I had the dream when I was in my mid twenties, and it was exactly the sort of dream people might have when they are doing the developmental work that normally happens around that time. I was on a ski lift with my father, which never happened in real life. My father told me when I took up skiing, "People who strap fiberglass to their feet and go down a mountain should have their heads examined." That's the kind of thing my father was prone to saying. He also told me that even if he believed in Heaven it wouldn't matter because it would be full by now.
My father is a retired engineer and military officer. He's never been overly demonstrative in any direction. He has always preferred to read a good book than to talk to just about anybody. Showing affection is not his strong suit. In the dream though, as we glided slowly upwards, he wordlessly showed me how much I meant to him.
He gave me a folded piece of paper, which unfolded to reveal things he had collected from my whole life up until that point. Everything I had ever wanted him to say to me was said. Every question I had about who I was, where I came from, and how he felt about me was answered. He also gave me a jewelry box containing trinkets from my childhood - acorn tops, pocket knives, tickets to the ferris wheel at Coney Island.
As I relished in these physical affirmations of how precious I was to him, the ski lift stopped at a halfway point. I got off but my father stayed on the lift. I stood there holding the paper and the box as I watched him go silently up and fade into the mist.
After I had that dream, I knew the day would come when my father would leave whatever he could and go on without us. I realized as I recalled the dream yesterday that I am now on the ground watching my father being taken slowly away.
We are not sure whether it's the brain tumors, the chemotherapy, Alzheimer's or multiple small strokes that is taking my father away from us, but he is surely going. He never gave me a paper or a jewelry box in real life, but I have them just the same. What he gave me was a chance to find them myself. He taught me to trust my intellect and to think for myself. He and my mother taught me to love and respect the natural world, and that there is no creator besides nature, no rules beyond the laws of science. He helped me to have the ability to find solace hiking up a mountain in the midst of the crisis created by his illness and change in how he is in our lives.
My father really doesn't believe in heaven. I don't know where he was headed in my dream, but it was warm and peaceful. In reality he's terrified and trying to get off the ski lift with me, but we all know he can't. For now, I will maintain eye contact as long as I can before I can't see him any more, and I will never let go of what he gave me. I know I will need it to walk down the mountain without him.