I stopped dreaming when we found out that Jeff had cancer. Before cancer I dreamed every night. Part of my favorite sleepy eyed moments of each morning was when I would turn over and ask Jeff if he had any dreams. He would reply, "No, but I bet you did." I would then recount the fragmented scenes that played in my head moments before. We would laugh and tumble out of bed to boys already clambering to get cereal bowls down for breakfast. The day the nurse stood hugging a clipboard to her chest and spoke the words cancer, terminal, palliative care, and less than a year the dreaming stopped. It was as if those words sucked out all ability to dream or muse in one fell swoop.
Jeff passed away eight weeks after landing in America. Just nine months after diagnosis. We were still adjusting to the reality that the efforts made to hold the cancer back were like lightly blowing on a raging fire. The first months that followed I felt desperate to go back to Scotland. Back to where he might be waiting for me. Where he would help pick up the pieces we left behind in such haste. Scotland had changed us as a family, as a couple, as individuals. Scotland became home. Such a short time to be changed so deeply, we were sure we would return as a family of five. The nights after he passed I tucked the boys in bed and I would read, weep, and hope for a way to go back in time, back to Scotland, back to Jeff.
Three months after Jeff passed I had my first dream. I was treading water in the ocean. The water in front of me was vast, stretching far into the horizon. I spun around in the water to see land behind me. It was within swimming distance and I remember relief washing over me. It was green and full of life and somehow as I looked at the land, I knew Jeff was there. I immediately began to try to swim back but couldn't. It was if there was a huge span of glass stretching from sky to ocean floor. Frustrated, I turned back around and noticed for the first time a small island far in the distance. It was not close enough to swim to and was a muted brown. I tried to problem solve, how to survive, where to go, how to live without having to swim ahead to the island and how I can to get to Jeff and the land behind me. I was tired. I remember thinking I would rather drown then swim forward. And then, just like I knew that Jeff was on the land behind me, I knew the boys were somehow with me and would go where I would go. I couldn't drown, I couldn't go back, I didn't want to swim forward. I was still treading water when I woke, tasting the saltwater on my face.
I often describe grief as trying to swim an ocean in a day. An impossible task you would rather not attempt. But in the beginning stages of grief there is very little choice, you are thrown in the ocean, and the waves crash down on you without warning. You swim because the other choice is to drown. This is held in the knowledge that Jeff is where he was created to be. He is walking in fullness and without boundaries on his heart, soul, or mind. He is with the God who created him and the God who called him home. I really do believe this with my whole heart. But this knowledge does not buffer the waves or take away the ocean I am to swim. It will sustain me in the waters. It has given me hope for what is to come for the boys and I. It has comforted me on long nights and early mornings. But it cannot take the grief of walking here without Jeff. There have been many days in the last five months when I have pleaded with God to make a way. I would choke out the words "You make a way. I cannot. You are God. I am not." I still read the verse in Hebrews 6 before bed; "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain." I picture an anchor holding safe and secure as the waves hit and the storm rages.
I am starting to remember Jeff healthy. I keep going back to this memory of us in Bermuda. He had completely surprised me with a tenth anniversary trip there. He had the help of the Young Life staff and a wonderful couple who opened their home to us. During the week Jeff rented a little boat with a small motor and we took it out into the waves and just past the reef. There was an old boat wreck he wanted to see and we had borrowed snorkel gear to see it up close. I opted to stay in the boat and finish a chapter of the book I was reading before hoping in. Jeff shut off the motor, lowered the anchor, and jumped in teasing me about bringing a book on a boat trip. I finished my chapter, closed my eyes for a few minutes, and breathed in the salt air. I opened my eyes to Jeff, who was now a small dot in the water waving his arms frantically. Somehow over the wind I hadn't heard him yelling that the anchor had not caught and the boat was drifting. I frantically tried remembering what the boat rental guy had said about starting the motor without flooding it. I wished I hadn't been reading my book then as Jeff listened and signed papers stating he would captain of the small boat. I said a prayer and flipped a switch and pulled a cord and the motor sputtered to life. I steered towards Jeff who was exhausted but happy I didn't begin a new chapter before looking up. "I thought the anchor had caught and held" he kept repeating on the trip back. "I was terrified you wouldn't be able to get back to me." he would whisper later that night. "I would have jumped and swam to you" I answered, "we could have met in the middle." He chuckled and said, "Man, I am glad you didn't do that, we would have met in the middle and both drowned!"
These days, I fall asleep thinking of all the ways the anchor has held in this season. The paychecks and health insurance, a grandma who opened her home to a tangle of boys and dog, a Grandpa who stops in for a fire building lesson or ice cream treat. Aunts and uncles who pour joy and love into tender hearts and cousins who are built in best friends and are only a drive away. A church family who have gently made a place for us. Rekindled friendships and new ones formed, receiving us in the middle of our messy story and not being afraid to love us through it. Friendships now an ocean away that write, check in, and encourage us. A mom who speaks truth wrapped in grace, who knows what it is to grieve a love so deep. Men who were willing to become knights and help lead the boys into what is next. A new school that each of the boys have begun so late in the year. A safe harbor where teachers know their story and care for their hearts while teaching them. A home to rent in a small town that has possibly the only Scottish person living in it only two doors down. A chance to go back to Scotland this July, to hug the people we didn't know we were leaving yet. To collect, and gather, and remember all that God did on that soil and in our hearts. "The Anchor has held". I whisper to Jeff, in the dark. "I didn't have to know how to start the engine this time, or find my way back or forward, I don't even have to tread water, because the anchor has held and will continue to hold until I see you again."
I will be sending out an email to fully update those who have supported us through so much and explain better where we believe God is leading us in the next year as a family of four. Thank you for all the continued prayers as we walk through what it is to live the life we have been given.