I haven’t dreamt of my grandmother since her passing one hot summer July evening.
The night, and the days that followed, continue to be a blur. However, as my family members continue to see her in their nightly visions, I, go on unabatedly longing to see and hear the voice of a woman who made me feel the presence of the divine with each passing story.
My sister saw her in a dream when she was buying shoes, my mother has seen her multiple times when she would be undergoing a particularly stressful situation, and I, left alone and oftentimes wondering through an abyss of loneliness and disarray, wake up each morning wondering why, I am left all alone.
We often question the divine, his/her intentions, and specifically whether or not we will ever see resemblances of those long gone in our daily lives, but I’m here to ask and ponder whether or not my inability to see my grandmother has to do with the fact that she was the one person I was not honest to during her lifetime.
I never told my grandmother I was gay. I’ve often wanted to visit her grave, clench my hands together, and pray that she forgive me for betraying the trust she instilled upon me long ago. However, even today, I cannot bring myself to make that trek, up the hill into the countryside where her ashes lay below the ground.
Yes, my grandmother would meet the boys I was dating and yes, I would talk about my life in a way that it would be obvious to anyone else that I was gay, but I never uttered the words, “Gladys, I’m gay” to her. I could handle rejection from my parents, I could face the dismissal from certain family members, but her rejection, the rejection of my hero and best friend, was one thing I was not willing to face.
The only time she ever entered into my dreams was a year ago when I found myself entering her house and seeing her sitting in her chair with its back turned towards me. I called her name, I kept questioning whether or not she had heard me (she was always hard of hearing), and the more I called out her name the more she just sat there, in her chair, silent, and unable to turn around and look at me.
How does one who doesn’t really believe in the divine pray? How do we manage the complex emotions that we feel when loss and heartache overcome our power in faith? More importantly, who, when we are unable to deal with the guilt and pain we have inside, do we agnostics pray to?
I’ve never really pray, but when I do I pray to my grandmother. I do not pray to a God or Goddess that I do not know exists or not, but rather an entity who I hope still watches over me.
However, like with many of the prayers that we cast into the unknown, I too find myself on the same boat, hoping that one day, my divine grandmother will forgive me of my sins and welcome me back into her loving arms.
I look forward to finally walking into her house in my dreams and seeing her warm smile greet me at the door but until then, I’ll continue to sit here and pray.
9 thoughts on “Visions of My Grandmother by John Erickson”
Thank you for this beautiful post John! When my mother died, she became my Goddess. I no longer prayed to the Christian God, in fact, I think I rejected God. I recognized my mother as the only one who would hear my prayers, watch over me. Her death led to an entirely new connection with her and I still believe she is divine and guides me in this life.
All this said – you are not a sinner – your grandmother doesn’t need to forgive you. She loves you for who you are. Believe that in your heart and you will see her again.
Sending you love.
John, perhaps now that you’ve told her (in the form of this beautiful article) you’ll be able to allow her into your dreams. Maybe she knew, during her life, that you are gay. I’d bet she did, she sounds like a perceptive, sharp woman, your Glady. You love her and she loves you, it’s plain to see in the photo. Love doesn’t stop with death. Why not give yourself the release of doing what you describe here: visiting her grave? It would be really difficult, and I think it would be a blessing for you also.
And I want to thank you for making this connection for me between divinity and those we love and miss, it’s helpful to me in my own losses.
Thank you for your beautiful comment. I plan on stopping by her grave, by myself and just laying there and talking. It will be an act of freeing and an act of love. I cannot wait.
We often don’t draw these connections and I am happy that I was able to do that for you. Thanks for your comment and reading the blog.
Hi John —
I wish I had seen this the very day you posted it, but I’ve been busy getting many things done, among them a homily for a wedding tomorrow. Thank you for your honesty and your emotional candor. I can feel your pain and your desire to do the right thing at the right time — your integrity.
I think you DID the right thing at the time, especially given your grandmother’s generation. I believe she probably would have been about the same age as my mother (89 1/2). Knowing my mother, I have never come out to her as bisexual. She couldn’t understand that fact about me (small-town girl, Republican until the Viet Nam War when she became a moderate Democrat; living in the south for her elder years). I only told her inadvertently about my daughter’s lesbian relationship, and my mother’s response was a cool, distant acceptance of that fact. She didn’t like it, but it didn’t change her love for her granddaughter. This reinforced my need to remain closeted with her. I also pleaded with my daughter not to tell her other grandmother about her sexual preference (in this relationship, my daughter is the only grandchild), because my husband’s mother is much less tolerant in general and actively homophobic. This grandmother and granddaughter have had a very special relationship, with much love and much respect on both sides. It would have been completely disrupted by the revelation of my daughter’s sexual orientation.
In my life I’m out almost all of the time (of course, I choose to whom I reveal my sexual orientation, and if it’s dangerous to do so, I don’t). I have actively worked for LGBTQ rights and taught about them as a Women’s Studies professor. But my relationship with my mother is too important to weight it with the knowledge of my sexual orientation. When I came out to one of my sisters (years ago), she asked what was wrong with my marriage, so I realized that if my sister couldn’t get it, how could my mother.
In her new-found perspective in the beyond, I think your grandmother is no longer tied down by her generational preconceptions and biases. She will accept the whole of you, something that might have been very difficult when she was alive. Go unburden yourself to her and then open the door to her in your dreams. I’m sure you will be happy with the results.
Hi, John: I’ve hesitated to reply because I’m not sure I can do justice to what I want to say within this space. But I’m going to give it a try and maybe it will help you.
Before I do so, I’d just like to mention that I entirely agree with what Nancy, above, has to say: death is itself a kind of sacrament of forgiveness and understanding: ‘I’ve left the dross behind’. Your grandmother is beyond judging anybody, even herself, now.
But I have another reason for posting, and that is because I thought it just might be useful for you to hear a pagan view of our relationship/s with the beloved dead.
Now, pagans are a pretty diverse lot, more so perhaps than any other faith group, and my patterns of belief can in no way represent the whole spectrum of pagan practice in regard to the ancestors, but I think its fairly typical.
First, pagans aren’t too keen on sin, guilt and judgement. There is quite enough pain in the world without adding to it. Try to rid yourself of these (socially constructed) constraints.
Second, the ancestors are absolutely central to most pagan practice. The ancestors are those who watch over us while we live, and to whom we return when we die. We honor them with prayers and gifts, and ask in return their guidence and protection. We carry their blood in our veins: the cells of their bodies regenerate in ours, we are their continuation in this world and because of this very special, physical, connection that we each of us have with our dead, we can, through them, connect with that non-physical reality to which they have gone.
Third, pagan faith is focused on praxis: doing is as important as believing and ritual is central to doing. Through ritual we create and recreate our patterns of faith in a continually renewing tradition which is itself an affirmation of the central relationship we foster with the dead. further, the best pagan rituals are the ones you make up for yourself, because they are the most powerful and the most evocative.
OK, given this very basic and simplified outline of some pagan belief about the beloved dead, perhaps you will see how my response to your distress is going to take a practical form. What follows is the advice I would give to someone new to paganism who had feelings similar to yours – not because you want to be a pagan, but because it is what I have to offer.It is given with a good heart, and I hope you may find some part of it useful.
Begin by making an altar for your grandmother. A small table or shelf in a private corner will do: or make your altar in your garden, or on a balcony, or anywhere you like. Put a photo of her on the altar, maybe more than one, and maybe one of yourself with her. Put candles and incense and flowers: make the whole thing as pretty as you can. Put things she would like, and also those she would recognize. If you have letters or as card she sent you, put these on the altar. Spend a good deal of time thinking what you will put in this special, sacred’ place. Keep changing and adjusting the altar till you feel it is right for both of you (ie that it expresses your love for her and hers for you). If you are uncertain, you will find some good books out there to help you make your altar, but I think the best are the ones we make ourselves. Stop fretting about what you ‘believe’, focus on what you desire – to communicate with your grandmother.
Now, use your altar to connect with your grandmother on a daily basis. When you pass by, touch her photograph and greet her. On special days (her birthday, your birthday, family holidays) light a candle and ask her blessing. If you see something beautiful or interesting you think she would have liked,a flower or a cutting from a newspaper, or a pretty bead, give it to her by putting it on the altar. Be as simple and direct as a child in this. Give to her as spontaneously as you would have as a little boy. Let your altar stand as it is, or change and redress it as you feel best. This is your very private realization of the relationship you want to create with your own beloved dead.
Now, apart from the altar, you need to affirm your connection with your grandmother in other ways. Don’t wait to dream about her! Talk to her – now ! Include her in your life. Ask her to bless and guide you. And bless her and thank her for the life she made possible for you. Get her advice – ancestors like to be asked for advice ! Don’t wait for an answer, assume that she is answering you! You are (forgive me) so defensive and troubled in your response to her that she has a lot of cotton wool to work through before she can reply to you ! She isn’t interested in your guilt, only in your love and in realizing her love in and through you. Create a space for her to come to you, and she will: maybe not in dreams, and maybe not for a while, but in her own way and her own time she will come and you will understand.
Further, find out everything you can about your grandmother’s life and celebrate and honor her in your own. It is useful to know about your ancestors, and a help when you pray to them: as an example: when my daughter had to find a new place to live, I prayed to my grandmother who had once been homeless with a small child: ‘Grandmother, please help my daughter: you know and understand the difficulty she is now in. Make her strong, be with her and guide her.’ Such prayers are very powerful within the context of a family narrative of which you are, of course, a part.
The point being, that you are waiting for your grandmother to come to you, whereas it is you who need to go to her.
I could say much more, but perhaps have said too much already. Please forgive the length of this reply, but I hope you will find something of use within it. If you want me to clarify any point I would, of course, be very happy to do so.
The Blessings of the Great Mother, Queen of the Living and the Dead upon you and your search for peace.
ps You do not have to believe in any divinity to do any of this. Go with your love for your grandmother: that survives, that endures, and it is enough.Trust me, in the greater scheme of things it doesn’t matter which deity if any you do or don’t believe in. Go with what you know (‘I loved my grandmother, she loved me’ and what you can do – talk to her, honor her. The rest will follow.
pps sorry about the typos.
pps the typos would be less if the spell check on this site recognised British English !!!
And you don’t have to believe that there is a place where the ancestors live to communicate with them. Even if they only live in the hearts and minds of the living, that is enough.
Just read your post today. I hope by this time you have gone to your grandmother’s grave to sit and talk with her about your love for her and your truth. She does live in your heart. Blessings on you and your process of healing.
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