The dream was always the same.

Beth could see them at the old kitchen table, Mom to her left and Dad directly across from her. They’d just finished their weekly family dinner, her parents always insisting on that one night to catch up with one another. The teenager that Beth was then would scoff at the idea, roll her eyes, and reluctantly join them before running off with her friends. These days, she would give absolutely anything to be at that table, their only child once more, free from the obligations of adulthood and grief. Her parents had been gone for years, leaving Beth to navigate her life in a world without them.

They’d both died fairly young, her father especially, in his 63rd year. He’d had some sort of attack in his sleep, leaving her distraught mother to find him the next morning. Her mother rebuilt her life from the ground up after that, throwing herself fully into being a grandmother to Beth’s three kids. She’d take them somewhere almost every weekend, leaving Beth and her husband some much-needed down time.

The kids would come home overfed and excited from their latest adventure, usually involving garage sales, a movie, or some sort of shopping spree. She made a special concoction for the kids called “grape eyeballs” involving crackers, cream cheese, and grapes. The cream cheese worked as a sort of glue so that the grape perched atop the cracker like a giant, green eyeball. Beth’s five-year-old son especially loved grape eyeballs and was always after her to recreate grandma’s famous dish, but Beth could never do them justice. Her mother would laugh and bring over another big batch of them, an inside joke between her and her grandchildren.

Her mother’s unexpected death at age 69 from a sudden and aggressive brain tumor caused complete shock and devastation to their family. Beth thought they would have so many more years together. They had made plans, talked endlessly about the kids and taking family trips, but in the end, it made no difference.

Life was cruel that way.


In the dream, she was at her place at the table once more, her parents talking and laughing while she sat frozen to her spot. Beth knew that she was no longer a teenager, was a grown woman with children of her own, but for some reason, she was completely transfixed. She sat in silence as they talked about their day, raising a glass of wine together in a toast.

They were both younger than she remembered, vibrant and full of life as the dinner went on. It was a vivid, colorful dream, so real that Beth could swear they were both still alive. She could smell the aroma of her dad’s garlic pork roast, her stomach grumbling even as she slept. The intelligence behind her mother’s blue eyes was striking as she turned her gaze to Beth and asked her about something that happened in school. Her father looked at her with a familiar, crooked smile as he dished out a large spoon of mashed potatoes onto his plate, both of them waiting patiently for her answer.

It was at this point in the dream that Beth usually woke up, late at night, desperate to fall back asleep and continue the heavenly visit. She had so much that she wanted to say, so many things to tell them. Her father was alive when her girls were very young, but never got the chance to meet his grandson.

How proud he’d have been of this boy who looks so much like him!

It always ended the same way, Beth sitting straight up in bed, regret coursing through her like a physical pain. The dream never came back twice in the same night. She was always paralyzed, unable to break the spell and actually speak to her folks before waking up. The dream returned dozens of times and Beth had yet to say a single word to either one of them.


This time, Beth was determined that she would finally break free. As they both looked at her expectantly, she could feel the familiar pull, the edges of the dream beginning to crumble in around her. Beth gripped the sides of her chair and dug in, summoning every ounce of strength she could muster.             She saw them begin to flicker, turning back into the spirits they’d both become as Beth struggled mightily to keep herself in the moment. She concentrated hard on her mother’s face, seeing that her thick, dark hair was just starting to show more salt than pepper, the first traces of laugh lines lightly dancing across her face. Beth heard her dad clearing his throat, a slight sound of impatience that she was taking so long to answer.

“Your mother just asked you a question, Bethie; how did your science test go today?”

Beth began to shake, the effort of holding onto the dream causing her to twitch wildly in uneasy slumber. She opened her mouth to speak, knowing that she had only precious seconds left. Taking a deep breath, she saw her parents beginning to dissolve. Beth let out a primal scream, snapping them sharply back into focus.

“Wait!” Beth yelled, slamming her hands down on her childhood kitchen table, making her parents jump in sudden shock.

“This is going to sound crazy, but I have some things I need to tell you.”


The dream went on as Beth poured out her grown-up heart to her parents. They would ask a question here and there, occasionally looking across the table at each other in mutual concern. Beth was terrified her chance would slip away, using every possible second she had to tell them about her family and their future grandchildren. Her father was amused as she went on about her growing girls and the many antics of her son, the precocious little boy he would never get to meet.

They seemed to be humoring her, letting her speak, so she decided to take a chance. Taking a deep, fortifying breath, Beth told her parents the exact date of their deaths. She spared nothing, laying it all out in excruciating detail. Her mother ignoring all the warning signs of the brain tumor as typical age-related issues, not going to the doctor until it was way too late. Her father dying in his sleep the night before his annual check-up. Beth knew it was only a dream, but saying it out loud gave her an immense sense of peace all the same.

On and on she went, sharing all the milestones of her life that they’d missed, finally ending by telling her parents how much she loved them. Beth could feel tears streaming down her face as her mother reached out to take her hand, preparing to speak. At that moment, Beth shot up in bed, the dream ending in a sudden, gut-churning rush. She reached up and softly touched her face, astonished to find her cheeks were damp.

After all this time, Beth had finally spoken to them. Feeling like a giant weight had been lifted off her shoulders, she laid back down and fell into a blessed, dreamless sleep.


Beth slept better than she had in ages, sleeping in well past her usual early morning wake-up time. She could hear the kids milling around downstairs, her eldest daughter banging pots and pans in an effort to make breakfast for her younger siblings. Taking a long, luxurious shower, Beth relived every detail of the dream, thrilled that she had broken the barrier and actually talked to her folks. Maybe this would be the sense of closure she so desperately needed. A new beginning.

As she was getting dressed, Beth heard the chirp of a new message coming in on the cell. She picked it up, scanning the texts on her way downstairs before coming to a dead stop. Beth sat down heavily on the stair, numb with shock and disbelief.

This can’t be real, I must be hallucinating.

She read the message again, tears clouding her vision. Beth checked the number a third time, knowing that she could not possibly be receiving messages from it. The phone had been disconnected over three years ago, right after her mother’s death.

“Good morning, hon! Dad and I are on our way over with a big batch of grape eyeballs for the kids. See you in about ten minutes. LUV”

Beth began to rock back and forth, tightly shutting her eyes before opening them again to see if the message was still there. It was.

Ten minutes? This message came in nearly 20 minutes ago!

The sound of a car door slamming brought her back, footsteps coming up the driveway.

This is not happening, I am still dreaming.

Beth clung to the handrail, carefully making her way down the stairs. Was the dream not really a dream, but something else entirely? She’d heard the old saying, “love conquers all,” but was it true? Can love actually conquer death?

I am about to find out, Beth thought as her mother’s musical laughter wafted in through the window. Her father said something in reply, his voice rich and sonorous. A voice she’d not heard in over ten years, had never expected to hear again.

Not in this life, anyway.

Beth composed herself as best she could, feeling euphoria and terror all at the same time, as she walked over to the door and prepared to receive her once-deceased parents.