Grandma Sweet’s Hands

1910 Grandma Sweet's weddingI had this dream 12½ years ago. It impacted me strongly at the time and left a permanent memory trace because of its transformational nature. I was prompted to write about it by a blog post I saw with a similar theme of awakening consciousness and healing. The post, Dreamspeak: Ancestral Healing, is the story of Toko-pa Turner’s dream visit by her Holocaust survivor grandfather, in which he apologised to her for passing on the effects of the trauma that he was only able to cope with by keeping it to himself. My dream visitor was my maternal grandmother and though the circumstances differ, the theme of unprocessed grief resonating down through the generations and the longing for completion – which appears to be as desirous from the other side as this one – is similar.

The dream:

I am in my dining room and Grandma Sweet is sitting at the table. She is young, attractive and very happy, so unlike how I remember her. I tell her I realised some time back that my hands are just like hers and put my left hand against her right to demonstrate. I say I have a photo of her that shows it very clearly and go off to look for it.

I rummage around in the pile of family photos but can’t find it and wonder if I’ve thrown it away. When I find it I realise it is her wedding photo – a fact I had forgotten. Her husband is sitting on a chair and she is standing with her left hand resting on his shoulder. It clearly shows the distinctive line of the thumb and the long fingers.

I think to myself that Grandma might like to see what has been happening in the family since she died, so I put her photo aside and start sorting through the rest to make a selection. In the process, I misplace her photo and have trouble finding it again. When I do, I look at it and realise ‘Oh, Grandma doesn’t need to see these, she knows everything that’s gone on.’ It was quite a revelation.

As I emerged from the dream, I was overcome by a sense of deep compassion and love for her that took me completely by surprise. Our family had lived with Grandma until I was 11 and I remembered her as a bitter and miserable old woman, frequently bedridden, always complaining and smelling of citronella. According to her she had a bad heart but according to Mum the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with her. I never liked her as a child and was further influenced by her antagonism towards my mother and the stories Mum told of her oppressive childhood. When I awoke, my perception of her was instantly and permanently transformed.

I had the dream just a few days before my divorce was to be finalised, so that made some sense of losing the wedding photo but I had no clue as to why it would be Grandma as she had never remarried after her husband died, as I had. At this point she had been dead 42 years and was part of my distant past. Why was she showing up now? I also wondered about the significance of the hands – why had they been made such a big deal of?

I posted the dream to the forum I was on at the time hoping for some clarity from other viewpoints. One of the suggestions was that I might be ‘handling’ life like Grandma and that had a certain resonance because at that stage in my life I was feeling very fragile and barely holding myself together. The unexpected ending of my second marriage had derailed me just as life was beginning to settle down after all the upheaval of my first husband’s death. The fact that Grandma was so happy and youthful in the dream gave me hope that the future would be brighter and I concluded that the message of the dream was just that – you will be happy again.

Because the framework within which the forum operated considered that everyone and everything in a dream represents something about the dreamer, I missed entirely the fact that this was a spirit visit from Grandma. As such it had a healing power that went way beyond the scope of psychological insight because it came from the deeper part of the psyche that Jung called the collective unconscious – a sphere of reality beyond that of the personal unconscious. In addition to reflecting my personal attitudes and beliefs, Grandma’s appearance in my dream was showing me a greater perspective – a viewpoint from beyond the physical time-space world. Although I lacked the knowledge and understanding of the Jungian approach to dreamwork at the time, the numinous quality of the dream ensured that it would continue to gestate in the depths until its wisdom and meaning came to fruition.

As a result of the dream I decided to research the family history and was shocked to learn that Grandma’s husband had died of cerebral syphilis. The story we had grown up with was that he had sustained a head injury in a fall from a cart and never recovered. Grandma was only 37 and was left with 5 children, the oldest being 13 and the youngest only 18mths old. I also learned that she had lost 4 children in infancy, including one who had been born more than a year after her husband’s death, with no father’s name cited. Poor Grandma! I could only imagine what shame and grief she had to bear, on top of trying to survive with no means of support. By the time I came on the scene in 1950 she was 60 years old and no doubt had been well and truly worn down by life.

I framed the photo that had been in my dream and kept it on my bedroom dresser where it served to remind me of the strength and resilience I had inherited through the motherline. Grandma Sweet may have lost her sweetness through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune but her survivor spirit was an inspiration to me. When I moved house several years later I packed the photo away. It was a fitting gesture to moving on, as it had been her death that had resulted in my mother moving with her daughters away from the mining town that had been our home with its stifling atmosphere, oppressive conditions and lack of opportunities for women.

It was only recently that I got a new perspective on the significance of the hands in the dream. The Toko-Pa Turner blog post referenced at the beginning of this story appeared on the Depth Psychology Alliance Facebook page I follow and I posted a comment: I had a dream of my grandmother once. She said nothing but I was shown a photograph of her in which I recognised my hands were the same as hers. A lifetime of antagonism towards her melted away. I love what Amy Beth Katz said about our ancestors returning in our dreams. That is definitely my experience.

Amy responded with: You have healing hands, Gloria, don’t you?

My immediate reaction was ‘No way!!!’ but the intensity of my denial surprised me and so I began to wonder ‘why so adamant?’ I had worked as a massage therapist many years ago and had also done Reiki but neither were really my thing, so that didn’t fit. Then I thought about the fact that through all the dark times, starting with my late husband’s cancer diagnosis 20 years ago, writing was what kept me sane and helped me work everything through. I did dialogues with dream characters and other figures from the imaginal realm, cathartic rants that I ritually burnt, worked and re-worked a book (still a work in progress), wrote about my experiences with hypnotherapy, wrote up my dreams and explored them through writing, participated on the dream forum and journalled religiously. Writing has, without question been the most healing thing I’ve done with my hands but it was mostly self-healing.

Then I thought about this blog – from the very start my intention in writing about my dreams has had healing as the focus, as that has been a constant thread in the dreams. I initially decided to blog my stories because I’ve always loved reading other people’s stories and been helped a great deal by them but I have been stalemated for over a year because of that insidious voice of self-doubt: It’s too hard. It’s too personal. You’re not a writer. What’s the point? Who cares? Who wants to read it anyway? People will think you’re nuts (well, I thought I was myself at one point so that would be no surprise). Why don’t you just go and enjoy yourself? And the most crippling of all – uttered with a sneer of course – ‘Just who do you think you are?’

As I pondered this, I remembered a story my sisters and I had grown up with. Mum had won a writing competition at school and received a prize. When she proudly showed it to her mother – Grandma Sweet – Grandma became very angry and told her not to waste her time on nonsense like that. And so she didn’t, instead following in the path of domesticity that was laid out for her as a woman of that time and place and social status. She ended up like her mother, a ‘deserted wife’ with 5 young kids to raise. My impression of Grandma was that she was a mother and homemaker by nature and that her great misfortune was in the tragedy of her husband’s early death. Not so my mother; having to conform to the domestic life was a disaster for someone with her free spirit and resulted in a lifetime of nervous breakdowns with the inevitable trauma to her daughters as we were split up and bounced around among relatives and neighbours.

When I think about this dream now I picture the gesture of putting my hand against Grandma’s as a ‘high five.’ It wasn’t really like that in the dream and yet the image is very compelling. I do feel her dream visit was a blessing. I am sure she would approve of what I’m doing and I know my mother absolutely would. My mother and grandmother couldn’t tell their stories and suffered accordingly but I can and am grateful for the opportunity to be able to do so and intend to make the most of it.

My Introduction to A Course in Miracles

You Are A MiracleMost people who develop a long term relationship with this remarkable work have a story to tell not only about their first encounter with it but also about the conflicts that quickly develop once the initial infatuation wears off. If that sounds like a regular relationship, it’s no accident, for the book was written by a most unusual process which involved a psychology professor taking down dictation from a voice she heard internally, which she perceived as none other than Jesus. Anyone who is drawn to it then, is also inevitably drawn into a challenging relationship with this enigmatic figure of history regardless of their religious background, or lack thereof. Because the Jesus of the Course is a radically different figure from the one of conventional Christianity and the popular cultural image, it is a huge challenge to both the intellect and the emotions.

The book is essentially a spiritual path combining meditation practice with psychological techniques, the primary aim of which is to guide practitioners of it to a state of inner peace and thereby into an enhanced attunement with one’s own inner guidance. It employs an ingenious and methodical approach consisting of a theoretical foundation and daily exercises for practicing what it teaches. After 15 years of working with it, there is no doubt in my mind that it is from an inspired and wholly benevolent source. What that source is exactly is beyond my comprehension but my initial encounter with it led to a conversation with an inner voice myself and though brief, it was very compelling and had a deep impact on me. I have also come to believe that the vision I had 2½ years prior to learning about the Course foreshadowed my connection with it.

I first learned of it when a friend gave me a book to read called A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson but I have to say I was put off by her evangelical style and wasn’t tempted to look into it any further. I would occasionally come across quotes from the Course in other reading however and the different contexts in which it was mentioned would pique my interest but again I didn’t feel moved to look any further into it.

Then one night at a Jung Society meeting, which I had been attending for a bit over a year at the time, I bumped into a woman who had once worked at the vet’s where I took my cats. I was very surprised to see her there but she had come because she was interested in the evening’s talk, which happened to be on dreams. In the course of catching up with each other’s news, she told me she was about to start a group studying A Course in Miracles, so I said I would be interested in doing it. The meeting got going before I found out the details, so I planned to catch up afterwards. The talk went on and on and as with many of the Jung talks for me at that time, most of it went right over my head. I hung in only to see my friend afterwards but when it finally finished, she was nowhere to be found. Apparently it had gone over her head too. We had no way of contacting each other, so I assumed that was the end of the matter.

Four days later, amazingly, I bumped into her at my local shopping centre and she told me the group was off, at least temporarily, because the venue had fallen through. I offered to have it in my rumpus room and so we started on June 15th, 1999. My friend ended up not taking the group herself after all but handed it on to a friend of hers who I didn’t know and who was relatively new to it herself. As I knew nothing about it at all, this didn’t seem to be too much of a problem but as I soon found out, it was a case of the blind leading the blind and after 4 months I was ready to throw in the towel. In an attempt to revitalise my fast waning interest, I decided to find out a bit more about it and got onto the biography of how it came into being, Journey Without Distance.

The book described how those involved with it prayed for guidance about the publishing process. There were 4 people involved at this point and they would base their decisions on the information they received.  I wondered to myself if that would work for me, so, remembering the vision, I said, in my mind, “O.K. Jesus, you said ‘ask and you will receive’ so I’ve got some questions for you” and proceeded to ask questions. Instantly a voice, which was definitely not my own thoughts, began answering and soon the answers were coming before I had finished asking the question. Then it began giving me information without me even formulating a question. At one point I managed to get in ‘why the short sharp answers?’ and it shot straight back ‘it saves time.’  It also told me that I need to trust the process.  Because of the rapidity of the dialogue and the surprise factor, I have no idea what my initial questions were but did manage to record the last part. I had an appointment with my hypnotherapist next day, so I asked, ‘What do I need to work on?’ The voice in my head answered me:


‘Fear of what?’

‘Fear of abandonment.’

‘I’ve already worked on that.’

‘You haven’t worked on your fear of abandonment by God.’

‘What! I couldn’t go to Pat and say that. I would be too embarrassed.’

‘There’s no need to be. She will understand. I have sent you to Pat.’

The last statement left me dumbfounded but I gathered my thoughts enough to grab a pen and wrote down what I could remember. I had to admit that I did indeed find Pat through what seemed to be a series of orchestrated steps. This kind of thing had happened often through my life, as it undoubtedly does for everyone, so wasn’t particularly noteworthy but to be told by a voice in my head that he was behind it, was a bit unnerving. What is remarkable in this conversation is that there was no comment whatsoever on what I now see as an incredibly naïve and arrogant statement that I had worked on my fear of abandonment. When my short lived second marriage ended 3 years later, I would get to confront this issue in all its profound complexity and it wasn’t pretty.

The following day at my hypnosis session, I told Pat about the conversation and to my relief she was quite unfazed. She suggested we try a musical journey to see what came of it but I got absolutely nowhere and it was the most unproductive session I had ever had. Jesus showed up and tried to communicate something to me but I just couldn’t get it. At that point in my life I was still struggling with the whole notion of God, conflated as it was with the conditioning of the past and my own rebellion against religious ideas. My inner conflict created much resistance. Fortunately the Son had never suffered the same hostile reaction as I had towards the Father. As much as I harboured serious doubts about the validity of many of the stories, I was never quite able to shed the deep affection I’d had for Jesus as a child and for that I am grateful. I suspect now that children are able to intuit the truth within the cultural overlays.

The whole experience did serve to keep me persevering with the Course but only for another 4 months. My life was undergoing a lot of changes and since the group had started, the group leader had moved into a house close by, so the group continued at her home. The book sat on my shelf for the next 5 years and every now and again I would dip into it. Gradually, as I did wider reading and life’s continuing dramas had primed me sufficiently, it began making sense to me. I picked it up one day, began reading the text and decided to start the workbook from scratch again. It has been an everyday part of my life since and I have no doubt that it is a ’til death do us part’ relationship. The beauty of both the language and its message and the challenge of its thought system, has a depth that is ever unfolding and quite simply, I love it.

My experience of a voice that sounded very much like the kind of experience Helen Schucman, the scribe of the Course had, gave me greater confidence in and appreciation for what I was reading, although it would be several years before I began to fully trust it. The conversation I had was just a few minutes long, so I can only imagine what it must have been like hearing this voice over 7 years and taking down the dictation, then going through the transcription process with her colleague Bill Thetford as he typed it up.   All this while holding down very demanding professional positions and trying to keep the whole thing secret. Mama Mia!

When I came to type up the notes I had made, I put ‘Fear of abandonment of God’ instead of ‘by God,’ and then became confused about what I actually heard. I concluded at the time that it was probably both but in the intervening years I have learned from personal experience that we can neither be abandoned by God, or abandon God ourselves, because God is integral to all existence. This understanding is a far cry from my atheist days – ‘we are all accidents of chemistry, we live, we die, peaceful oblivion, end of story.’ I don’t mean to imply I know what God is because I don’t but I can say that when I was at my lowest point after the marriage break up, there was something other than my own little will to live keeping me going. This ‘something’ I am satisfied to call God. The Course offers the best definition I have come across: ‘We say God is… and then we cease to speak.’

One thing I learned from the confusion over what I heard was not to take anything I read as Gospel, no matter how trustworthy I believed it to be. There is no such thing as a pure channel. Even if the transmission is perfectly pure, it is still filtered through the receiver’s own mind and life experience and the transcription process, as in any translative endeavour, is not an exact science. As the Course itself puts it ‘…words are but symbols of symbols. They are thus twice removed from Reality.’

I find it ironic now that I was introduced to A Course in Miracles at a Jung meeting where the topic was on dreams. Jungian psychology, dreams and ACIM would eventually come to make up what I would refer to as my Holy Trinity of Healing and they complement each other perfectly. The Course has much to say on dreams, as does Jungian psychology and my worldview has had a considerable shakeup since that night back in 1999. I don’t nod off in Jung meetings anymore for starters and I have long since let go of the kinds of conflict I used to experience in trying to get my head around this extraordinary work. In fact it’s not something that can be understood with the head at all but has to be experienced through the heart. A statement from the introduction sums this up:

The Course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence, which is your natural inheritance.

These blocks are our psychological defence mechanisms and being based in protecting the identity we have built up since the year dot, they are not relinquished without a fight.


Dream or visit?

Two and a half years after my husband’s death I woke during the night with an impression of him having been present. The way I recorded it in my dream journal was:

Not sure if this was a dream or a visitation. Roger appeared and gave me a message which I can’t remember clearly but it was as though he thought his mother hadn’t let go of him and he wanted me to see if I could do something about it.

This was not a welcome message for several reasons.  Firstly, in spite of the many unusual experiences I’d been having which were pushing me into an awareness of a realm beyond the physical, I was in no way convinced that they had an actual reality beyond my own imaginative faculties. Secondly the relationship with my mother in law was strained at the best of times and I was most reluctant to deliver a message that I myself was unsure of.  Most of all though, with my psychoanalytical reasoning, I had to wonder if it was really meant for me and not his mother and worried that I was inadvertently holding him back, even though I didn’t really understand what that even meant.

Later that day I had another one of those synchronistic events that often accompany significant dreams. I bumped into a friend and when I asked how she was, she said she was feeling sad because it was the 7th anniversary of the death of her son, who had died tragically in a workplace accident. We sat down and chatted and I asked her if she thought she had let go of him and she said she didn’t think she had. I told her about the dream/visit, half hoping, I think, that I was going to get rid of the problem that way. When I got home, no sooner had I got in the door than my mother in law rang, so without saying anything about the incident I tried to gauge how she was dealing with her son’s death. She seemed to be doing fine but she wasn’t one to show any sign of not coping, so it was hard to tell. I was happy to have a reason to let the incident go but unfortunately it wouldn’t let me go and I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be able to forget it unless I told her.

After several days of arguing with myself, I finally gathered the courage to ring her. To my surprise and relief she was not fazed at all about the possibility of a visit from her deceased son. She insisted that she didn’t have a problem but then in the next breath said that whenever she thinks of him, she is telling him off! I suggested that perhaps that was the problem and again to my surprise she didn’t argue the point. We chatted on a bit and then just as we were about to hang up, she suddenly burst out, quite vehemently, ‘well, that’s typical, isn’t it, they can’t tell you themselves, they have to tell someone else and then let that person tell you!’

When I put the phone down, I just sat staring at it with her words replaying in my head, hardly able to believe the conversation I’d just had.  Suddenly another voice, in my head but not my thoughts, said ‘I’ve tried to but she won’t let me in.’ Rather sheepishly and thinking it can’t get any weirder, I said ‘is that you Roger?’ With that I felt a very strong tingling sensation in the top of my head that hovered there for a few seconds, then it whooshed all the way down through my body to my feet, followed by a sensation in the room like a change in air pressure. A voice in my head is one thing but like the meditation experience three years earlier, these kinds of physical sensations are hard to ignore. What to do now? In light of her earlier openness, I thought it best to call back and tell her what I had just experienced. Again she was receptive, taking what I told her quite seriously and after discussing options, said she would lie quietly when she went to bed and ask ‘what do you want to tell me?’

I had many mixed emotions on hanging up the phone, among them surprise at what had transpired and relief that I had delivered the message. I was also relieved that the original experience had been validated and that the message did appear to be for my mother in law and not me. On the other hand it raised a lot of questions in my mind about the nature of the non-physical realm, which I now could no longer ignore or doubt the existence of. One thing that puzzled me for some time after this event was that it didn’t seem to conform to a typical ADC (After Death Communication) in that frequently the deceased person appears to reassure those left behind that they are okay. This seemed to be the opposite but eventually I came to the conclusion that each experience is unique and tailor made to the individuals involved. Apart from convincing me of the reality of ADCs, even if it did open up more questions than it answered, it certainly convinced me that our relationships do not end with death and that the potential for healing unfinished business is a very real possibility if we only take advantage of it. Dreams are a most effective avenue for healing all kinds of relationships and not just with those who have passed over.

I spoke to my mother in law a couple of weeks after the phone call and she said there was nothing to report. I asked her from time to time afterwards but the answer was always the same and eventually the subject was dropped. A couple of years after this she moved to Sydney to be near her daughter and eventually our sparse communication ground to a halt. She is now living out her days unhappily in a nursing home, so I can only assume that she was never able to make peace with life’s disappointments.

Roger’s visit was certainly the most dramatic experience I have ever had in terms of appearances, although I have personally had a lot of what I can only describe as interference, especially objects disappearing and reappearing and interference with electrical and electronic equipment.  These physical happenings are hard to ignore and I have heard too many stories from others to believe that they are all the results of my own fertile imagination. Who or what is responsible is anybody’s guess but that they are real events is unquestionable to me.

How It’s Done

This dream was relayed to me by a friend soon after my husband Roger died, although it would be many years before I would view it as I do now, that is as a spirit visit dream.

The background to the dream was that this friend and Roger had a discussion one day about the possibility of life continuing on after death. Roger was like me at the time, a confirmed atheist and had no prior belief in life after death, although he must have begun to wonder to even broach the subject. Our friend said that he doubted it because both his mother and his sister, who had died a short space apart, had been devout spiritualists all their lives and he felt if there was any ongoing existence he would have heard from them and he hadn’t. Roger said to him ‘well, if I survive I will find a way of getting through to you.’  They both had a chuckle and nothing more was said.

One day soon after Roger’s death this friend came up with his wife and his wife nudged him into telling me about a dream he’d had.  This is what he told me:

In the dream I was lying in bed and Roger came through the wall behind the bedhead. I said to him ‘hey, Roger, you said you were going to let me know if you survived your death.’  Roger replied, ‘this is how it’s done – in dreams.’

I didn’t know what to make of it at the time but I remembered the conversation they’d had and I didn’t think it could be just a random coincidence.  Some time later I brought it up with my friend and he had completely forgotten it, not even remembering it when I retold what I remembered. His amnesia was even more astonishing to me than the original dream although I have since had that exact same reaction from others when they have told me about a certain dream and I’ve brought it up in later conversation. In most cases though a memory will be jogged by providing details.

The dream brings up interesting questions – what exactly is the nature of the figures in our dreams, what is the purpose of such a dream as this, why did my friend have the dream and not me and why did he not remember the dream even when I reminded him of it? Some of these questions will be explored in these pages but I don’t pretend to have definitive answers to any of them. I have since had many of my own spirit visit dreams from various deceased people and will no doubt write about them as the blog develops.

I eventually came across a book about after death communications, called Hello From Heaven. It had coincidentally been published a few months before Roger’s death, although I didn’t read it until many years down the track. Since that time this particular field of investigation has blossomed along with studies of other related phenomena.

I really don’t know what I thought about the dream at the time but so many odd things had been happening and I had enough on my plate to deal with at the time anyway that I doubt I came to any conclusions about it other than to wonder what was going on. I don’t recall Roger ever talking about having dreams so it wasn’t as though there was any precedent for his statement that contact is made through dreams.  Two and a half years later I had a visitation of my own from him, which was vastly different and somewhat disquieting but also convinced me of the reality of the continuation of life after death.

Eventually I learned, from study and experience, that dreams are not the only way we get communications from the non-physical realm but I have to wonder if the seed that had been planted regarding my encounter with the dream life was being nurtured along by hearing about this dream from another person.