got up and told my husband Otto about the dream, and we tried to interpret it together. That my mother was leaving us to join my grandmother was clear—the question was when. Sensing urgency, Otto suggested I call my sister Wendy, my mother’s Health Care Proxy, in Boston to see if there had been any change in Mom’s condition during the night. However, with the seven-hour time difference, Wendy would most likely be sleeping. I also didn’t want to needlessly worry her. Instead, I anxiously checked emails throughout the day, a Sunday, and when no message from Wendy was forthcoming, breathed a sigh of relief. But the dream lingered, and I couldn’t shake my apprehension.
Three days later, Otto and I flew to the Canary Islands for our annual winter break, as scheduled. Moments before leaving for the airport, I reached for a childhood photo of me with Mom and slipped it into my bag. When Otto and I arrived at our Tenerife hotel, I displayed it on my bedside table. Coincidentally, my father’s nickname for my mother had been “Carrie Canary,” so it was impossible not to think about Mom and the dream during our vacation. There were canaries flying overhead all day and night, chirping, singing. It was lovely—and also prophetic.
On Saturday morning, one week after my dream, Otto suggested we stay off social media for the weekend to more fully relax, swim, and read. I agreed and hid my iPhone in a coat pocket in the bedroom closet, then joined Otto by the pool. Around 6 p.m., I was swimming my last lap, when a canary flew toward me and brushed against my head. Usually the birds fly high over the palms or rest on their branches, so this was an unusually close encounter. When we got to our hotel room, I headed to the bedroom to stretch my aching back; Otto watched the sunset from the balcony.
I don’t know what compelled me to open the closet door as I walked toward the bed, but I was overcome by a strong urge to check my phone messages. When I saw that Wendy had called eight minutes earlier and left a voicemail, I knew something had happened with Mom. Wendy rarely called unless there was an emergency. Uh-oh.
My sister’s quivering recorded voice apologized for disrupting our vacation and urged me to call immediately, no matter what time. Goosebumps crept up my arms as I sank into the bed and clutched the photo of my mother and me. That’s when I knew: Mom wasn’t in the emergency room, where she’d landed years before after collapsing in the shower; she wasn’t being rushed into surgery, either. No, Mom had died. I didn’t need Wendy to tell me.
I eventually joined Otto on the balcony and braced him for the news. Then I phoned Wendy, who confirmed my suspicions. Mom had choked while eating lunch and had been resuscitated once but had not survived a second attempt. Wendy had initially been called to meet the ambulance at the local emergency room after the first successful attempt, but while en route to the hospital, she got the second call with the sad news. She was in shock.
Even though I’d sensed that my mother’s passing was forthcoming, I hadn’t thought it would be so soon and that she would die alone in the nursing home. I’d imagined and hoped that at the end of her life, Mom would be surrounded by her three beloved daughters, who would re-live fond memories, play her favorite Gershwin tunes, and take turns wiping her feverish brow. It seemed surreal that she had left so suddenly and that we’d been denied this final farewell.
The next ten days of our Canary Island trip are a blur. I remember feeling numb and wondering if we should leave Spain and fly to Boston, but there was little left to do there, as funeral home arrangements had already been planned and pre-paid, and Wendy offered to follow up. I also knew that my mother had wanted me to go on with my life and be happy. The last coherent thing she had said to me during a lucid moment in the nursing home chapel had been: “I want you to have a good life, Linda.” It had taken all her energy to utter those words, and I owed it to her to honor them.
During the remainder of our stay, I spent a lot of time on the balcony, watching and listening to the canaries and writing in my journal. Recalling my mother’s “Carrie Canary” nickname, I imagined her now soaring above with my father, whom she’d deeply mourned and missed since his sudden death fourteen years earlier. I even noticed two canaries kissing in a palm tree outside the dining hall on what was my father’s birthday (photo, left).
Mom, who had a very strong faith, had told me long before her dementia diagnosis that her heartfelt wish was to be reunited with my father in the afterlife. At the time, she was a very vibrant 71-year old, and I couldn’t imagine life without her and told her so. But she was insistent and made me promise that when the time came, I wouldn’t despair because she would be with Dad. She also requested that at her memorial service, we celebrate her life with champagne and live music of her favorite composers: Gershwin, Porter, Irving Berlin.
After returning to Finland, I began planning the service with my sisters, mindful of her requests. Seven weeks later, we gathered with family and friends in Northampton, Massachusetts at the church where my parents had worshipped. During my eulogy, I shared my dream about Mom and Grandma and how it had made me feel unsettled at first but ultimately was a source of comfort. I also mentioned the conversation I’d had with my mother years earlier and encouraged everyone to feel her joy because she was finally where she’d wanted to be—not only with Dad, but Grandma, her grandparents, and all the loved ones she’d mourned for many years as the “last survivor.”
In the two years since, I’ve continued to have colorful dreams about my mother. In one, we met in my grandparents’ home in Queens, where she was dressed like Mary Poppins and gave me a key so that I could visit anytime. Sometimes she’s wearing bold polka dot dresses and tap dancing across a stage, reminding me to “Keep up your heals!” Last summer, when I was overwhelmed with planning a large event, a very youthful-looking Mom appeared in a dream, glanced at my to-do list and nodded. As she danced away, I understood the situation was all under control.
There is some debate as to whether prophetic dreams come from a Divine or evil source. From the research I’ve done, there are various ways to differentiate between the two, but I’ll only touch upon a few. Firstly, what’s important is how the dream makes you feel while it’s happening. As mentioned, the image of my mother “inhaling” my grandmother disturbed me, but the message, “Love never dies” was hopeful. So, while I was distressed in sensing my mother’s impending death, in the dream, she clearly showed me that her choice was to be with her mother. This was also in keeping with the conversation we’d had years before and confirmed her intentions.
Dreamers are also advised to look for Biblical symbolism in the imagery. In addition to the words from I Corinthians I’ve already quoted, God tells us in Acts 2 to expect dreams and visions from Him. Joseph of Nazareth had prophetic dreams in which he was guided to marry Mary, the mother of Jesus, and flee to Egypt with them until after King Herod’s death to avoid danger. There are many other examples in both the Old and New Testaments, including passages from Isaiah, Daniel and Ezekiel.
Although we do not fully realize our dreams as prophetic until they come true, for me the telltale sign beforehand was the way my dream lingered for days, its imagery and message resonating vividly in my mind. It also served to console me before, during, and after my mother’s memorial service. To me, this has been a Divine gift and not one that my subconscious mind could have—literally—dreamed up.
Today, two years since “Carrie Canary” flew away, I am most grateful for the prophetic nature of my dream. Even though I miss my mother terribly, I know she’s happy, our love endures, and she is hovering over me.