Updated: Nov 9, 2021
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. Each time he swooped, I swatted him out of my way. 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. Perplexed, I asked what he wanted from me.
Apparently I speak bat because I understood when he said he wanted a hug. I agreed under the condition that he would leave me to finish my work after the embrace. He snuggled into the crook of my neck 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. When the hug was over, he disappeared, but the tingles on the back of my neck remained. I went back to work and fell asleep at my desk.
When I woke the next morning, I was uncertain whether it was a dream or if the winged creature was still lurking. I went on an extensive search of my home, but couldn't find the bat. The look of his eyes haunted me, but I determined it must have been a dream.
I was curious what a white bat represented, so I conducted an Internet search and learned that to dream of a white bat signifies the death of a family member. I dismissed this interpretation and decided I needed less caffeine before bed.
Early the next morning I received a call from my mother. She shared that my grandfather had passed away the night before -- the day following my dream. Until that moment I wouldn'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 didn't tolerate complaining or victim behavior and preferred choke holds over hugs. His favorite Christmas gifts were the kind that gurgled and those that didn'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 and marshmallows, 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, I love you, even to his children or grandchildren. As innocent youth, we told him we loved him and he would dismiss it by responding with, "thank you," or "you're a knucklehead."
The last time I saw my grandfather was a few weeks before he died. 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 a stuffed toy dog he named Bozo. My grandpa loved it and was comforted by it while he slept.
I couldn'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 present.
At the nursing home, I watched my mother spoon feed my grandfather strawberry ice cream and gently wipe drool with a napkin. His words were not understood, but we knew from his groan that he loved the special treat. 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. My tears and outpouring of love caused him to look confused, but as I kissed his cheek and told him I loved him, I was comforted by an abrupt, but audible, "thank you."
I believe the white bat in my dream was my grandfather who came to say goodbye. Perhaps it was even his way of saying I love you from the afterlife. Either way, I have come to appreciate and admire my mom's compassion for a man incapable of showing gratitude or stating his love. I'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 grandfather's eyes when my mother fed him special ice cream, or a stranger's teary kisses landed on his cheek. 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 or what it is supposed to look like.
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 I love you from her father, but I think she has come to some semblance of peace knowing that love need not be spoken to be real.
Sometimes love is complicated and full of complex stories, but that doesn't mean it isn't real.
Love Just Is.
When have you been shown unconditional love?
When have you shown unconditional love?
How did these events change your perspective?
Gratitude and Forgiveness are Powerful Perspectives -- qualities that begin with awareness and move upward toward love.
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