When Matt was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer, I kissed my peaceful nights of sleep goodbye. So did he, and he loved sleep. Watching him struggle to sleep a full night without pain was hard. Some nights he was so exhausted but, between chemo and meds, it wasn’t happening for either of us. As his disease progressed and his lungs became compromised, I was paranoid he would die alone and I would be sleeping beside him, so I didn’t sleep. I would just lay awake and watch him breathe and pray that God would allow him to be made whole again. Nights were always the worst. I would check his pulse ox while he slept and count the rise and fall of his chest per minute to make sure he was breathing enough. I knew we were nearing the end of his battle when, even with oxygen on full time, he struggled. The disease took over his lungs and took the breath from the most beautiful man I had even known.
After he died, my struggle with sleep continued. Suddenly I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and I became the only adult in the house. I was my job to fight off intruders. My job to get us out if the house caught fire. My job to protect the only person I had left in the world- our young daughter. I felt the responsibility of that and I couldn’t sleep some nights until 3 or 4 in the morning, some nights I didn’t sleep at all. For over a year, I laid awake and shook all over. Days would go by and sleep would not happen. I felt like the walking dead. Being alone is hard. Being alone at night? I was acutely aware that he was gone and grief was consuming me. There were plenty of nights I would’ve rather just died than go through one more night of hell on earth.
When you’re overtired and overstressed, you start making deals with God. I remember praying and asking God to give me rest. I remember praying for 2 hours of sleep to feel like 8. I tried everything- new pillows, new sheets, anxiety meds, sleeping pills, lavender, yoga, meditation, sleepy tea, alcohol.. some nights I could drink myself to sleep but I never got a full night. For over a year I survived on the least amount of sleep and found myself praying for daylight so I could just get up and start my day. Nothing helped.
Since we moved out of the home we shared together, I have felt mixed emotions. I miss our house. I miss our good memories there. I don’t miss the agonizing pain I witnessed there. I miss the familiarity of it all. Getting used to the new sounds the new house makes and the sounds of the busy road in the distance and the train horns was hard. I found myself praying for daylight all over again. I do my best worrying at night.
Then one day, I slept. I slept 6 solid hours and woke up feeling like I could take on the world. Gradually 6 turned into 7, 7 turned into 8. Waking up in the middle of the night shaking all over stopped. All of the anxiety I had carried for so long about nights and how horrible they were faded away. I started to tell myself before bed that I was safe. Quinn is safe. Everyone is ok. I learned to lay every worry and concern I had at the foot of the cross and let God fight my battles for me, even the heaviest ones. I finally felt free.
More sleep meant more dreams. More dreams means more chances to see Matt, alive and well in another world. Every time I dream about him he’s happy. I watched his nightmare unfold on earth and it traumatized me for life. But when I see him in my dreams, he’s whole again. He’s not in pain. He’s not suffering. The promise of heaven with him is what I cling to. I live for the nights I wake up after seeing his smiling face. I want to remember every detail of every dream. We had to live a nightmare with him, but dreams about him now are confirmation that he’s ok. He’s whole again and the pain of this world can’t touch him. I find comfort in that.
Last night I went to bed early. I’m an early riser and I have figured out that the earlier I go down, the better chance I have of a restful night. I woke up around midnight after the most amazing dream I’ve had of him to date. Sometimes I dream about things we did together. Sometimes I dream about life with him still here. Last night I dreamed about heaven. He was there waiting for us. He was surrounded by people who went before us, and they were all smiling and happy. He looked more at peace than my dreams ever show me. Heaven, in my dreams, is indescribably beautiful. He smiled at us and hugged us and said “I waited for you”. I could almost feel his arms around me again. He gave the best hugs. When he hugged you, he hugged you with his whole heart. He said to me over and over again “You’re safe. You’re safe. I have you and I never left you”.
Instead of waking up at midnight full of dread, knowing my eyes wouldn’t close again, I woke up feeling safe and secure. I got a drink of water and went back to bed, hoping for another dream just like that. It didn’t happen, but peaceful sleep did. I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to enjoy my Sunday with my favorite girl.
I know God is leading us through this, and I know that in Him I will find rest. I’m grateful for the nights I finally feel safe enough to sleep and the days that come after where, for just a day, I feel somewhat like myself again. I know that I can’t do any of this alone and I pray nightly for rest to face the next day of life without him. And I know we will see him again, but for now I hold tight to the dreams of him smiling and happy. I know he’s with us, if only in my dreams.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30