Keeping a Promise

Have you ever dreamed of a loved one who has died? I did recently. In what seemed more like a visitation than a dream, Ray, who was my brother-in-law in life, appeared. Even though he passed away in 2002, I didn’t seem surprised to see him. However, I did feel guilty. 

Keeping a Promise
Only the day before, while working in my studio, I had seen a watercolor painting of Ray’s, laying in a basket. After Greg’s father passed away, we sorted through a house full of furniture and knick knacks and treasures. Ray, who was Greg’s older brother, gifted his mother with a small painting of swans on a lake. According to the note on the back of the framed artwork, Ray created the painting in 1983. The gift hung on the dining room wall until I packed it away and brought it home last year. 

That little watercolor has been in a basket in my office for more than a year. Every time I caught sight of it, I would think I need to display that. And yet there it remained. 

When I dreamed of Ray, the first thing I said to him was I’m sorry. I apologized for not doing something yet with his work of art. I didn’t want him to think that I was unappreciative of him or his painting. 

Keeping a Promise            Baby Ray

Keeping a Promise         Ray and his dog Robbie

Additionally, I felt like my apology could have been for not understanding Ray better while he lived. Although he was my brother-in-law and we got along fine, I never knew him as well as I could have. What I did know was that Ray was creative and artistic and like all of us, trying to figure out how to fully be who he was and live out of his heart. 

And like all of us, Ray didn’t always know how to do that. He moved to a big city, hoping for greater opportunities there to create the life he dreamed of. He worked in jobs that didn’t utilize his gifts and longed for something more. He hid his disappointments behind a sharp wit and oft times, sharp words that effectively kept people at a distance. My heart breaks now as I recognize he sought understanding and compassion and acceptance. 


As he entered his middle years, Ray expressed himself through his art. He dabbled in watercolors and acrylics, creating beautiful paintings. He took an early retirement so that he could focus on his artistic talent, turning to a new passion, pottery. Sadly, a few years later he died, his life cut short by cancer. 

I have regrets about Ray. I wish I could have spent more time with him and known his heart better. I would have enjoyed talking with him about art and the creative life, and welcomed his advice. I would have listened more. Expressed appreciation. Offered from my own heart. 

All those emotions were packed into the words I uttered in my dream, as Ray sat with me…I’m sorry. But you know what? He wasn’t upset with me…for leaving his painting laying in a basket or for any shortcomings on my part during his life. He smiled. He laughed. We talked about creativity and art and living as our authentic selves. It was an inspiring and joy filled conversation, that ended with me promising to retrieve his swan painting and display it. 

Keeping a Promise
I marveled at the dream when I awoke. I believe that often, when we dream of loved ones who have died, their spirits are visiting us. That seems especially true when the encounter is a one on one conversation. I thought about Ray throughout that day…and then promptly forgot the dream and the promise. Until tonight. 

Rummaging in my studio for supplies for a creative project I was about to do, I once again spied Ray’s painting, laying in the basket. I hesitated, staring at the swans. I promised. I wavered between doing something with the artwork…and continuing with my planned project. As I stood looking into the basket, my eyes filled with tears. Ah. There was the nudge, the tap on the shoulder from the Divine. 

It was time to honor my promise. It was time to show Ray that I appreciated him and his art. 

In a few moments I had found the perfect space for Ray’s swans. The painting rests on an easel, on the table near my front door. I will look at it often and think of Ray. 

Keeping a Promise
As I prepared to write my blog post, I suddenly remembered that I had another painting of Ray’s. He gave each of his family members a cup or mug, hand painted with birds or flowers, as Christmas gifts in 1995. I searched through a cupboard until I found the five that he gave to me and my family. My mug has a cardinal on one side and a kingfisher on the other. 

I have never used my mug, fearing I would break it. But the problem with keeping an item safely packed away is that it is forgotten. I don’t want to forget any longer. I washed the mug and brewed a cup of nettle tea in it, to sip on as I wrote. 

Cheers, Ray. Thank you for visiting me in my dream. Thank you for expressing your creativity so beautifully while you journeyed here and for living your life as best you could. I want you to know that I understand now. And I won’t forget. 

Keeping a Promise

2 Replies to “Keeping a Promise”

  1. Love ❤️ this!
    Yes, living in the moment sounds so easy, and yet so very elusive as our lives pull us in all directions at once. Love and live like there is no tomorrow, because you might not ever see that person again.

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