100: Strength through a Dream

100: Strength through a Dream

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Strength through a Dream

Grandma always made you feel she had been waiting to see just you all day and now the day was complete.

~Marcy DeMaree

“Kelly, settle down! Can’t you just sit?” I was eight, and most adults couldn’t handle my hyperactivity. Mom was worn out from trying to make me behave while we visited my grandparents.

“She’s okay; just let her be.” My grandmother was my best friend and advocate. “Here, chickadee, come help Gramma repot these plants.”

Gramma embodied unconditional love, radiating warmth and patience as she welcomed my hyperactive visits throughout her life, continually encouraging my creativity.

Always giving, she and Grampa coordinated my wedding when I became pregnant at eighteen. They gave us the tiny apartment adjoining their garage.

My husband’s abuse started almost immediately. I learned to duck his swings and cry quietly. Gramma was unaware of my suffering but she poured hope into me each day as she tenderly put her arms around me. Telling me she loved me made me feel safe somehow. She was my rock.

My grandfather was hospitalized during my second trimester. My uncle came from Georgia to support Gramma, with hopes that my grandfather would recover and return home.

Early one morning, my uncle banged on my door, yelling, “Mother’s dead! Mother’s dead!”

I followed him into Gramma’s house and . . . he was right. The morning was a blur of visits from neighbors. Dad arrived, and soon the mortician took Gramma away.

I was pregnant and miserable. I’d lost Gramma — my best friend, neighbor, and confidante.

The house filled with relatives, and I closed myself in my grandparents’ bedroom. Sitting on the edge of their bed, I hung my head and wept. What would I do now? Who would love me?

As I cried alone quietly in her bedroom with the doors closed, I felt an arm around my shoulders. The soft, warm, reassuring hug felt familiar. I looked up to see who was comforting me, but I was still alone. I gasped, then relaxed and allowed her love to console me, as my Gramma had done so many times before.

Two weeks later, Grampa died in the hospital. My husband and I moved into the house until the estate was settled.

Weeks rolled by, and my belly grew. We were always broke. When Gramma and Grampa’s food was gone, we had nothing to eat. When their heating oil ran out, we froze. With no money, I relied on Gramma’s bras and big “granny panties” for coverage.

The month before my nineteenth birthday, I had a beautiful baby girl. Being in Gramma’s house was comforting; I felt her presence with me daily. I never doubted my ability to care for my newborn while I was in that house.

Soon, however, the house sold, and we had to move. Without the support of Gramma’s memories, I felt weak. The abuse escalated, and I grew anemic and frail.

Within months, Baby Number Two was conceived. Soon after his birth, I realized that the babies were in danger; we had to escape. But I was so timid and fragile!

Twice, I left my husband, but returned after he promised to change. Of course, there was no improvement.

I couldn’t break out of the cycle I was in though. That is, until Gramma helped me make the final, irrevocable break from my abuser.

One night in a dream, I was facing a thick wall made of stone. Light rays showed through a narrow aperture — a rectangular passage two feet wide and four feet tall. In my dream, I crawled up into the opening and, on my hands and knees, made my way through it. It was like a tunnel. The stones were smooth, but they hurt my knees.

The crawl was short, and the sunlight on the other side of the wall was warm and welcoming. I saw emerald green trees and grass — and my grandmother! There she stood, welcoming me with her bright smile and outstretched arms. She gave me a much-needed hug.

“Oh, Gramma, is it really you?”

“Well, yes, my little chickadee. It is me.” She continued to hug me. The warmth was real, and the reassurance absolute. I allowed myself to melt into her arms.

“I miss you, Gramma. I love you so much.” I felt overwhelming love for her. I also felt shame. I was ashamed of my weakness. I had always been a firecracker with whom adults struggled — that spunky eight-year-old had become a wimp.

My grandmother held onto my upper arms firmly. Looking into my eyes, she said with conviction, “Kelly, I am so proud of you. I love you. I always have.”

Without further conversation, I knew I had to go. I had so many questions and wanted to stay, but knew it was time to leave. I entered the short, narrow tunnel to crawl back to my life. I paused to look back over my shoulder and I heard a voice: “You can’t come back here.”

While sad, I smiled at having been with my beloved grandmother. I awoke with a renewed resolve to meet the future with determination. I thanked God for allowing me a few precious minutes with Gramma.

Through my dream, my grandmother had given me the encouragement I needed. Mustering the courage that I knew I had inside me and the strength that comes from being her granddaughter, I gathered my babies and left — this time for good.

I called my parents and told them that I was leaving him forever. I don’t know how they could have believed me, but they did and helped us move. Finally, I could mature as a healthy person, and my children could grow up in safety and peace.

Throughout the years I have used the power of my memories of Gramma. She was strong and upright. I think of her often as I wear her purple apron or serve food in her bowls. If ever I feel weak or unsure of myself, I just remember our last visit — the visit that changed my life forever.

~Kelly J. Stigliano

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