I’m just going to throw it out there: deathversaries are hard. There is no avoiding the grief that bubbles up. I knew that marking the first year without my mom would be difficult, so I planned a day with nothing to do other than take care of me. Well, that isn’t entirely true. I planned a Day, with a capital “D”. A magical day of spiritual and emotional significance, that would allow me transcend space and time. (Or something.) For this first deathversary I planned to walk to beaches of Sanibel island, collect shells that would forever symbolize this day of hope, healing and renewal, and ponder the meaning of existence.
In retrospect, I should have settled for date with Netflix, some chocolate, and a trashy magazine. But that would have been too simple.
The day started promisingly enough. I woke to rain that stopped in the early morning. This made me giddy, since I’d heard that shelling conditions are ideal after a storm.
Now, never having shelled after a storm I have no idea if what I encountered that day was typical. If it was typical, God bless the hardcore shellers because they have earned every last stinking shell they find.
Let me emphasize the word stinking.
I arrived to my secret shelling spot that day, visions of whole conch shells dancing in my head. Instead, I found piles and piles of knobby, gnarly mussels. Tangled in seaweed. With the occasional piece of trash. I should clarify: these were piles of knotty, gnarly, rotting mussels. As far as the eye could see.
A wiser person might have shrugged it off, headed straight back to the car, and driven home. Not I. I carried on like a soldier. Somewhere, buried in the depth of rotting mussel flesh I was determined find my pearl.
Now, you might be thinking, Ok, the stink smell doesn’t sound ideal. But the shells! Glory be, I bet you found some great shells!
I was disheartened, to say the least. The magical day was escaping me but it only made me even more upset. I didn’t feel peaceful, serene or contemplative. Hell, I wasn’t even feeling grief. I simply felt cranky and was being bitten alive by the bugs there were attracted to the stinking pile of mussels.
I found myself alone on a stretch of beach. I hadn’t really felt a connection to my mom all morning. I sat down and I said, mom, I want you to be with me.
She said, I am, I’m always with you.
(What likely remained unsaid by her was “…but why on earth did you pick a smelly beach as the place for us to hang out?!”)
Anyway, I frowned at the stinky piles of shells.
Stop looking for a special shell, she told me. You don’t need it to remember this day. Do you know how much you are loved?
At this point, I played along: How much am I loved, mom?
I absentmindedly picked up a huge pen shell that had hundreds of little gnarly barnacles on it.
You see all those barnacles – that is how many people love you – and even MORE. So many people love you, you can’t even begin to imagine. We are all rooting you on.
I felt the wave of love and I felt the urgency in my mom’s voice.
An hour after walking the stinky beach, and hour after being bitten by bugs, I finally felt anger. Anger at the injustice of it all. How it wasn’t fair that I didn’t have my mom to help me become a mom, and that my daughter didn’t have my mother to become her grandmother.
She said, I know, honey. It isn’t fair. You have had your share of injustices.
But. Yes, there was a but.
“But you know what you need to do.”
She was practically yelling now. I mean, it was like I was getting a stern lecture from across the deep abyss.
Sarah, you get your butt down and write. Write like your life depended on it.
I took the pen shell, walked back to the car, and later that night created this blog.* I went to the beach that day looking for a pity party. I looked for answers or deep meaning. But really, I knew in my heart that moving forward I had to write. The time of quiet, introverted grieving was over.
It has been a difficult year. I survived tough storms and I came out a little rough for the wear. It wasn’t the year of the shiny conch. It was the year of the gnarled, weathered pen shell–and let’s be honest, smelly shell– that washed ashore after the storm, holding reminders of love from many. A little rough for the wear but fully intact.
*(Ok, by create I mean “start drafting blog posts that will sit on my computer, unpublished for a year.” See this.)