Gifts From the Sea

We spent a few days at the ocean, stayed in a new place, in a town we had only ever driven past. It was our first “family” trip together, without him.

The Central California road we traveled on for miles, was the lonely color of lifeless dirt. A stranded feeling of hopelessness persisted that we all wondered at, and joked uncomfortably about. How is it that we are born into and live our own unique lives on this planet? How are we so lucky and unlucky?

My eyes leaked the whole way because you’re not driving us. I’m thankful for the son that’s driving, thankful that you and me and God agreed to invite this human into our lives.Thankful for his personality and his willingness to drive. Thankful we are all together traveling. And still tears flow uncontrollably.

It’s so challenging to find the words to describe the feeling of you missing. It’s a big word I look for, more immense than the universe. Is there a word for that kind of emptiness ? I think it’s a supernova or a neutron star or a black hole or a shattered heart.

This was my grand idea. With the overwhelming grief and sadness that is surrounding me, has settled into our home, is reflected in my eyes, I thought it would be really good for the kids and I to do something fun together. To somehow try to feel happy together, and make some happy memories.

We stopped at a grocery store on the way, following google maps, seeking familiarity. Wandering around the aisles we felt you there and felt your absence. Grieving in the check out line, I remembered us all crowding around you, the kids always feeling the gift of togetherness, Dad buying yummy snacks and being loved. Trader Joe’s, our favorite, held its own special heartbreak.

As soon as we arrived we walked to the beach. The fog was so dense we could barely see where the ocean touched the shore. It was a strange blurry welcome. A treasure was waiting in the sand, a pair of angel wings. The only shells we happened upon that day.

We ate clam chowder and drank your wine and watched a movie that we had watched with you not long ago. Romance, tragedy, death and love, “Return to Me”. Then Seinfeld, a show we watched as newlyweds and I shared new/old connections with our kids. Completely exhausted I lay down in our bed and all of me longed for all of you. Instead of sleep, countless unsummoned memories of vacations past invited themselves in. Secondary grief is the term for this type of agony, losing the places we will never visit again. I try to will it all to stop, plead with the sandman to rescue me from this tormenting ocean of memories, but it goes on most of the night.

We met a sweet friend, a young man who worked on our home 10 years ago. I mothered him in the moments we had together, because my heart hurt for him in the grief he was enduring back then. He shared that he’d never forget that care. His gratitude was unexpected, I didn’t realize what it had meant to him. He was so kind and generous, with his heart and time, showing us the town and treating us like family.

We shared delicious meals, wine tasting, scenic drives and time at the beach, while I missed you every single second. It was both beautiful and exhausting.

I asked him about surfing, and he told me of his experience learning as an adult, struggling to swim, using up too much energy, and the exhaustion of being out in the powerful ocean. He described the feeling of being under waves that seemed unending, holding his breath longer than he had thought possible, being trapped under enormous waves, catching his breath only to be knocked down again. I listened, feeling as if he were describing my past 16 months.

He said you have to learn to relax, to conserve energy, to float out on the water without using all your strength, to stay calm when you’re being held under, to trust you’d come back up to the top. He said it took a long time to learn.

Such wisdom. I received it as a gift.

He took us to the best authentic Italian restaurant. Our kids were delighted. I looked over the menu, but with every pass the words became more blurry as the fog in my mind settled in my vision. You’re not here to share with. Not here to discuss the menu with. Not here to tell stories. Not here to remember with. Not here to toast or enjoy the meal. I looked up at all the beautiful eyes, listened to their smiling voices, and it was all I could do to keep from crying.

Me, trying to participate in my grand idea of making happy memories, found myself tearfully heartbroken over authentic Italian pizza, while being truly blessed to watch our children and friends enjoy themselves. I think I learned, making memories together is the gift. Just being together, giving the gift of ourselves, our hearts, our souls, authentically, with tears and smiles is the gift. Happy isn’t always possible, but togetherness is.

We walked on the beach and I watched the Jade colored waves turn into wild white lace, listened to the angry and the beautiful. Every one different, every one the same. Over and over, like a story that never gets old, they stretched to touch my footsteps. Receding in what seemed a majestic bow, a gift was laid at my feet, a sand dollar.

How curious- Me, a tiny human, receiving a gift from the depths of the vast ocean.

“So you have a gift for me then? You so like my grief. You know these are as precious as diamonds and pearls to my heart.” The ocean, God and my husband seemed to be smiling at their little surprise.

I continued walking on the shoreline, every wave that touched me, presenting a gift. I collected dozens and dozens of sand dollars and Angel wings. And I was lost for a little while in the receiving of unexplainable, mysterious gifts.

October 2021