Almost two years after my mother died I had a dream that I was on Cape Cod. In the dream it was Thanksgiving and my whole family was present, my aunts and my uncle, my cousins, even my father. Everyone was seated around the long table in my aunt's dining room, a great feast laid out before us.
It was the very start of the meal and the mood was jubliant and festive. In the dream I sat on the same side of the table as I did for real, just a few days ago. And in the dream, just before grace, I turned my head towards the living room and I saw my mother lying in a crumpled heap on the floor.
She was crying, mewling softly, and begging for me to join her. She beckoned for me to leave the table, to find my place next to her on the floor.
I looked around the table at my family, my mother's sisters, their children, my father, all of us linked and loved. I hesitated.
Behind me my mother sobbed and cried, calling softly for me.
I took one last look around the table, at this warm, loving place where I so desperately wanted to remain, and then I pushed back from my chair to join my crumpled mother on the floor. When I woke up from the dream I was already crying. I cried that whole morning, in fact, so shaken was I.
The dream was a simple metaphor for how I felt at the time. It took years for me to feel comfortable going to the Cape. It took years for me to feel like I could be part of my family without my mother. It took years and years for me not to feel like I was betraying her, by choosing to be with them.
I don't feel like that at all anymore. Quite the contrary, as I'm sure is evidenced by my strong connection to Cape Cod and my family there. At Thanksgiving this year we went around the table and talked about what we felt grateful for, and I thought about the dream. I felt sorry that I ever felt like I had to choose between them and her. And I felt grateful that I don't feel that way anymore.
After dinner was over we all adjourned to the living room and my uncle David dug out an old home movie — a tape from Thanksgiving 1988, filmed by my father. It was surreal to see myself at age 10 in the same living room where I now sat.
My father let the camera idle for long minutes on the simple scenes, people coming and going from the living room, my mother laughing, my grandmother swirling her drink. He filmed the table too, where we all sat together, toasting to our family. And then afterwards, all of us on the patio, my parents holding me between them, laughing.
When the video was over I sat still in my chair, the layers of my life sifting over me, and I felt glad for all of it.