"It doesn't feel like dad is really dead." Luke says this without emotion, matter of fact, and I understand. "It just feels like he is away. Far away". Where? I ask. "In a small hotel room in Vietnam peeling an orange." And I understand why he says this. Vietnam is distant and unknown. The last thing Jeff ate was an orange. He peeled it all by himself, separating the segments one by one and chewing slowly. Luke saw him grab for it, from the bowl beside the sofa. I helped carry his bent and worn body to that spot. He somehow still fit like a puzzle piece to me, His arm flung over my shoulder the reverse of what was for so long. Luke ran to me with worry and wonder. Maybe he would live if he could reach and peel and chew and swallow. The other boys rushed in to watch him eat. He had stopped talking by then but we all understood his joy. He will live, Ian had declared loudly, because he ate an orange.
A month later I asked if it felt real yet. " No, not yet. But now it feels like he is running a young life camp in Ethiopia" Luke replied. I could picture this because he had lived it. Years ago when Luke was six Jeff left for two weeks to help run a Young Life camp in Ethiopia. He knew his dad was far away and could not be reached, but that he would come home. I reassured him each night, tucked snuggly in,that dads come home. They always come home.
A few months later I asked again and he replied "I feel like he is running a camp in New York." And then, "He is running a camp in Rockbridge." Always Young Life, always leading, and always with the intent of coming home. And I thought of how in Luke's heart he was letting him get closer. And wondered, jaw clenched, what would happen when he let him close enough to realize he wasn't coming back.
Our last days in our month long stay in Scotland we visited the hospital Jeff had stayed at. I had been putting it off. As if I could outrun the reckoning. The boys asked to go. To be again where we shared such deep anguish and joy. Piled in Jeff's hospital bed we ate fudge donuts and watched movies. Everyday we walked a stone pathed labyrinth while Jeff napped or had treatments. We returned first to the labyrinth. We dropped stones as we worked our way through the mazed path Luke joining me at the end. He shared softly beside me that he knew he was gone. And I knew that the unbelievable was finally becoming real.
The day before we left to come back we climbed the hill. The same hill behind our old house that I climbed daily to speak to God. Such bold prayers back then. My head tilted up and smiling, certain in my faith and hope. I thought then that he would be spared, that we would stay as a family of five in Scotland. And now it is four of us walking up the same hill with heads bent down. The boys know of those bold prayers, of how I got it wrong and God remained true. This great surrender they have watched unfold in me. The letting go. At times so ungraceful. At the top each boy held a small fistful of Jeff. Ashes of a body that held us, protected us, and loved us so well. The fists unclenched and let go of what was. The wind was strong at our backs. "I know he is not coming back" Luke whispered next to me. He sat on the rock Jeff sat on. Sketchbook in hand staring at the River Tay and Dundee beyond. We all laid in the tall grass and watched the clouds drift over us for what felt like hours. Remembering and dreaming. The sun started to sink and we made our way back down the hill, choosing to live hands opened, heads lifted, and unafraid of what is next.
Our time in Scotland was painful, beautiful, and life giving. It was filled with connecting with friends, helping with camp, and taking a trip to the Highlands with dear friends of ours. We also got to go through some of our belongings we had to leave
behind. Scotland still feels like home. And as much as we want to be there, we also know we are not suppose to live full time in Scotland right now. We have decided to be near family for the next year or two. Right before leaving for Scotland we moved into a house in Bridgewater, VA. It is within twenty minutes of Jeff's mom, dad, and brother. I also signed a contract to teach first grade. I began last week and will help teach 21 six year olds with the lead teacher until she has her little girl (due in early November). I will then take over as lead teacher until the end of the year. The school is two blocks from our house and we are all four together (the elementary and middle school campus are together in the same building). Our house is on a street with eight other boys! We can walk or bike anywhere in town including a mini golf, iceskating/farmers market, library, and small grocery store. We we moved in June I had no clue how we would furnish yet another house so quickly. Within a week our home was completely furnished by the help of our church, our school, and a very generous couple who were downsizing. I have seen time and time again the provision of God in these last few months. We still have a tremendous heart for Scotland. We would love to return full time one day and will continue to return each summer to help with camps and reconnect with friends. I will remain on staff on a very limited and part time basis to allow for this. Thank you for your continued prayers as we focus on what is next. We are hopeful in our future and confident that He will finish what He started in us.
Please contact me through email: firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about stopping donations toward our Scotland account or if you would like it redirected to other staff permanently in Scotland. If you continue to give to our Scotland account it will be used to send us back each summer to help with the camps there. It will also keep our account active and a door open to be able to return full time one day. Thank you for all you have given and been our family in this season. Much love, Becca