This post has sat in draft since I began blogging 4 years ago. For a time it was only a title. Then it was the story that inspired it. And then nothing more. It’s only now I understand enough to share what it means to me. It’s only now I understand what it meant at all.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I had the typical hormone-fueled bizzaro dreams: Surreal dreams, hilarious dreams, sometimes r-rated dreams. But one night I had a dream that went beyond surreal to downright supernatural.
I was about halfway through my pregnancy and as I slowly came to from a heavy, progesterone-induced sleep, I felt the sunlight coming in from my bedroom window. As I dozed in and out, I saw my Grandmother enter a hospital room where I was laying hooked up to monitors. I didn’t know why I was there, but I felt a tangible, though fleeting, sense of fear. And then I felt her place her hand in her gentle, Southern, maternal way on my foot which was covered by layers of slightly stiff, heavy white hospital blankets. The sunlight coming into the hospital room was the same warm glow that stirred me to a middle state between sleep and waking. I was at once confused and comforted, since she’d passed away from pancreatic cancer 3 years before. I must have looked at her with a puzzled, perhaps worried, look.
“I’m here to show you how,” she said with a comforting, confident smile.
I didn’t ask what she meant. I just knew that whatever had me, and presumably the baby I carried inside of me, in that hospital bed was going to be okay.
I woke up feeling a familiar warmth reminiscent of Christmases at my Grandmother’s and the beautiful cakes she baked, which for so many years were my only proof of the existence of Heaven. She’d visited me. I’d felt her touch me: The weight of a hand that had reared 4 daughters including the one who’d raised me; the slight scratchiness of the hospital blanket as her touch turned to a reassuring caress; the warmth that emanated from a woman whose faith in God was so unshaken that it made me long to know Him. Then, as I woke, I felt the ache in my heart that reminded me she was gone not just from my dream, but from my life. The tears flowed down my face in a quiet stream as I lay in bed for a few more minutes, hoping to drift off and see her again, to ask her all the questions that while I had the chance it hadn’t occurred to me to ask, and wasn’t sure I’d ever get another chance; the most urgent of them now was what she had meant by showing me how.
For the next 3 years I waited, at times asking, even praying for her to show me how or explain in another dream what she had meant by what she said: At 3 am in a darkened hospital room when my newborn refused to latch, repeatedly screaming at my engorged breast, when I was sure he was born to the wrong mother, and that he hated me for it. On an ultrasound table when I heard the words “I’m so sorry dear, there’s no heartbeat.” When I brought home my second son, and felt my heart grow so quickly it ached. And once again when I sobbed over a breast pump in an office suite that felt like thousands of miles away from my babies. And even when my attempt at her renowned pound cake recipe turned into lava cake, I laughed and thought, “guess that’s not what you meant!”
Each time, I got no reply.
Maybe it had only been a dream, I wondered. After my miscarriage, I went to church, thinking I might find her there, the place she had loved so much. Maybe I’d feel her spirit there, and she’d tell me how to get over my loss and have courage to try again. But she wasn’t there, and I felt betrayed of the meaning of the place.
One day, recently, I stopped asking, not because I didn’t believe, but because finally I did. 4 years after she visited me, I finally understood what she meant. Understood that she had been there all along, in my heart, showing me how when I didn’t even know it. An incredible clarity filled me like the warmth of her hand had before, along with the same joy and a bit of sorrow, and a quiet stream of tears. I thought of all the moments she has been there, working through me, helping me find my strength, helping me find my faith, and helping me find my faith in me.
She showed me how, when as a trembling new mother I held my frustrated, hungry newborn close to my bare chest, wrapping him snuggly in that oddly familiar, slightly scratchy hospital blanket; when my son latched perfectly 3 days later, and over a thousand times more during his first 13 months of life; when I broke down in my endocrinologist’s office, and through a blur of tears, realized I needed to leave my career to be my children’s mother full time; each time I looked up from nursing my second son and saw my first son reaching out for my attention with his eyes, and later his temper tantrums; when I baked my Grandmother’s legendary pound cake, and the sweet scent of it filled my home for the first time, instead of the overflowing batter filling my oven. I know she would have been proud of me; when I came back to church, opened my heart, and felt the burden of needing to understand lift from my shoulders; and every time my Mother praised me, encouraged me, held my hand, and sometimes let it go, preparing me to face every challenge I would face and nurture every blessing I would receive.
Suddenly everything made sense, and came to me as miraculously as her visit to me. I now take such comfort in knowing that even when I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing, there is wisdom in me that comes from at least two generations of women who overcame more struggle than I possibly could. And that through their lives, and their love, whenever I’m struggling, whenever I’m in doubt, they are here to show me how.
This Mother’s Day, I celebrate the Mother who raised me, the Mother who raised her, and the Mother who, because of them both, I pray everyday I can become. Happy Birthday, Grandmother.
Happy Mother’s Day.