Even After Death, This Mother Continued Providing Lessons to Her Daughter Through Dreams

Sometimes when I’m in the midst of a roaring, thunderous, straight from the gut laugh, I pause and look around. I’m taken aback at that exact moment because it’s not my laugh I hear–it’s the echo of my own mother’s sound of amusement. And when it happens, I transcend time, going to a place back in history…maybe as a child sitting with my mom in our living room as we would gather as a family to watch a show on our nine inch black & white television screen.

“What’s so funny? I don’t get it?” I would ask her, all the while laughing at her as I watched the tears form in her eyes from her doubling over.

“Oh meu filha,” (my daughter, in Portuguese), “when you become older you will understand. But for now, laugh. It’s good for your health.”

Everything was good for my health. Crying, yelling, tickling, getting tickled–everything but getting hurt. God forbid my brother or I break a bone, or be inflicted by a cut and have blood leak from any part of our body. She was quick to spank us for not watching ourselves before kissing our wound.

“Why would you spank me for getting hurt? That makes no sense!”
She would answer, “It makes no sense not to be careful. Next time you’ll watch yourself, eh?”

I had her response memorized, and would mimic her as she gave her speech. She would then magically pull out a steaming hot, wet wash cloth to wipe my face, hands, and wound, always in that order. I was the cleanest kid on the block, with the least amount of scratches. If she could place me in a plastic bubble to protect me from the elements, she would have, in a heartbeat.

My mother, Tomasia Cristaldo Suleiman, a woman of petite stature, with a very tall will to succeed, came to America in 1967 from Brazil with my father, like many before in search of the same dream:  To make a better life for her family. She helped in bringing other members of my father’s family from Palestine to the states; opening her small one bedroom apartment to many at a time.

She learned to speak English from listening to the girls at the factory where she worked, and watching All My Children. She also learned to understand Arabic by quietly sitting and listening for key words, paying attention to slight glances her way, and by memorizing phrases she heard through repetition of emotional outbursts. She spent most of her life having people think she did not understand what they were saying. Decades later she would tell me stories of what she heard through her lifetime, and the lessons she had learned from being patient, quiet, and calm.

My mother lost her battle to colon cancer at the young age of 57 in 1994. As I sit and write this tribute to her, I am taken to the most vivid memory that I have of who she was, and the lesson she taught me that would change my life. Ironically, that memory came to me two years after her death, in a dream.

The Dream
It was early in the morning, before the sun had risen. My father came to me and said, “Yallah ya Maysoon, we have to go!”

“Where are we going, baba? The sun is not even up yet?”

“Your mother is waiting, and this is the only chance we have to see her. Get up! Move now or we will miss our chance.”

Just as in any other unexplainable event in a dream, my father and I were standing on a mountain top. There we walked to a small, blue, rusted car. I was instructed to get in and drive.

“Whose car is this? Where are the keys? Where’s the road?” I asked. “This car is not going to take us where we need to go.”

“The car will take us. Drive.” My father looked tired but anxious at the same time. “If we don’t go now we will lose our opportunity.”

As we sat in the car it began to move itself, driving through the rough terrain of dirt, branches, dips and hills, until we came to the edge of the mountain. Between where we had stopped and the peak of another mountain was a bridge made of the flimsiest of wooden planks, tied together by a long, frayed rope. It was narrow, and swayed back and forth as the wind blew through the particles. Below was a valley so deep that we could not see the bottom. Fog surrounded us, and in my dream I could feel the sting of the cold air.

I pleaded, “Baba, we can’t make it across this bridge. There’s no way it will hold up with the weight of the car.”

“Drive. God knows all and he wants us to go and see her. Drive.” His voice was strong and persistent. I had no choice but to drive. I closed my eyes and said bismillah, then placed my foot on the gas ever so gently. Before I knew it we were on the other mountain peak. Amazed at what had just happened, I turned to look back at the bridge. It was no longer there.

“Look. Look in front of you. There is where your mother is.”

A large tree stood before me. Probably a Redwood, it was overwhelming in size. In the center was a door made of the most beautiful carved wood with golden inlay. The leaves on the tree turned into an ivy with white jasmine as I looked on, leaving behind the most amazing, and most incredibly sweet smell that I have ever encountered. I put my hand on the door, just to feel if it was real. At that moment, it opened slowly. On the other side stood my mother.

I Saw an Angel in Paradise

My mother was before me. It wasn’t the same woman I had seen during her last days of life. She was young, lively, glowing. Dressed in a beautiful Breakfast at Tiffany-ish dress, with pointed, stelleto shoes, I could smell the familiar scent of her favorite perfume.

“Meu filha,” she said with a smile that took me back to my younger years. She spoke to me in Portuguese, and invited me in. I asked her if my father could see her. She said no, not now, but very soon. I left my father behind, and walked into what could only be described as a fairytale. Before me was a foyer made of white marble. Roman columns stood tall throughout the main level, and in the center of it all was a sunken rotunda where a grand piano sat, along with a man dressed in a tuxedo and white gloves. He was playing an innocent tune, “In the Merry Month of May.”

My mother smiled, and told me to walk with her to the veranda, where tropical birds with beaks of colors from the rainbow sat on branches of trees that had flowers blooming. The colors were vivid and bright, but unfamiliar to me. The birds watched as I looked around, and my mother would glance at them smiling. A stream of clear water that sparkled with glitter ran through a garden.

My mother began speaking, telling me how happy she was, and how there was no more pain.

“Come back home. We want you with us. We need you.” I pleaded.

“Meu filha, look around. This is my home. This is where I came from. This is where I returned. I am home.” Her eyes smiled as she spoke. “You will go to your father and tell him to have patience. You will continue to live the way God intended for you to live your life. You will be happy. Smile, meu filha, smile and laugh. Be close to your family. Do not let small things get between you and what you know to be the truth. Teach your child and your future children how to love and forgive. God is forgiving. God is good.”

“Tell me, what is it like? What is heaven like?”

“Oh it is so beautiful. What you see is only a taste. And I laugh here more than I ever did before. God has a sense of humor.”

I wanted to reach out to her, but I couldn’t. The last thing I remember her telling me was to always keep my house clean, because you never know when you are going to have visitors. Some things never change.

The Lesson

Despite the fact it was a dream, it gave me hope…hope that there is more to life than we know; that not everything is in our hands; that even when we think we have lost someone dear to us, they are still with us; and most importantly, that my mother would always be there for me. I was reminded that forgiveness was a required action. Life is short, and if we live it with compassion and humility, like my mother did in her life, we will be rewarded ten-fold.

Roughly six months the dream, my father passed away. He was finally able to see her again. So for those of you who are fortunate enough to be spending Mother’s Day with your mom, embrace the moments you have with her. Laugh with her. Life is short. Cherish your moments. Respect her. Tell her you love her. And most importantly, know that no matter what, she will always be there with you.

(This column is dedicated to my mother, and to all those who have lost their mothers, may they rest in peace and bask in the glory of their own piece of heaven.)