Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dream Lover

My dad, now deceased, used to say that he never dreamed. Scientists could have disproved that with REM readings of his brain, but that wouldn't have altered the fact that my gentle father never remembered any dreams, and therefore it seemed to him that he didn't dream. Because he apparently didn't know what a dream was, I'm not sure he ever believed the rest of us who claimed we did dream. In fact, he tended to poo-poo any talk of any possibility of consciousness beyond the strictly ordinary--beyond, that is, what he experienced, himself. But a strange thing happened toward the end of his life, and sometimes I wonder if it had anything to do with all those dreams he never was aware of having.

He was sliding into Alzheimer's--or something like it--and he was also extremely deaf. He wore two hearing aids and even then could barely hear anything. He took off those aids when he slept. One Saturday morning, after months of being in a deep Alzheimer's fog, he awoke early, lying next to my mother who also woke up.

They began to chat about this and that as long-married couples do.

Suddenly, my mom exclaimed, "Clinton, you're hearing me!"

And he was. Without either of his hearing aids, he was hearing her perfectly. Not only that, but he was lucid. That weekend was an astonishment of a blessing, because for two days we had him back almost the way he used to be. He was rational, and he could talk to us. He wasn't totally without confusion, and he was fragile, but it was a miraculous turnaround, nonetheless.

There was one strong holdover from the Alzheimer's, however, which was that he continued to have hallucinations. This time, however, he could tell us about them as an observer would, instead of living them in fear and confusion. He told me there was "a man" who followed him everywhere, dogging his footsteps, and who drove him crazy. (!) My dad called that hallucination, "that fellow." At one point when I was sitting on the fireplace hearth, my dad said there was a middle-aged woman on either side of me.

He had also always poo-pooed even the idea of psychological therapy, but something was different about him that weekend--beyond the obvious miracle of his "recovery"--and so I asked him, "Daddy, have you thought about turning around and asking that fellow why he's following you?"

Instead of laughing at that suggestion, my dad looked interested. "You could ask him what he wants," I followed-up. "That might be a good idea," my father said, and my heart leaped, because it was the first hint of interest in introspection and consciousness that I had ever heard from him.

I should have pursued it right then, should have asked him about the middle-aged women and the other people he saw, but I didn't, and by Monday, he was deaf, and mentally gone again, never to return. That strange and blessed weekend had given us our chance to say goodbye, though we didn't know it, during a brief opening when he could understand us and we could understand him. When he died about a year later, of acute leukemia, he had completely disappeared into delusion.

I've wondered a lot about his hallucinations, those products of something gone awry in his brain. It seemed at the time as if the contents of his denied dreams came surging out, standing behind him and in front of him, as if to say, "Look at us. Now you have to look at us!" Possibly this is a crazy idea, but I can't shake it, because I know there's truth to the quote from the Gnostic Gospel of St. Thomas, which avers that, "Whatever you bring forth from within you will save you; whatever you don't bring forth from within you will destroy you."

I've been paying close attention to my dreams for thirty years. That close attention--that belief in them, if you will--started with a dream that told the future in a way so undeniable that I couldn't do anything but accept the mystery of it and know that in that sleeping consciousness lay knowledge. There have been times when it has literally saved me--once from a murderer, and once from crooks. I'll tell those tales another time. The subject of dreams is far too big to cover in one little blogger post. I just want to introduce it this first time, and start a conversation that may continue over time--daytime and nighttime.

Thanks for reading this.


Nancy P said...

Did you dream last night?

If you haven't been to bed yet, have sweet dreams, and if you can't have sweet ones, at least have interesting ones. :)

zzzzzzz for me now.

katiebird said...

Good Morning Nancy -- I hope you had pleasant dreams. This is one of those posts that'll stick around a long time.

The magic of that weekend with your father -- so wonderful on so many levels. And it's really wonderful that you could share it with your parents (would you have believed her if you weren't there?)

Also, this sentence jumped out at me, "I should have pursued it right then, should have asked him about the middle-aged women and the other people he saw, but I didn't, and by Monday"

Because it seems like there are many things that have to be pursued "right then" and if we don't, we lose the chance forever. I can't think of specific stories right now. But, as I read that I pictured myself on some walk thinking -- "Why didn't I just ask?"

Also, yes -- I did dream last night. As my alarm clock went off I was on an island in a crab-shack hugging Bill Clinton goodbye. I vaguely remember hugging Hillary too. But, that wasn't memorable at all.

GreenMinute said...

This is one of those posts that'll stick around a long time.

Amen to that. And deservedly so.

Katiebird, thanks for using the word magic. And for asking: "Would you have believed her if you weren't there?"

FARfetched said...

Wow. That's pretty strong. Hope everyone's having a good morning (or whatever time you're reading)....

The last dream I mostly remember (most nights I have disjointed fragments of dreams) was about a week ago… early Thursday morning, in fact. I was spending some time, not sure if I was helping or being helped, at a shelter of sorts. It was in a 50's style brick building, the kind with brushed-metal lettering, that said "FORSYTH CO. SHELTER." I was in a group chat for a while, where a largeish woman started groping me (skillfully) until I "went to sign in," saw a room with various cuddly critters that was meant for people trying to get over fear of animals, and some other things I don't remember well. The dream ended with me driving down a street that doesn't exist, in a town that does, looking at the neat little shops & wondering why I never saw them before.

My father-in-law had a close brush here this last week; he's still in the hospital but I think they've finally figured out what to do. He had Mrs. Fetched's older sister, who was visiting, slip out and get him a BBQ & brunswick stew. The nurse had a conniption when she saw the leftovers, but he felt much better after he ate it. If the old guy is sick, give him some BBQ.

Back to the grind-o-rama for another day. My major projects are in Other Hands at the moment, so I can deal with administrivia and the like for the rest of the week.

katiebird said...

(waving at Greenminute & FARfetched!)

So far (an hour later) what's sticking is the picture of Nancy sitting on the hearth talking (and smiling) to her father. In my mind, she's just happy to be there and not thinking about the how.

Jen said...

What a poignant story about your father, thank you so much for sharing that.

I'm doing so much house stuff right now that I've actually started dreaming about kitchen tile. BORING.

GreenMinute said...

"I've wondered a lot about his hallucinations, those products of something gone awry in his brain."

My father also had Alzheimers. Oddly, telling his Alzheimers insipred stories was about the only time in his adult life he was the least bit likeable. As if, through failure, his brain accidentally tested the kindness section of his functions. Something that had been supressed for decades.

As dreams supressed may surface during waking hours (actually, this is D.T.s, right?), so might other surpressed functions, such as seeing what our brains have been seeing all along, surface?

Chicken Houses: I read recently that current generations of housed chickens no longer possess the fear of overhead shadows. There's an ag-guy at NC A&T who received a federal grant to reintroduce this fear into chickens so they may be allowed to roam around the farm yard once more.

As soon as somebody locates an existing farm yard, this will come in handy. One has been found in upstate New York, I understand, and there are supposed to be two in Missouri.

He described his work as breeding this particular fear back into chickens. I find it fascinating that a fear and the accompanying reasonable response to threatening stimulus can in fact be "bred" into and out of animals. Us being animals and all.

To me, this means a fear may be inherited. Which indicates other elements of memory may be inherited. Which means dreams may be inherited.

What does a chicken dream when the shadow of a gliding hawk passes over it? [Not the new chickens; the old ones.]

And Butterflies. The annual Monarch butterfly migrations are remarkable in that their return from Mexico to the exact field in Iowa where they were "born" occurs after a minimun of seven new generations of Monarch butterflies.

How does each successive generation of butterfly know where they are going and where to turn? And when it is time to leave in the first place?

Because we have shut off the waking functions (or have bred them away through neglect), perhaps dreams (sometimes) are the only chance our brain has of reminding us of memories we have inherited. Of things our grandmother knew and saw.

And dreams may be the only chance our brain has to remind us there are other ways of seeing that we no longer use. Of knowing. That we no longer use. Of communicating. That we no longer use.

This language thing has become so popular, after all, that we sometimes forget all other developed species of animals communicate without it -- as we must have at one time also communicated with each other without language.

When you have a dream where you see yourself doing something, who is it who is watching you? Whose eyes are you sharing in your dream? Or, simply put, whose dream is it?

And what if when you hold hands with somebody they can slip you their dream? Why not?

When you communicate with others through parts of the brain that we cannot define (but know are there) why not call it magic. For now, it is. And I have no doubt that it is real.

Meanwhile, if I give you a dream, if our brains click during some other interaction of human contact, you may not dream it now. You may dream it long after I am dead.

Alzheimer's is fascinating (and damn sad, of course) that through malfunction we are given glimpses of functions we do not understand. At least science admits that we don't know what all that extra brains does or is supposed to do. We just know it's there.

The idea that all that brain is there simply for potential development (a little extra real estate bequeathed by God -- like America's "uninhabited" wild west) seems less likely to me than that it is there because it was once used and has taken second stage while we got so happy with developing our very useful language portion and our oh so practical emphirical knowledge parts.

Like the telephone, our dreams are ringing. For godssake answer the thing! :-) You don't have to say much. Just listen.

I know, Nancy! Maybe we should put our dreams on speaker phone.

Family Man said...

Good morning Nancy and everyone.

That was a wonderful story about your father Nancy. You and your family were lucky to have him back even for that short of a time.

Why is it when you are having your best dreams that it's assured that someone is going to wake you up? I would have to say my best dreams are of flying. No plane or anything else, just flying. First just little hops, and I'm just a few feet off the ground, and then I'm soaring. Nightmares on the other hand it seems no one wants to wake me up. I have had some bad one where I've told myself I'm dreaming and to wake up. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Hope everyone is having a good day and good dreams.

AndiF said...

The dreams I like best are the ones where I come up with a solution to some work problem I'm having.

-- AndiF, proudly serving the internet community by representing the views of the boringly pragmatic so no one else has to.

Kimberly Frost said...

I almost never remember my dreams and seem to only have nightmares so I'm glad that they've never been prophetic.

I do have a friend though who was in the middle of an adoption process of a baby girl who had a dream that the agency called her to ask if she and her husband could adopt a second girl who was much older. The afternoon after the dream, she got that call. There were small bits of information that also matched the dream.

She talked to her husband about it, but to no one else as they were thinking things over and trying to decide what it might mean.

When she got home, she asked her little boy how his sleepover had gone and if he'd gotten any sleep. (He and his buddies are known for staying up playing all night.) He said he had and that he'd dreamt he was getting two sisters through the adoption, one baby and one around his age.

My friend and her husband decided this was a sign. Both their adoptive daughters are now safely in the U.S. and they have a full and happy household with two parents, a nanny, five children (two girls, three boys) and two cats.

Nancy P said...

Um, yum, so much delicious comment, for all of which I thank you, most selfishly.

A little bit at a time, because I want to go write that other stuff I do. . .

katiebird, I would have believed my mom if I hadn't been there. For one thing, it would have been way out of character for her to invent such a thing, and for another, I would have been delighted to hear it.

Funny you'd say that it got you thinking of yourself saying to yourself, "Why didn't I just ask?" I'm increasingly fascinated by that very question: why don't we--I--just ask? You can see it at work in that last novel of mine. Why didn't they just ask? (Rhetorical question there, on my part.)

Pretty interesting dream you had last night!

Family Man said...

Since I missed Tuesdays post, I had to add I'm a phone-phobe too. It appears out of all my family, I'm the only one that way. I've just never seen how people can stay on the phone for hours. Do you ever notice when you're talking to someone on the phone, and there's that number of seconds when neither is saying anything. When that happens, I always figure it's time to hang up because it feels like both of you are looking for something to say. I've almost gotten to the point to where if FMom or a relative tells me I'm wanted on the phone, I inwardly cringe. I much prefer emails. :)

Kelly McCullough said...

g-mornin' (yawns - stretches - waves). Dreams? Isn't this one?

Actually, I dream frequently and vividly, but I remember them almost exclusively between writing projects. Often at those times I dream new stories or scene that feed new stories. While I'm working on a book my brain seems to use dream to process ideas for the story, and just feeds me answers in the morning rather than showing me pretty pictures.

Off to find caffeine now.

Nancy P said...

farfetched, your life is so active these days, dreaming or awake!

I'll just toss out this Jungian nugget in regard to that dream, although you've probably already thought of it. . .often when "new rooms" open up to us in dreams, or we see things like those shops of yours, and we wonder why we never saw them before, it suggests that we're awakening to some kind of new awareness of things--developing a capacity to "see" things we were not able to see before. It's commonly taken as a hint of inner growth. Your dream probably could explain exactly *what* things you are newly able to see, but that's your biz, and I'll stay out of it.

Your dream is so full of such interesting symbols! Carl Jung felt Freud was much MUCH to literal and limited in his interpretation of dream symbols, and that they aren't "signs" to which we already know the meaning, they are more like analogies that our unconscious is using in an attempt to tell us something that we don't consciously know but at some level are ready to learn. He believed they point helpfully toward our personal and/or collective directions of development. . .

I hope I haven't put anybody back to sleep! lol

GreenMinute said...

Once we were angels.

I have no doubt.

Nancy P said...

Green, so much to talk about, yay, even if it takes me several days.

Your dad's new kindness. . .my dad's hearing coming back. . .

Not to say my dad wasn't really deaf, but I had long suspected that it helped him "go deaf to" certain people he didn't want to hear. :) So then I wondered if the Alzheimer's let him "forget" for that weekend that he was deaf! Maybe your dad "forgot" how to be mean.

Your wonderful comment about how maybe dreams "are the only chance our brain has of reminding us of memories we have inherited " and "may be the only chance our brain has to remind us there are other ways of seeing that we no longer use (etc.)"? Jung would agree with you and he would take it waaaay back to the prehistoric. He believed that dreams connect us to our long-ago emotional connection to natural phenomenon.
(ref: Our Dreaming Mind, Robert Van de Castle, Ballantine Books--one of my fav books about dreaming. I should list some others some time.)

Nancy P said...

Hi, jen!
"The tiles come marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah, the tiles come marching two by two, hurrah! hurrah! The tiles come marching two by two, the little one stops to line the flue. . ."

Oops, earworm. ::wicked grin::

Nancy P said...

andif, I am sooo jealous. I'd LOVE to have such overtly pragmatic dreams. They're not boring at all! They're "woo" to the most fascinating degree, imo. I mean, really, isn't that the coolest thing when the nighttime answers a daytime problem?

olivia said...

Nancy, the other day when I said that particular post was the reason why you starting a blog was the best decision in the world? Yeah, I take that back ...

This one is.


Nancy P said...

I love flying dreams, too, family man. I had one last night, probably prompted by this post which I wrote before I went to bed. It had other elements that made it less fun than usual, but the flying itself was easier, faster, (whoosh!), and a lot more powerful than I've experienced before. I had a goal in it, which is something I've never previously had in a flying dream. Carried it out, too, by gum. :)

Nancy P said...

Kelly, I'm jealous of your dreams, too. :) Man, could I use that help right now!

(((Olivia, thank you.)))

Nancy P said...

Kimberly, that is an absolutely amazing/wonderful story about your friends.

Thanks for telling it.

katiebird said...

This is another great day at your blog, Nancy. Great Post (really great post, I'll never forget this story) and wonderful comments.

Greenminute, "Once we were angels."

Who says we aren't?

FARfetched said...

I've had that kind of flying dreams too: get a running start, throw yourself at the ground, and MISS! Haven't had one in a long time though.

Nancy P said...

Thank you, ((kb.))

Well, there you go farfetched--you're aiming for the ground, when you should aim for the sky! :)

MaryB said...


I remember something else that was very interesting about your dad - God rest his gentle soul.

You know how he saw the people or creatures or whatever they were and they were so real to him that he couldn't tell real people from the hallucinations? And I think some of those beings were not kind. They bothered him and he said they moved his things around.

But he told me once that when he was in the hospital (deep in the nite) that a beautiful little girl appeared to him. He had lost his wallet and she had come to help him find it.

I always just figured it was an angel. Or maybe he just finally remembered a dream. (I always thought it was really an angel. It was too real to be a dream).