* Talking with my father in Purgatory

Almost everyone I know has dreamed at least once with a loved one who has passed away.

I believe in Purgatory. I also believe I have sometimes dreamed of Purgatory. So perhaps, on rare special occasions, our souls are permitted to commune with loved ones there.

“Our souls demand purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true… that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’. Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know’—’Even so, sir’.”


Great fairy tales can be spiritual allegories. Imagine Cinderella strolling into the palace to meet the Prince before her fairy godmother helped her become as beautiful as possible. In this spirit, I personally look forward to the purification of Purgatory. Our souls might be instantly purified after death as if by a magic wand because everything is possible with God, but in the story Cinderella’s beautification requires some creative transformative work. Only then is she fully prepared to enter the King’s Castle and dance with the Prince.

“The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 1031

Even before I read what the Church teaches, I believed in a transitional state after death, in part because of my dreams with deceased loved ones. The doctrine of Purgatory is well supported by Scripture and not, as some have argued, a relatively recent invention of the Catholic church.

“Some of the earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament… refer to the Christian practice of praying for the dead…The Bible speaks plainly of a third condition, commonly called the limbo of the Fathers…If the limbo of the Fathers was purgatory, then this one verse directly teaches the existence of purgatory. If the limbo of the Fathers was a different temporary state, then the Bible at least says such a state can exist. It proves there can be more than just heaven and hell.”


In my dreams, my deceased loved ones are “somewhere” that is not heaven. A place (a spiritual state) between this world and heaven? The night before she died, I dreamed of my maternal grandmother (who was Christened Rosa) standing in a colorful garden, and as she smiled at me, the antique lizard pin she liked to wear suddenly transformed into a colorful butterfly that flew away.

My very first lucid dream occurred when I was thirty-three years old, three days after she passed away:

I found myself sitting across from her in a place resembling a small airport waiting room. Looking over at me, she said in Spanish, “I’m dead, aren’t I?” to which I replied, “Yes, you are.” The next thing I remember is walking with her through a dark space. Helping support her bent form, I encouraged her to straighten her back, assuring her that she didn’t need to stoop anymore because she was no longer confined to her physical body. I distinctly remember looking down at our clasped hands and thinking: When I wake up, I will know this was real and not just a dream. This is really happening.

Just before waking up, I found myself standing in a well lit interior resembling a post office just as a tall and slender figure strode cheerfully into the space declaring, “I’m here to pick up the package!” This person had an attractive fine-featured face, gently waving shoulder-length blonde hair, and was wearing a white uniform. Watching this intensely energetic and androgynous courier proceed to the counter, collect what he had come for, and stride out again, I felt the “package” was my grandmother’s soul.

My father died more recently, and three years after I began lucid dreaming on a regular basis, I had the following vivid experience with him:

Asking my father about his life on the Other Side

It’s a lovely day and I’m walking up our long curving black driveway, which is surrounded by trees in full summer leaf. Everything feels absolutely real and more vividly sensual than normal; even the slightly rough texture of the black asphalt beneath my bare feet tempts me to lie down on it to experience it’s unique sensation more intimately. I dismiss the urge, and for a few moments the world goes dark, but not completely. There is still luminous sky to the right of our tallest tulip tree, so that its familiar outline defines the edge of the darkness. Relaxed, I continue walking, simply waiting for my vision to completely return, which it does just as I round the final curve in the driveway.

When the house comes into view, I see a man walking toward me. Behind him, a small group of people is gathered at the top of the driveway where it merges with the brick courtyard. My heart literally seems to expand in my chest when I realize the visitor is Papi! He strides across the grass toward me, smiling his uniquely wonderful smile. Above normal clothes, he is wearing an unusual flesh-colored fur cape, long and affluent-looking yet light enough to billow around him.

Hurrying to meet him, and gazing joyfully at his face and into his eyes, I cry, “Papi! I didn’t expect you!” but he lets me know (without actually telling me so) that he only dropped by to say hello but that he can’t stay; already he’s turning toward the big car around which the others are gathering. I suffer the sinking sensation I am all too familiar with. Once again it is obvious that I desire to spend more time with him than he does with me, which makes me very sad. “You can’t just stop by for five minutes, Papi!” I protest. “You have to stay! Please, Papi!” I will not let him leave so soon…

Abruptly, we are all inside a small rectangular room I feel is part of my house, although not in waking reality. It appears to be some sort of antechamber where guests can congregate, as they are doing now, some sitting, others standing and talking in the even light. There are no lamps, no furnishings at all, but a dark-haired man with his back to me (my brother?) is loudly and passionately playing a piano. Papi is standing a few feet away from me, smiling and saying something to someone. He looks happy and healthy, which makes me glad but also confuses me. Can it be that his leukemia is in remission? He’s been sick for years, and yet he’s still alive and looks perfectly healthy…

A transition I can’t remember to sitting in a large dark room. Diagonally across from me, Papi is seated in the center of another couch. Keeping my focus on him, I somehow manage to pull myself up into a standing position so I can walk over to him. “It’s okay,” I tell him, staring intently down into his eyes. “I’m lucid now. I wasn’t lucid before. I understand that you’re dead.”

Smiling, he replies, “Of course I’m dead.”

I sit down beside him on the couch to his left, and as I ask him many questions, our positions relative to each other occasionally shift slightly. I wish I could remember everything we talked about word-per-word, but I know for a fact that at the beginning of our long conversation, I clearly picked up from him that life after death is not what he had expected it to be; it is much like physical life only infinitely more dynamic, for he is constantly and profoundly engaged in its unfolding.

At one point, while we’re both standing, he tells me about a female acquaintance who covets a particular golden mausoleum for herself. I realize he’s making a joke about dead people tomb hunting the way living people house hunt. I exclaim, “You don’t really live in mausoleums here!” and he smiles at me the way I remember him doing whenever he was pulling my leg.

Well into our conversation, I ask him, “Is there an infrastructure here?”

He looks away, and the wonder in his voice is shadowed by fear as he replies, “Maria, it’s as if the center of the city is alive…”

This makes wonderful sense to me. “It must be the heart,” I tell him, as in the Sacred Heart. The vision that flashes in my mind is of an open city square filled with a misty dark-blue light manifesting between the buildings and joining earth and sky as it thrusts out slightly like a woman’s breast. It is unfathomably alive and yet only one intimate connection—like a tiny bay in an endless ocean—to an absolute and Supreme Being, all-knowing, all-nurturing, all-giving and unending Life. It is nearly impossible for me to describe what I felt in this vision, but I instantly grasp that “where” Papi is now constantly manifests his innermost thoughts and feelings—his soul.

Excited, I tell him, “I have a theory, Papi, that we’re all like cells in the single body of humanity, so here, individual souls might be like cells bringing this world to life.” I seem to comprehend that where he is, the activity of “day-to-day” life centers on experiencing and “working” with your soul, which is effectively turned inside-out.

When we are once more sitting, and embracing each other now, I say, “I’ve asked you a lot of questions, Papi, and I’ve been dreaming for a long time. It’s going to be hard for me to remember everything you said. Let’s go over the points we covered. First, the infrastructure here is alive…” I phase out of the dream.

I got the feeling that Papi and everyone else in that “place” was metaphorically suckling at the same Divine “breast” which cared for them while mysteriously helping them grow.

When I shared my dream with my mother, she pointed out how at first I had to insist my father stay and spend time with me, and how it was my determination that obliged him to actually sit down and talk to me in a lucid dream. I know Papi loved me, but he always cut our phone conversations short when there was the real danger they might become more personal. This time, I didn’t let him hang up!

I believe I was permitted to commune with my father in Purgatory. The Sacred Heart I had a vision of in the dream, when he described the center of the city as being alive, connects where he is with God but it is not heaven, which is full and unimaginably glorious union with God.

“No happiness can be found worthy compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise. And day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls, more and more as the hindrance to His entrance is consumed. Sin’s rust is the hindrance, and the fire burns the rust away so that more and more the soul opens itself up to the divine inflowing.”

Fire of Love: Understanding Purgatory, Saint Catherine of Genoa

I had not yet read this book when I had this dream, but I believe I glimpsed the truth of this “divine inflowing” my father informed me was at the heart of everything.

During his final weeks in the hospital, I was in the room with him when a Catholic priest arrived to see him. Papi asked me to stay, but when the priest, standing at the head of the bed, opened his Bible and began praying, I mumbled some excuse and fled the room. I went and sat outside in front of the ocean watching the seagulls, my back to the hospital around which vultures constantly circled. I’m sure it’s no accident I had this incredible dream with my father after I fully embraced the Catholic faith into which I was Baptized and Confirmed.

When he retired, my father was Director of USAID in Central America, which might explain the word I found myself spontaneously using in the dream—infrastructure—for much of his work consisted in overseeing the development of more modern infrastructures in poor rural communities.

Excerpt from my Lucid Dream of October 21, 2014Another Talk With Papi

I’m sitting on the edge of the couch, gazing down at him where he reclines against it. At this point, I ask him a question I can’t recall now, but I vividly remember his response. “God is there…” As he says this, I suddenly notice slender shafts of golden light shining down from above and behind him as though cradling him. “You feel pain in your essence…” He rests his left hand over where his physical heart would have been, and I observe a soft white light that seems concentrated in his chest area. “Forceful people come to you…” A perfect understanding fills me as I look at his face, and the light, and listen to his words.

“See, too, certain rays and shafts of light that go out from that divine love towards the soul… Two works are wrought by these rays: the first is purification and the second is destruction. Look at gold: the more you melt it, the better it becomes; you could melt it until you had destroyed in it every imperfection. Thus does fire work on material things. The soul cannot be destroyed insofar as it is in God, but insofar as it is in itself it can be destroyed; the more it is purified, the more the self is destroyed within it, until at last it is pure in God.”

Saint Catherine of Genoa