Today, we mark seven months since Rob died. It is not lost on me that seven is the biblical number of completion — the year of Jubilee, the day God rested from His creative work. Seven means rest. I’ll be honest — I’ve never been a huge fan of rest. I’ve always been more interested in action than contemplation. Nevertheless, in this seventh month, God has been teaching me challenging lessons as He brings our family into a new season of our grief. God has been calling me to rest.
This last month, our family visited Seattle for the first time since Rob’s death. It was a good, hard visit with many of the complexities I anticipated. I hoped this visit would be vital confirmation for me, a clear sign that it was time to “go home” and move back. Our move to Boston last year was very difficult for me; and Rob and I talked about moving back to Seattle many times, even just days before he died. After staying in Massachusetts for the last six months, I was anxious to move forward. I hoped that I would return to Washington and see that all of the pieces had fallen into place for our return this coming fall. In all of the chaos of upended plans, I wanted to keep this dream Rob and I held together. More importantly, I wanted it on my timeline. I had been planning our return for so long, and I was ready to see God’s clear confirmation that now was the time for action.
I took the kids for froyo at our old neighborhood spot, and I imagined Rob sitting across from me, his bowl mounded over with peanut butter cup topping and hot fudge. We walked to the neighborhood park, and I looked for Rob standing in the dugout, yelling to our boys on the field. Even when I drove through other towns and subdivisions looking at homes for rent or sale, I envisioned opening the front door of a new home to see Rob standing there. Every place I went, I was searching in vain for his face.
As I left the cemetery one day and headed east on the freeway, I caught sight of the snow-covered Cascades ahead. Rob loved those mountains so much. He spent so many hours on their trails. If I couldn’t find him in towns and restaurants and ball fields, surely I could find him in the mountains. I could find us again there.
All the familiar exits sped by. The exit for the hike we’d taken that year our youngest fell into the river and Rob fished her out. The exit for the snowshoe trail we’d taken with friends. The exits for Snow Lake, for Rattlesnake Ledge, for Mirror Lake. “I want you back. I want you back,” I sobbed as I hit the gas and my car climbed the freeway.
Before I knew it, I was encircled by mountains. Surrounded by stunning beauty. But still all alone. Tears ran down my face. There is nowhere I can go to find him. This reality hit me with devastation. In Washington, Rob exists in the only way I can be with him. At the cemetery. I realized I had come back longing to find what could never be found — Rob, alive and waiting for me.
Of all the cruelties of sudden loss, I think disbelief must be the cruelest. The way my brain tricks me into thinking Rob must be alive somewhere, even if he is not here with me. The ways I have searched for his face in crowds, only to remember he cannot be found. Life’s forward motion has required me to accept that Rob is no longer part of my present. Our life has adapted to his everyday absence. But to acknowledge that there is no place I can go to find him, that the rest of my life I will live without him — this wound has cut the deepest. Rob will not be a part of any of my tomorrows. I don’t know how to live that life. I don’t know how to plan for that kind of future. To be honest, some days I’m not sure I even want to try.
Into this seventh month and this new realization of sorrow, God has spoken to me — “Rest.” I have learned with startling, deeply cutting clarity that grief is not the time for making plans. It is not the time for action but for rest. If there is any work to be done, it is the work of grief. And grief is a full-time job. Grief requires attention to the here-and-now; it has little energy for tomorrow. Life, the future, plans — they can and must wait while I do this important work that God has set before me for this day. The time for planning will come again, but it is not now. Relinquishing my desire for action has been another thing to grieve.
I am learning that I must open myself to only rest in this grief season. I must release my designs for the future. When I do this, God’s peace floods my heart. When I cease my scrambling, frantic action and planning, I can receive His renewing gift of rest. I fervently trust that our family is in God’s good care. If I believe this, I must act on it the only way I can in the midst of grief. I must rest.
As spring approaches, school application deadlines, sports schedules and other plans are beginning to insist that we make decisions. In the face of these things, I am learning to simply say, “I don’t know.” I don’t know if we’ll be here for school in the fall. I don’t know if we’ll move to Washington in 2020. I don’t know if we’ll be available for the traveling team or the mission trip or the job opportunity. I am learning to create space for the unknown and fill that space with rest. I am learning this is the only posture I can take in the midst of grief. That God knows the desires of my heart. That the future will take care of itself. That God’s good plans for our family will come to pass in His good time — a timeline God, in His kind wisdom, has not chosen to share with me.
The day before we left Seattle, I visited the cemetery one last time. I knelt in that beautiful place, and I talked to Rob. I told him I was leaving, and I’d come back as soon as I could. I told him I was learning I had no idea what that would mean, and that realization terrified me. I told Rob that I loved him, that I had looked for him everywhere, that I was frustrated this was the only place I could find him. I bent in to kiss his stone and felt the cold marble on my lips. I closed my tear-filled eyes and let the quiet of that place envelop me. Rest in peace, my beloved, I told him. Now I must learn to rest too.