Life

Nuala McCann: Dreams of the dearly departed

Last night, my dead father came calling in a dream. He was himself, in his old beige jumper, grey trousers and his favourite brown raincoat – fashion faux pas number one. My mother hated it with a passion. She threw it in the bin that last time he was in hospital and off side...

Nuala's late father came to her in a dream this week

LAST night my dead father came calling in a dream. He was himself, in his old beige jumper, grey trousers and his favourite brown raincoat - fashion faux pas number one.

My mother hated it with a passion. She threw it in the bin that last time he was in hospital and off side.

But something stopped her at the last minute after she’d done the dirty deed. She turned back to the bin, thought twice, fished the hated coat back out again.

The next day he got out of hospital.

He collapsed and died half-an-hour after he got into the house and minutes after he’d pointed out the patch my brother had missed while putting a fresh coat of paint on the sitting room ceiling.

For ages afterwards, his raincoat hung in its usual place in the cloakroom.

"I’ve just gone down to Laws to buy The Irish News, I’ll be back in half-an-hour," it whispered.

"I’ve gone off to the CAB, see you for soup later," it shouted up the stairs.

But he never came back. We were all fooling ourselves, sneaking into the cloakroom to bury our noses in the folds of an old brown raincoat, willing him back to life.

The coat turned dusty and mildewed. Funny how you can hate an old coat but you can’t bear to let it go.

In my dream, he was wearing it.

"Where have you been these past 30 years?," I might have said. But it wasn’t that kind of dream. We were all in a strange house – my mother, my sisters and I. When I went outside, there was the old Renault parked on the road and my father in the driver’s seat. He was just the way I remember him, warm and sensible as ever.

"Have you been sleeping outside in this car?," I asked.

"I’m comfortable and I’m fine and I’m here," he said.

It felt like all the sorrow heavy on my shoulders slipped to the ground with the ease of a soft silk wrap. "He’s here," I thought... then I woke up.

We are sensible stock, the McCanns. We have no truck with dreams. Peggy, mum’s best friend, was super no-nonsense. She was a rock.

The morning of the day dad had been due home from the hospital that last time, she arrived at the door. It wasn’t her form to put in a morning visit.

"Just calling to see how you are," she told mum.

"Up to my neck, getting the house ready for John coming home," said mum.

When the news came that evening and his body was removed and returned in a coffin, Peggy was there. The shock was so great that no-one had time to put dad in his good navy suit – he wore a cream shroud and a purple silk bow tie.

"Dad would hate that bow," we wailed.

"Fetch the scissors, children," said Peggy and, with a flourish, she snipped off the damn bow.

Weeks later, Peggy said she had dreamed that he was going to die. That was why she called that morning.

There have been other dreams. A close friend had a violent death at just 28. There were nightmares. Six months later, she appeared in my dream wearing that striped top she’d worn on our holiday to Rhodes the summer before, tanned as ever – she took the sun like an Italian.

She stood at the bottom of the bed. "Hey, it’s you,” I said in my dream.

"Yes," she said with that great broad smile of hers. "And I’m here to tell you that I’m great now, everything’s good, I’m happy."

I had the best sleep that night. I never dreamed of her again.

And my father? After he died, grief caught me stalking strange men on busy streets – from a distance, they looked like him. Grief hit like a freak wave when a particular song came on the car radio, forcing me onto the verge to sob.

I got over the urge to go to the grave and dig the soil with my bare hands, to open te coffin and just see him again.

There was a good dream. Once, I dreamed that I was sobbing and suddenly felt he was there. He had his hand around my shoulder. "It’ll be all right," he said.

Last night, my dead father came calling. It’s been 30 years. I never knew you could miss someone so much.

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