We were standing at the top of a hill on what I thought was just a little weekend get-away when I noticed a cottage-like chapel in the trees below.
I looked down and everything about this beautiful little place seemed to be glowing.
Rays of light were shining out in all directions from every window as if they were inviting anyone who walked by to stop in for a visit.
Oddly enough, no one was going in or coming out of the little church in spite of the fact that it seemed to be the most visitor-friendly part of the mountaintop.
Just moments later, and without any kind-of fanfare, everything changed.
I glanced back down at the chapel and noticed a body, surrounded by flowers, lying on a beautiful display table right outside the entrance.
Still, people continued to walk by, seemingly unaware that a funeral service was about to begin.
I found it very strange that a funeral would be happening at a vacation resort,
yet I found it incredibly beautiful at the very same time.
That’s when I noticed that the body on display was my son Nick’s.
Confused at first and overwhelmed with every kind of emotion,
I turned to Tim and asked,
“Can we go closer?”
As we made our way towards the small, glowing chapel,
I felt as if everything around us was transforming.
The sparse number of people walking along the cobblestone pathway in front of this cottage-type setting changed into a sea of people coming and going.
All around Nick, there were suddenly rows and rows of chairs filled with people watching us and a continuous line of men and women and children were walking in and out of the chapel beside us in such large numbers I couldn’t even count.
As we approached Nick, his eyes peacefully at rest, something frightened me and yet made my heart leap with joy in the very same instant.
His lips literally turned up into the cutest grin, and I was so happy to just see his precious face come to life again that I thought this was enough to make my dream complete………and then, before I could even be completely thankful for this memory, his eyes opened.
Nick’s beautiful, brown eyes opened.
Nick was alive.
He was right there with me and Tim,
and everything else in my life suddenly faded away.
I could feel the crowd watching us closely, but I didn’t care.
I could feel a line growing behind me,
but nothing could have moved me from Nick’s side.
Before I could even react to the smile or the fact that he was looking at me,
his mouth opened and, as if talking to himself, he said
Teresa or Sandra’s name…………….I can’t remember, but I feel certain it was one of those names.
And then, referring to that person, he said,
“She keeps trying to hug me.”
I could tell by his expression that he thought it was sweet and funny and maybe even a little embarrassing all at the same time.
And then he said,
It worried me at first, because I quickly remembered all the moments when he had said he was tired while he was fighting cancer.
That’s when my mommy-heart could take it no more, and I leaned down over him and whispered,
“Are you okay??”
He grinned, and I think he knew how silly this moment really was.
He knew his mom was dreaming about her son who had left this planet six and a half years ago,
and yet even in her dream, she was still worried about him.
Thankfully, he didn’t roll his eyes or even seem slightly exasperated with me.
He just sweetly smiled again and said,
“I’m just tired.”
I know we talked a bit, because I could feel all kinds of time passing by.
It’s almost as if I was transported above the dream and was suddenly watching a movie in which I could see me and Tim leaning over Nick having a beautiful conversation while a crowd watched and a line of people entered and exited the chapel to our right.
Then, as if a different camera lens took over, I was back in my own eyes’ view of Nick’s face.
He was looking up at me, peacefully taking in our whole interaction with him, when he noticed the heart-shaped necklace etched with his thumbprint hanging from my neck.
This necklace was Tim’s gift to me six weeks after Nick passed away.
He reached up and gently touched the heart, admiring it without saying a word.
That’s when I realized how very, very special this entire moment was, and without even thinking about how ridiculous this next request may look to everyone who was watching,
I asked Tim if he could please take a picture.
I knew I never wanted to forget this memory with Nick, and I wish I could somehow share with all of you the photograph Tim took.
I looked down at Nick as he gazed at my necklace, and I could feel the pressure of the dream coming to an end as I said,
“This was a gift from your dad.”
His eyes lit up and his grin returned as he looked at me and said,
“This was a gift from me.”
Tears began to flow from my eyes and snot was running over my lip, and I realized I had been crying the entire time I stood next to my son.
The next thing I knew, and without any warning or chance to say goodbye, Tim and I were being ushered inside the chapel.
I was expecting rows of wooden pews leading to a flower-filled stage holding a simple wooden pulpit, but instead we were weaving through a maze of candles lighting up walls filled with messages and flowers.
I suddenly realized that this dream was not just my own.
This dream was everyone’s in the line.
And each person had had a similar experience outside the chapel with someone they had lost and loved so deeply.
The messages were notes filled with words they had been too overwhelmed to utter in the moment with their loved one.
I didn’t have time to think about what I wanted to say, but deep inside I knew that every unspoken word I had wanted to share with Nick had somehow been written for me. I knew that in Nick’s heart and mind there was perfect peace………….no lingering questions, no unfulfilled dreams.
The line kept moving and before I knew it,
I was on an elevator headed back to our hotel room and everything that had happened had somehow ended as quickly as it had begun.
I knew in that instant as I looked at Tim on the elevator that this dream had a special purpose.
I knew this dream had changed me from the inside out.
I also knew that it would change Tim too, but not until I could put it down in words for him to read.
I woke up to the sound of Tim rolling over in our real bed,
and I could feel the real tears and real snot on my real pillow in my real house on a real Saturday morning.
As I lay there crying, everything about today began flooding into my mind all at once.
The yard sale going on at my neighbor’s house.
The 5K in just a few hours to help raise money to help children with autism.
The engagement pictures I would be taking later this afternoon.
I quickly got out of bed, not wanting to forget one part of this dream.
I knew I had to write it down before it faded from my memory.
I wanted to capture the feelings I had experienced as I saw my son alive and happy and filled with so much peace.
I made my way to our half bath and sat on the floor and cried.
I couldn’t stop.
And, to be honest, part of me didn’t really want to.
It’s been a long time since I’ve really poured out my grief with tears, and I’ve learned that when these moments come, it’s best to just let them happen.
Grief never ends.
Tears never stop.
Pain never fades.
We fill our lives with happy moments.
We make new memories.
We start new hobbies.
We even do things as crazy as buy kayaks to celebrate the summer we turn fifty,
but in the back of our minds and in the front of our hearts……………
we never stop hurting and aching and longing that life was different.
That’s just how grief works.
The longer I live the more I realize just how beautiful a broken life can still be and just how much God longs to fill up all our empty places with His love and goodness.
And I also realize what it means in I Corinthians 13 when it says,
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
One day my moments with Nick will not be limited to dreams.
One day every tear will be washed away, and I will see my boy, hug my boy, and be able to listen to my boy…………..forever.
Until then, I will walk by faith, and I will continue to live with a hope that does not disappoint.
I’m thankful this morning for an unexpected dream that pulled me back into the deepest part of my pain.
Grief is part of who I am.
And that’s okay.