How Meaning of the Dream Changed My Life as A Storyteller

How dreams can guide your ancestry research. A personal story.

It was during mid-summer when I receive received a rare call from my sister. She tearfully shared that my mother, Mary Schreiber, hereafter “Mom or Mother,” was dying of stage-4 lymph node cancer, which was rapidly spreading in her body. Mom wanted my brother and me to come home to Las Vegas for a family meeting. We set the meeting for a week later to discuss our mom’s wishes for managing her affairs.

Little did I know then how this moment in time, a dream and my mother’s words, “Tell the children about me,” would disrupt the trajectory of my life. In the next six weeks, there would be a series of three events that would dramatically influence, broaden and change my life and course as a storyteller.

I would earnestly seek to learn the meaning of the dream that was yet to come. I would be inspired to discover and write my narrative and the stories of those around me and who lived before me. These are the stories of personal adventure, challenge and triumph, tragedy, love and hate, friendship and betrayal, and the private moments that cause us to start over.

I would feel a deep desire to share my experience and knowledge with others, like you, who could learn about, write and share the stories that need to be told and remembered. The chapters of this story are as follows:

Mary Schreiber’s History of Cancer

Las Vegas 1960's
Mary worked as a waitress at the Las Vegas Horseshoe Club for 35 years.

Mom had been a waitress on the graveyard shift at the Las Vegas Horseshoe Club Casino since 1963. She worked the graveyard shift because she would make twice as much in tips, which were the bread and butter for raising three children.

During her 35 years, she had several bouts with tongue cancer. Her first experience with tongue cancer was in 1976 and then again in the 1980s, and then again in the 1990s. The cancer appeared as a white dot or patch on her tongue. This type of cancer is often linked to smoking or heavy drinking. Mom was neither a smoker or a drinker. She lived a relatively healthy life.

So what was the cause? It was hypothesized by the moms attending physician that she had breathed more than three packs of cigarettes a day from secondhand smoke in the casino. During the 1960s to 1980s, the casinos were packed with smokers. On special occasions like my birthday, I remember going into the casinos as a boy with Mom to have dinner and seeing a foggy, smokey cigarette cloud everywhere we walked. The smell of cigarette smoke is how I remember Mom, as she left or came home from the graveyard shift.

Each time cancer appeared, Mom would quietly go to the hospital, have the procedure, and return. With each reoccurrence of cancer, Mom’s physician surgically removed another slice of her tongue. After the third surgery, she was left with less than one-third of the tongue.

Mom was very private and was never heard to complain or talk about herself. The only way I ever learned about cancer or operation was through a letter from Mom or a call from my sister with the news that Mom had tongue cancer. She had had a successful operation to remove cancer, and she was looking forward to getting back to work. Recovery for Mom meant that she could speak and return to work, which she was hoping to do in late spring.

Within weeks of her third operation for tongue cancer, Mom noticed a lump on the left side of her neck that seemed to be doubling every couple of weeks. She was petrified that it was yet more cancer. Upon meeting with her physician, she received confirmation that it was indeed cancer. This time cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Emergency surgery removed the growth. Soon after, however, cancer aggressively returned, and Mom learned that there was little if any chance for a cure.

Return to the beginning of “Meaning of the Dream.”

Experience 1. Mary Left this Life

Meaning of the Dream-Mary Returns Home

I had come to Las Vegas to meet with my Mom, brother and sister. We were going to discuss her desires for what we all thought would be several months of life and help her put her affairs in order. She entered the hospital the first day of my arrival and died three days later.

Her passing was one of the more spiritual and yet ugly experiences of my life. I was unfortunate to see Mom go but grateful that her suffering was over. While at her side, I saw the manifestation of God’s intervention and love for one of his children. Away from her bedside, it was contention at every turn with my sister.

During the three days at the hospital, Mom’s condition deteriorated rapidly. Cancer in her neck turned into an open wound. Mom could only respond to questions by blinking and weakly pressing your hand to yes or no questions.

Rather than being a time of helping each other and supporting Mom, my sister took it upon to take control and ramrod all decisions on Mom’s behalf and her behalf.

The Will Begins and Ends with “That’s Mine.” I remember sitting in the hospital room to help Mom create her last will and testament with my brother, sister and two witnesses from my Mom’s church. The meeting began with my sister making it clear that she knew everything about what Mom needed and wanted.

The meeting started and ended with my sister aggressively and stating, [fill in the blank] “… is mine” such as,

  • “The home is mine.”
  • “The furniture is mine.”
  • “The bank account is mine.”

The meeting lasted less than 30 minutes. I wrote down the will as my sister dictated it. Not once did my sister look like a mom. When she finished, my sister left the room in a huff. I looked at Mom and gently asked the question, “Mom, is this what you want?”

Her eyes filled with tears of sadness as if to say, please don’t fight. I replied, assuring her that the distribution of her things would not become a family fight. And I would do everything possible to help mitigate peace between us as siblings. She nodded, and then I placed a pen in her hand as she scribbled her name at the bottom of the list. The two witnesses then signed the will.

I had an hour to sit alone with my mother. I held her hand, cried and told her how much I loved her and would deeply miss her. A few hours later, Mom left this life. Over the next week, we held Mom’s funeral in her hometown and returned to Las Vegas to finalize Mom’s will and any outstanding issues related to Mom’s affairs. At every turn, it was an ugly interaction over things, funeral arrangements and the littlest of things. As far as I was concerned, it just didn’t matter. I just wanted there to be peace and an amenable resolution to helping Mom and taking care of her wishes.

Return to the beginning of “Meaning of the Dream.”

Experience 2: Preserve the Record

Preserve the record

Following Mom’s passing and funeral, my brother, sister, and I met for one last time in Mom’s front room. The meeting was meant to conclude Mom’s affairs and discuss the next steps. Before the meeting, my brother and I met and agreed that whatever our sister wanted, she could have. Mom’s stuff had absolutely no meaning to us.

I was going to begin the meeting by confirming and rereading Mom’s will and then opening the discussion on outstanding issues. Instead, my sister, again, took charge by restating almost word for word what she had stated in Mom’s hospital room. Then, she went down a mental list of Mom’s stuff: “the house is mine,” “the furnishings are mine,” and so forth. It was bizarre. At one point, my sister looked at my brother and said, “You know that set of silverware, you were given in the will. Mom would have wanted the silverware set to stay with the China cabinet. What can I trade you for it?”

I raised my hand and said, “Sis, you have enough stuff. Just let it be. You already have 90% of everything.”

Angrily, she stood and walked toward the front door. My sister’s parting words were direct and expected, “This is my home. You are welcome to stay the night. Be gone by 8:00 a.m. Whatever is left when you leave will be mine.” My sister pointed to a pile of things in the middle of the floor and instructed my brother and me to take what we wanted. Whatever was left would be given to the thrift store. And then she left to go back to her home, which was just across the street from Mom’s home.

Prayer of gratitude. My brother and I were both emotionally and physically drained. Yet, within minutes of my sister’s leaving, my brother and I knelt in prayer to our Heavenly Father. We each offered a prayer of thanksgiving for our dear mother and asked for a blessing that relationships with our sister would heal in time. Upon the conclusion of the prayer, a peaceful, loving sense of serenity filled the room. It was as though we were feeling the enveloping arms of our mother.

Mom had been a waitress at the Las Vegas Horseshoe Club for over 35 years. She raised three children by herself. I always loved coming home to be with her. Now I was, standing in the middle of her front room, feeling lost and in need of direction regarding where to begin. And in almost that very moment, there was clarity. My mind filled with two thoughts that I shared with my brother:

  • This would be the last night that I would ever stand in this home.
  • We are to “preserve the record.” We are to look and find photos, certificates, letters, and other related documents that would tell the story and history of the mother.

Preserve the Record

Follow the promptings. We both knew we needed to follow the direction I was receiving. But where do we begin? Again we knelt in prayer and asked for the guidance of where to look for the record of Mom’s life. Within seconds of saying, Amen, the thought came to the kitchen cupboard where Mom kept coloring books.

Upon opening the cupboard door, I couldn’t see anything of value. As I began to close the door, I felt the need to look again. In the back of the cupboard was a bank pouch. I pulled it down, and inside was an envelope with pictures from Mom’s early childhood.

I was next guided to a drawer in the kitchen, where I found a plastic bag filled with essential photos of Mom’s life.

Bottom drawer on the left. Look again. Next, I was directed to a spare bedroom dresser. As I went through the drawers, I found them all empty except for a larger drawer that Mom had filled with paperback books she had read. I pulled out half the books, became frustrated, and put the books back in the drawer, thinking there was nothing there. As I stood to leave, the thought came, look again. I returned to the drawer again and removed all the books. At the bottom of the drawer was a sack filled with Mom’s essential papers, such as her birth certificate, marriage license, photographs, and other kind documents.

Where should I go next? After each impression and search, I privately asked Father, where should I go next? With each question, I was prompted and shown a picture in mind of where to go next. I went from room to room throughout the night, having the same experience in each room, knowing where to look. My brother and I worked and packed what we found until just before dawn. I privately asked for the last time, Father, where should I look next? This time, the answer was a total sense of peace. We were done.

As the morning progressed, I became genuinely grateful that we had heeded the promptings of the night before. My brother and I discussed which of us should keep what was found. We concluded that I was to preserve the record. It was now 7:00 a.m. I closed the door of my boyhood home for the last time. I left knowing I had the most valuable of all my mother’s belongings, the things that told of her life.

Return to the beginning of “Meaning of the Dream.”

Experience 3: “Tell the Children About Me.”

Tell the Children About Me
Mom and I walked to an outdoor cafe where she shared her deepest desire, “Author, tell the children about me.”

It had been three weeks to the day since Mom’s passing. During the night, I experienced the most vivid and real dream experience that I had until that time of my life.

In my dream, I heard a knock at the front door. I rose from my bed, dressed and when to the door. When I opened the door, I saw my mother. Instantly, I reached out to hug my mother and at the same time saying, “Mother, what are you doing here? You are dead.”

She softly replied, “Come, walk with me.”

We walked until we came to an outdoor café where we sat down and ordered a soft drink, and began to talk. During the conversation that followed, Mom reached out and held my hand and said, “Author, will you please tell the children about me?”

I replied by saying, “Of course, mother, I will do that.”

At that very moment, I awoke. I immediately woke my wife and told her of the experience. We both asked the question, what is the meaning of the dream? We both found the dream somewhat odd since during my mother’s life, whenever she was asked to tell us more about her life, she would usually respond with, “It was hard; that’s all you need to know.”

I pondered and searched for the meaning of the dream until it was time to rise to get ready for work, trying to make some sense of what I had experienced. I was void of an answer. I pushed the dream off as an experience and longing for just one more time with my mother.

Tell the Children about Me—Now. It was now six weeks to the day of my mothers, passing. During the night, I experienced the same dream of my mother coming to the door. We took the same walk. Sat at the same café. Ordered the same soft drinks. It was the same, except this time when I was asked, “Author, will you please tell the children about me? ” I responded with irritation in my voice, “Mother, I told you I would take care of your request.”

Mom paused and then, with earnest and pleading, responded with an emphatic but raised voice, “Tell the children about me, NOW.”

This time I awoke immediately with a much better understanding of the meaning of the dream. This experience was much more profound than a dream. It was honest communication with my mother. Of this, I was clear.

I raised and sat on the edge of my bed. Then, silently, I pleaded in a prayer-like request, “Please, tell me the full meaning of the dream. What do you want me to do?”

My mind began to fill with the names of five people who were associated with my mother during her life. I was instructed to talk with each person and record the interview.

I stood and went to my computer and typed the five names. At that point, I thought, well, if I am going to talk to these people, I should also talk to other people. So I started brainstorming a list of everyone I could think of.

As I started to add names, my mind became utterly blank and devoid of thought. I felt the emptiest feeling I had ever experienced. I knew I had gone beyond the bounds of what I was being instructed to do.

I immediately erased what I had added to the list and then knelt in prayer, asking for forgiveness and earnestly requested that the stream of thought I had experienced would return. After about 20 minutes of prayer, the first five names reappeared in my mind, followed by five new names. When I had completed typing the ten names, I had five people I knew and five that I didn’t. My instruction was to contact each person and spend time learning about their relationship with my mother.

I first reached out to Wanda, Mom’s best friend of 30 years in Las Vegas. And then I reached out to Mom’s high school friend Marjean, who she would always visit each summer when she returned to her hometown to visit her family. I told both Wanda and Majean about my dream experience with my mother and what I had was learning about the meaning of the dream. Both were deeply moved and shared their deep desire to help me fulfill the charge I was given. When I shared ten names with Wanda, she was not aware of the other nine names. Marjean, however, knew everyone on the list except Wanda.

In the year that followed, I met with and recorded oral histories with each of the ten individuals. Each one of them was able to reveal a unique chapter of my mother’s life that spanned the 65 years she had lived. In addition to the oral history, I received memorabilia that represented their relationships, such as cards, letters, photographs, documents, and more.

Return to the beginning of “Meaning of the Dream.”

How the Meaning of the Dream Changed My Life as Storyteller

How the Meaning of the Dream Changed My Life as Storyteller
The meaning of the dream has brought clarity to my role as a storyteller.

Oh, how I wish I had come to know the mother they described. I had come to know her through the eyes and experiences of her friends and family. It was the first step in what would become a connection to the generations before me.

The meaning of “Tell the Children About Me.” In the beginning, interviewing Mom’s friends and family was the limit of my intended participation in fulfilling the solemn promise I had given my mother in my dream. Learning about and writing stories about my mother, myself, and others was nowhere on my radar as a writer and researcher.

Since mom’s passing, I have had countless experiences that have forged my journey of seeking to understand who I am and who went before me. From conducted hundreds of oral histories to searching the lands of my ancestors, I have become the keeper of the record. It realizes that I am the total sum of all those who came before. I am a chapter being written in a legacy to which I will humbly add my name.

As the record keeper, I had come to understand what mother meant when she asked me to “tell the children” about her. It’s simply that she and those who have tasted the close of mortality live on. It is a living bond that extends beyond time. And no one in that link shall be forgotten. That is the story I have promised to write.

Since that very first experience, I’ve learned

  • About records—the information they contain, where to find them, and how to use them in telling my personal, individual and family narrative;
  • About technology and its use in research and preservation;
  • To use and preserve countless forms of data and file formats;
  • To search in the field, on the Internet, in libraries and archives, and conduct oral interviews;
  • About my ancestors, their roots, their records, their times and season;
  • To track my family through states and counties and find their records;
  • My place in the link of time; and
  • Each ancestor contributed in some way to my very existence.

As a result of what I have learned and experienced since the passing of Mary Schreiber, I desire is to share that knowledge with you and, in some small way, inspire you to write the story that must be remembered and shared.

Return to the beginning of “Meaning of the Dream.”

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