Total images from the family: 2

According to her bereavement counselor, Jane was taking her mother’s death quite hard, and packing up Sylvia’s belongings was becoming a big trigger for her. I was instructed to call Jane and see how receptive she might be to the idea of making a Dreamscape with me. I knew nothing about Jane other than that she was a photographer, but I was excited because that fact alone could be our starting point. Not surprisingly, the first phone call was mainly to listen to a daughter pour her heart out. By the end of the call, I gave Jane a simple assignment: to think about the things that gave her mother joy.

In the second phone call I learned that Sylvia was a sculptor, and that she had a special place in her heart for their home in Englewood NJ where she raised Jane and her sister.  I beg Jane to shoot some photos of Sylvia’s sculptures for me, and also to send photographs of her childhood home. As the photographs start flowing into my inbox, two take my breath away. One is of the house in winter, with Jane and a friend posing on a snow-covered lawn with their snowman. The second is a sculpture by Sylvia that looks exactly like a snowman!

As if that were not magical enough, in our third phone call Jane makes a confession, reproduced here from a transcript of our conversation:

“It was Xmas with lots of decoration all around. We were in Bellevue Hospital and Mom was dying.

Mom went into Bellevue Hospital December 16 and then to hospice: 10 days altogether. She died on the day after Xmas, December 26.  But I distinctly remember thinking: ‘I hope she dies soon so she can go off with Santa. There is a time difference where … he has to go around the world, but if it’s the next day, Santa won’t mind waiting for her.’

Until that moment, Jane had never shared this fleeting thought with a living soul. After all what kind of a Jewish woman – at the height of her grief – admits to a crazy fantasy involving Santa Claus and their mother? How deathly embarrassing. But looking back, Jane agrees with me: she could be her own best healer!  Freed to think about the best possible outcome for her mother, a self-soothing story came to her during an act of prayer.  Now all that was left to do was for us to resurrect the fantasy and visualize it in its full glory: Santa ascending with Sylvia in his sled.

Finding a sled pulled by reindeer came next, but in that sled I needed a particular Santa: one with rosy cheeks and an expression of infinite patience. Why? Because from the shape of her mouth and the way her hands are flying, it’s classic Sylvia, deep in the process of talking someone’s head off. Santa has to be zen about the long ride ahead …

Having taken care of what’s in the sky, I start work at ground level, making Jane’s friend “disappear” from the snow-covered lawn so the Dreamscape focuses on Jane and her mom’s masterpiece: the marble snowman.

Months later, I reconnect with Jane and she tells me:

“Making the Dreamscape with you was sort of like theater. It gave me something to look forward to. I’m always looking forward to certain things. The looking forward part is even better than the doing part.

The Dreamscape is on this piece of furniture that separates my bedroom from the living room. I don’t think I’ve been even looking at it; it’s just something now that I have in my mind. To me the Dreamscape represents a process that helped me get over a hump by thinking about this happy funny thing.”