92: A Father’s Gift from Beyond

92: A Father’s Gift from Beyond

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

A Father’s Gift from Beyond

I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.

~Sigmund Freud

The scream started from somewhere deep within my soul — a low, guttural growl that intensified with each passing second. I was a wounded child, and my heart was raw with pain.

“Had they gotten him here earlier, we could have saved him.” For over fourteen hours, my father had bled into his brain when an aneurysm burst. He lay on a gurney in the hallway of the local hospital, left untreated until 6:00 the following morning when a doctor decided to ambulance him to a hospital a few hours away. My father died at 9:10 a.m. on September 21, 1976. He was fifty years old.

My life and that of my two younger brothers had just imploded. We were now without the guidance of both parents. My mother had been ill for several years — unable to walk or care for herself — and had lived in a nursing home for the past year. At the age of twenty, I had just become responsible for them all.

During my father’s funeral, my mother casually mentioned she expected me to marry as soon as possible so my brothers would be cared for. Already disoriented from medication an aunt had given me in hopes of staving off hysteria, my head was spinning, and my body flashed hot and cold as I struggled to comprehend what my mother was asking of me in the crowded room of mourners.

“You’ll still be allowed to live in the house, but I won’t have you living in sin! You’ll be married as soon as possible. I’ll give you a little money for groceries every few weeks, but you’re the oldest, Judy. It’s your responsibility to take care of your brothers!”

I’d stopped listening after “married as soon as possible.” I wasn’t ready for marriage yet! I’d only been engaged five months! I screamed silently. I don’t want to be a wife, mother, or caregiver. I just want to run and hide. But that wasn’t an option.

The two weeks after my father’s funeral were a blur. I went on with life, pretending I was fine, but really I was trapped inside a windowless bubble. Black. Bleak. Frightening. Surreal.

Daily visits to my mother became increasingly more strained. Every visit began with, “Have you decided on a date yet?” She was worried, she said. Worried that I’d leave my brothers behind and go off on my own and have a “wonderful life.” Her words, like the rest of my world lately, bounced against me and fell away dully.

My mother, paternal grandmother, and paternal aunt were against a traditional wedding so soon after my father’s passing. Out of respect for my father, they wanted a simple Justice of the Peace gathering. Yet something inside me screamed resistance while another part of me cowered with guilt and shame. How could I be so selfish as to want a “white-gown wedding”?

I wanted to hide. But, instead, one evening after a particularly stressful day of visits with my mother, grandmother, and aunt — listening to the same arguments and feeling the same guilt and shame — I sank down on the bed and, with tears streaming down my face, begged for a sign. I needed to know what to do because, at that very moment, I was done trying to please everyone. I was done with talking about marriage. I couldn’t be sure I even wanted to be married. Not now. Not ever.

I had no idea what I wanted — except for my father to be there in the room with me right then. Alive. Well. But, that wasn’t going to happen, so I needed an answer from somewhere. The answer I received, however, was not at all what I expected.

The next morning, I jumped out of bed and raced to the kitchen table with scenes from the dream I’d had the night before still vivid in my mind. But the large Swiss Army Knife with the emerald-green cover my father had placed near the edge of the table wasn’t there. It had been so vivid. So real, but it had only been a dream. How could I show anyone a dream?

Then a small inner voice whispered, “Show it by telling.”

First, I drove to my paternal grandmother’s home, then to my aunt’s, and finally to the nursing home, relaying my dream each time.

Dad had been sitting at the kitchen table talking to my brothers. He told them he loved them, and then waved for me to sit across from him as they left the room.

“I know how difficult this has been, Judy, and I am so sorry. But I want you to have your wedding your way. If no one believes that I’ve been here tonight, show them this.” He placed a large Swiss Army Knife with a beautiful emerald-green cover on the table and pushed it toward me.

“They’ll know without a doubt that I was here, and I support you. Had I lived, I would have given you the biggest wedding I could afford. But I didn’t, so this knife will be all you need to convince those you need to that you have my blessing.”

Every time I finished relaying my dream, the response was the same: “Have your wedding your way.”

We married October 30, 1976, in a wedding that fell together as though orchestrated to perfection. People offered their services for free or gave us price breaks. Our wedding is still talked about today by friends and family as one of the best weddings they’ve attended.

Three weeks after our wedding, I sat down with my grandmother to ask her a question. “Why did you change your mind about how we had our wedding? Why did you change it so quickly after I told you my dream?”

Her response stunned me. “Your father was sixteen and had joined the Army. Before he left for training, your grandfather gave him a Swiss Army Knife with an emerald-green cover. You couldn’t have known what this knife looked like because it was lost before you were born, yet you described it perfectly.”

Her eyes misted.

“During the reception, your aunt and uncle were with me. We were facing the front doors looking out at the night, and a man appeared in the doorway. He just stood there with a big smile on his face. He watched everyone in the room. Then he looked right at us, smiled broadly, and nodded.” She drifted away in thought, falling silent.

“Who was it?”

“Your dad.” A single tear fell. “He was wearing the same suit he was buried in. He was just so happy that everyone was enjoying themselves. It was as though he had just stepped outside for a bit. It felt like he was really there.”

She chuckled suddenly. “He drove me to drink, you know! I had my first beer that night.”

~Judith Richardson Schroeder

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