As I sat in my home office writing a story that wanted to be told, the winged creature darted down from the ceiling and disrupted my flow of thoughts. Â Each time he swooped, I swatted him out of my way.Â After several irritating interruptions, I turned and found myself face-to-face with a bat suspended in mid-air as if it were a Halloween prop dangling from a string.
He had tiny bat hands on the end of his outstretched bat wings and his sad brown eyes seemed oversized for his fuzzy white body.Â Perplexed, I asked what he wanted from me.
Apparently I speak bat because I understood him when he said he wanted a hug. I agreed under the condition that he would leave me to finish my work after the embrace. Â He snuggled into the crook and wrapped his wings around my neck; his little bat fingers tickled the tiny hairs at the base of my head and sent shivers down my spine. Â When the hug was over, he disappeared.
When I woke the next morning, I could still feel the tingles on the back of my neck.Â Uncertain whether it was a dream or if the creature was still lurking, I went on an extensive search.Â I determined it must have been a dream.
Curious what it meant, I conducted an Internet search.Â On dreamdictionary.com, I learned that â€œto dream of a white bat signifies the death of a family member,â€ but I dismissed this interpretation and decided I needed less caffeine before bedtime.
Early the next morning I received a call from my mother who told me my grandfather had passed away the night before, the day following my dream.Â Until that moment I wouldnâ€™t describe my relationship with my mom as being close, but I felt connected to her as she recounted the past few years with her father and the meaning of the bat that appeared in my dream.
My grandfather was a military man who was loud, direct and not particularly kind. He had no filter between his brain and his mouth and stated whatever was on his mind, regardless of the audience or the timing. He was inappropriate and typically threw out insults instead of compliments. He didnâ€™t tolerate complaining or victim behavior and preferred choke holds over hugs. His favorite Christmas gifts were the kind that gurgled and those that didnâ€™t remained wrapped under the tree.
I will never forget the Christmas Eve when I was twelve and suffered from a horrible cold. I was congested, miserable and complained about being achy. Instead of a grandfatherly cup of hot chocolate, he mixed me a rancid concoction and ordered me to plug my nose and drink. I nearly gagged and puked, but knew better than to heave the priceless whiskey mixture my grandfather offered as a cold remedy.
Never had I heard the man utter the words, â€œI love you,â€ even to his children or grandchildren. As innocent youth, we told him we loved him and he would dismiss it with the words, â€œyouâ€™re a knuckle-headâ€ or an abrupt â€œthank you.â€
The last time I saw my grandfather was a few weeks before he died. Â My mother took the Yorkshire Terriers she has confused as her children to visit and the nurses told her the dogs were the highlight of his day. My grandfather was no longer strong enough to hold the dogs on his lap, so my mom brought him aÂ stuffed toy dog he named Bozo. My grandpa loved it and was comforted by it while he slept.
I couldnâ€™t imagine this tough military man sleeping with a stuffed dog. It was the same ritual my son had practiced for the better part of his early years. The common thread between my grandfather and my son put me in an exaggerated and sensitive emotional state and it struck me that the grandfather of my youth was no longer.
At the nursing home, I watched my mother spoon feed my grandfather strawberry ice cream and gently wipe drool with a napkin. Â His words were not understood, but we knew from his groan that he loved the special treat. Â When he was chilled, she wrapped him in a blanket and tucked him in with Bozo.
I took my turn holding his hand and behind his sad, over-sized eyes I could see he was struggling to understand who I was and why I was thanking him for being my grandpa.Â I imagine my tears and outpouring of love caused him confusion; but as I kissed his cheek and told him I loved him, I was comforted by an abrupt, but audible, â€œthank you.â€
I believe the white bat in my dream was my grandfather who came to say goodbye.Â Perhaps it was even his way of saying I love you from the afterlife.Â Either way, I have come to appreciate and admire my momâ€™s compassion for a man incapable of showing gratitude or stating his love.Â Iâ€™ve come to understand that love comes in many forms and is much more than words. Love is a special energy that could be seen in my grandfatherâ€™s eyes when my mother fed him special ice cream, and felt through the kisses and tears of confusion. Love is shared when we comfort another soul with a stuffed puppy, or when the words “thank you” replace the words, “I love you, too.” Unconditional love means not judging how love shows up.
Love is not forgotten, but perhaps the ability to speak it is lost somewhere in the complexity of surviving a life filled with war, depression, and the daunting day-to-day responsibility of raising children alone.
I cannot imagine what it must feel like for my mother to have never heard the words â€œI love youâ€ from her father, but I think she has come to some semblance of peace knowing that love need not be spoken to be real.Â Sometimes itâ€™s complicated and full of complex stories, but that doesnâ€™t mean it doesnâ€™t exist.
Love Just Is.