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In Dreams MAG
The sun glittered in a shade of yellow I never knew existed. Along with the trees and greenish-blue shimmer of the lake, the whole scene reminded me of some Grateful Dead T-shirt wrapped around our boat. It was so incandescently beautiful I almost forgot the purpose of today’s vacation. I reluctantly reached for my fishing pole, plotting diversions from touching the bait we had selected earlier that morning when the sky showed no promise of becoming this impressive. It made me want to write poetry. I do not write poetry.
“What do you think Heaven looks like?”
My father looked up from my fishing pole, which he had begun hooking, and pondered my question.
“I think Heaven looks exactly like this: my boat surrounded by a couple hundred yards of lake on each side. My pole in hand and the sun on my face, only my dad would be sitting here with me. I haven’t gone fishing with my father for almost 30 years. That’s what Heaven will be like. For me.”
Wow. Now I had to start thinking, because I knew he would ask for my idea in return. To me, Heaven seemed like a big lounge where we got to enjoy our lives at whatever age we wanted. It would be a place where we could get those extra hours of the party that ended too soon, where that birthday we could never forget went on for 24 days instead of 24 hours. But that answer seemed vague and impersonal compared to my father’s. It made me feel boring. I hoped he wouldn’t ask me.
“What do you think Heaven will be like for you?” he asked.
I’m sure he could see my disgruntled expression, even though I pulled every muscle in my face to restrain it.
“Oh, Daddy, I don’t know.”
“Well, why did you ask me?” He suddenly seemed really interested in what I had to say.
I shrugged. That was the most honest thing I had said yet. I seriously didn’t know. Why did I ask him that? I was only 17, had no terminal illness and had lost only one close relative. My father had the exact same profile. The topics of death and life after had never come up in conversation between us.
“Okay, my turn,” my father interrupted my thoughts, which I actually appreciated. I was anxious to hear his question, though. He was rendering me speechless with his interest in this topic.
“Do you look forward to Heaven?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I really do. I mean, I am not afraid of Heaven, because it’s supposed to be greater than even the best life on Earth – and eternal. And there is no pain or suffering – but still, just the thought of – just knowing – ”
“You’re afraid of death.”
“No, that’s not it at all …” I trailed off, trying to defend my point, but it was exactly that. Although I’d never said it before, I was a little scared of dying. Okay, I was terrified. I was terrified of leaving everything I’d known and was used to. I was terrified of living without my family and friends. And most of all, I was terrified of what that meant. My father put his hand on my shoulder, as if he knew how I felt. I knew he didn’t; at that moment he did not feel the way I did.
“You don’t have to be afraid. I know it’s hard, but that’s what my dad told me, and I didn’t actually believe him until he was gone. I hope it doesn’t take you that long.”
Any other person would have been shocked by his last statement, but I knew he was being humorous. And I appreciated it. If I said I believed him I’d be lying, so instead I rested my hand on his and simply smiled. He knew what it meant, too, but instead of looking disappointed, he seemed almost content.
“Are you looking forward to it?” I asked.
My father gazed at the lake for a moment. He cocked his head and did some kind of diagonal nod. At this point all my fears and uncertainties dissolved into the tears that welled up in my eyes. A combination of the sun’s reflection over the shimmering lake and my father’s gaze forced me to look down, gravity pulling my tears toward my already fidgeting feet. My father was less afraid to die than I was of his death. I blinked hard, took several deep breaths and finally summoned my voice.
At this point, all efforts to suppress my crying were lost – lost in the anticipation of his answer and the confusion of my own cowardly response. Tears streamed down my face, flowing over every curve of my cheeks, nose and chin. My father set down his fishing pole and hugged me. He held on for a good five minutes before he finally said,“Yes, and no.”
I was confused. I glanced up, my eyes drenched and weary.
“I don’t want to leave you behind, I don’t want to leave my wife and children. That’s why I used to be afraid. But to fish with my father again, never to lose anyone again and to see you all when you finally join me? I could definitely stand those years by myself if I knew I’d get to spend eternity with the ones I love. So please try to understand that if you lose me, if you lose anyone, it’s only a momentary loss. And it’ll make it even greater when you get to Heaven and see those you’ve lost in life.”
I kissed him on the cheek and rested my head on his chest. It had been more than a while since I’d discussed such insecurity. In fact, it had been never.
“Thank you, Dad.”
He patted my head softly and asked, “So – what do you think Heaven is like?”
I sighed and closed my eyes, shutting out the daylight. Opening them, I found myself in the dark, staring at my ceiling. Bewildered, I sat up and looked to my left where my husband lay asleep. I wondered what he’d say about a dream this bizarre. But instead of waking him, I slid back under the sheets again. I was actually comforted; it took me ten years, but finally, at 3:27 that morning, for the first time, I truly accepted my father’s death. Not as a loss, not as an ending. I understood where he was, and was appreciative. Someday I will tell him, when we go fishing once again on that beautiful lake, on that warm summer day. That’s what Heaven will be like. For me.