Dreaming -- A Poem


I often dream dreams I don’t remember. I mean, I know I dream. I wake up and remember for a few seconds sitting in a room with thousands of chairs, and my Nana, who has been dead for more than three decades now.

Or I can feel the feelings under the images of my wife and me in a hotel room we’ve never been in, in a city we’ve never seen, and I can hear the feelings of love I’ve never heard slowly recede, evaporating like moisture on a windshield on a hot day. The dream is gone and all I have left is its remembrance. No details. Just the feeling that I had a dream, and a vague sense that it was good or bad or scary or warm, like a handprint on a bedspread that is barely noticeable a few hours later.

Photo by Kiyoshi Inoue, "wesandre"
I read somewhere once that we have to dream, that dreaming is the way our brains process all the information we acquire during our waking times. Dreams are the filing system that our bodies use to make our lives in our heads. I imagine it’s how we make sense of everything subconsciously, slowly, over time, like a pot of water on a very slow boil. I imagine our brains working at night like a supercomputer, chugging and chugging, taking all the images, feelings, smells, ideas, thoughts, sensations, experiences from the previous day, breaking each one up into bits of data, and filing each bit in places in our brains, in an infinite storage system, like in a sci-fi movie with Will Smith or Tom Cruise. The hero enters an impossibly huge room with stories upon stories of hard drives, only they aren’t like the ones we have now. They are made of crystal and light. A hovering robot attends to them, dashing from one story to another. And the camera pans back and we see hundreds of robots, all dashing. A tower of crystal-light memory.


The other night I had a dream of my mom. She’s not often in my dreams. In the dream, my oldest son was very little still, and we’d had some trouble with him. He was struggling with something. My wife was in the dream too, but not there physically. It was just mom and me.

Mom gave me three cards. They were cards of encouragement and love. The first was a card about life giving you nuts and you making it into coconut something, maybe cake, coconut cake. It had nuts all over it. She was telling me how proud she was of me, of my accomplishments, of working so hard and getting so much.

The second card was encouraging Kelly and me about our son. It was heartwarming. I cried over it. It pictured my son as a little timid fish in a scary ocean. It suggested that he would grow up to be a strong swimmer, a big fish. Growing takes time. It was the image of the little fish that made me cry. Mom was offering a kind word in our trials.

The third card I cannot remember, only that it was a kind one, one that was caring and loving. She sent them by mail, even though in the dream she was right there. That’s my mom’s way. Make it formal. Send it by post so they know you really care.

And that’s it. I woke up in the middle of the night from this dream, and I felt like my mom was there with me, even though she is far away in Idaho. It made me want to call her, tell her thank you for all her love, all her putting up with me and my changing moods. I know that’s what moms do, but she is my mom, and I love her. And she has told me many times in many ways how much she loves me. Her cards have marked my life, even when there were no cards, just her words, just her shadow, just her, and I think this has meant all the difference.


The last dream I had of my Nana, I was forty. Of all my family, I have dreamed mostly about my wife and Nana. My Nana died of cancer in 1989, and I was not at her bedside because my family didn’t want to bother me. They weren’t trying to be cruel. It’s often hard to predict the emotional responses of young men. I was nineteen, and working in Portland. Nana died eighty miles south in Corvallis, Oregon in a hospital room.

Perhaps my family saved me the pain of watching life slowly leave Nana’s body, saved me from watching a loved one die in front of me. I’m not sure. I’d like to think that I could take it, could savor the beauty of her presence for those last few moments, but I cannot say. I was not there. I was somewhere else, doing something else, living, while my Nana was dying. That’s the case for most people who knew Nana. They too were somewhere else when life left her body. I am just like everyone else in her life on that day.

Of course, I’m guessing at all this. I don’t know if they saved me from unbearable pain, or a better life. Maybe my life would have been dramatically different had I been there, had I watched Nana die. It’s all retrospective thinking, hindsight bias, or over-the-shoulder philosophizing.

What I know is that for almost twenty years after her death, I dreamed of Nana almost every other month, at least once, sometimes more often. We’d be in my old trailer in Las Vegas, sitting in our living room, or in my bedroom in the back of the trailer. Or we’d be nowhere. The dream would be my Nana and me, our presences -- that’s it. It often was our faces, and her shoulders and arms. Her round body. They were dreams filled with warmth and yearning. I loved my Nana. I would usually wake up wanting to hug her.

My twin brother says that he too dreams of Nana, especially in the hard times, during trials and difficulties in his life. He says she visits him like a guardian spirit, and she talks to him for long periods, like back and forth dialogues. Nana never said much in my dreams. Just mostly looked at me, admired me, held my hand, or put hers on my back, as if to say, “I’m proud. You’re a good man. Good job.” But she never actually said any of that. It was rare for her to say anything in my dreams.

In that last dream ten years ago, she was in an old pickup truck. I am on the road watching her pull away. Someone else is driving. She’s in the middle seat. She turns her head to look at me from the rear window, and says her last words to me.

“It’s okay. You are okay.”

She says it like a conclusion, like it’s self-evident. She’s not trying to convince me of anything. She smiles. I am yearning for her, for her hug and voice. I watch her and the truck recede into the distance, and she is gone. I am left on the road alone.

The funny thing is that beyond the feelings of yearning, the dream was a uniquely wonderful one. It’s really hard to explain. It was mostly filled with a rich feeling of love and warmth and kindness and safety. It was like rolling in a soft warm bed of quilts and pillows on a Sunday morning as the early sun streams through the windows, and you can smell bacon cooking in the other room, and your wife is humming a song you both love, and you have nothing else to do but roll in that bed, smell that bacon, and listen to your wife’s sweet, soft voice with a hint of love in it. And you realize that nothing in your life awaits you but this moment. Nothing is like this moment and you realize it, and you want everyone to know. You want to shout it or whisper it to everyone because you want everyone to feel what you feel right now, the feeling of freedom, of Sunday morning sunshine and soft sheets, of everything is okay. That is how this dream felt.

When I awoke, I felt at peace. I lay in my bed motionless because I didn’t want to lose this dream, lose the details or the feelings. It felt like a sweet goodby, a tender and loving embrace before a final trip away. It felt like I was not going to dream of my Nana anymore. It felt real because it was not a story. It felt like the ultimate validation for a life well lived in the middle of living it. The best kind of validation. The kind you get to enjoy in the middle of things, not after it’s all done, and you’re old, and most of your friends and family who bore the weight of your life with you are gone. No, this was not that kind of validation.

The irony is that I still remember the dream a decade later, but do not remember the feelings. They are gone like Nana. They are just impressions on the bedspread of my dream world in the infinite filing systems of my brain. I just remember that I did feel that way, that the dream was made of such feelings, and that it felt real, like my Nana really was there, telling me goodbye, telling me it’s okay, telling me it wasn’t necessary for me to be there at her end, and that I’m okay, and that I’ll continue to be okay. Everyone ought to have a goodbye-Nana dream.

Dreaming. Living. Feeling. Knowing. How shall we tell the differences? Why should we?


  1. So lovely--thank you for sharing this!

    1. Thanks, Leslie. I appreciate you reading and leaving these nice words. They made my day.


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