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 led me to believe she would soon be leaving our 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 her, enveloping my grandmother in a huge hug that appeared to absorb 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 interpreting it together. That my mother was leaving us to join my grandmother was clear—the question was when. Sensing urgency, I thought to call my sister Wendy 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 displayed it on the bedside table at our Tenerife hotel. Coincidentally, my father’s nickname for my mother had been “Carrie Canary,” so it was impossible not to think about her and the dream during our vacation. Canaries flew overhead all day and night, chirping, and singing. It was lovely—and also prophetic.
On Saturday morning, one week after my dream, Otto and I decided to stay off social media for the weekend. I hid my iPhone in the closet and headed to the pool. Around 6 p.m., I was swimming my last lap when a canary flew toward me and brushed against my head. This was an unusually close encounter, as they usually hover over the palm trees. 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. Even though I had sensed my mother’s forthcoming end, I’d not thought it would be so soon and that she would die alone in the nursing home. Instead, I had imagined and hoped that Mom would be surrounded by her three beloved daughters, who would relive 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 were 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 prepaid. 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 the next day on what was my father’s birthday (above photo).
Seven weeks later, Otto and I 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. Since then, 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 “Kick up your heels!” (as she is doing below).
Although we do not fully realize our dreams as prophetic until they come true, their vivid imagery and messages can resonate for a long time. Although the dream of my mother and grandmother was initially disconcerting and confusing, it consoled me before and during the memorial service. Even now, on milestone dates like today, when Mom’s absence is especially felt, I am grateful for the clarity and comfort the dream continues to provide. Even though I miss my mother terribly, there is reassurance in knowing she is happy, our love endures, and that “Canary Canary” is hovering over me.