Sometimes things we do take us over familiar pathways that allow us to see them in a different light.
I recently found myself taking the exact same road and turnoffs to where my mother used to live. We were headed west to spend a mini-vacation at a beachside get-away, all to ourselves. Our destination was actually further north; I have not yet brought myself to return to where she lived for so many years. I did not grow up there; I would not know anyone there today; but it was a place I had spent many weekends while my children were young, and just the thought of going there brings back a myriad of conflicting images and feelings.
It was like yesterday, knowing where to turn, knowing the small pit stops along the way, where to stop for lunch, where the bridges crossed the sloughs.
Admittedly, my mother and I did not always get along. I choose now to remember the good things about that time in our lives.
She loved the outdoors and particularly, the ocean. She loved to walk along the beach and feel the wind in her face. We would gather around the beach fires with friends, have picnics, fly kites, and on special occasions, watch fireworks. In my absence, she kept me posted on various changes around the bird feeder. During the winter storms, she would call me and tell me that the snowy plovers were huddled in her front yard. That’s how we knew it was particularly rough out there.
My mother, a retired nurse, never really quit nursing. Whether feeding the birds or baking for assorted outreach organizations, she was always lending a helping hand. She gave money to her neighbor dying of cancer to help him buy the drugs he couldn’t afford so he could have one last Father’s day with his family. She volunteered to help people die.
Someone had to be there to help her die, too, and that person was me.
It’s not an easy thing to help someone die, especially someone you love. It is gut-wrenching. It made me question the inner core of each and every one of my beliefs.
Without a certain chain of events, this would have been logarithmically more difficult. At the age of 70, Husband #3 left her for an old childhood sweetheart; she floundered adrift for awhile, but then gathered her wits and her courage and took a gamble with someone who painted something he could not possibly deliver; in the process, she sold her home of many years by the sea and moved inland, just over an hour from where we live. And that gamble, which proved disastrous, was exactly what was needed for me to be able to help her during her final days.
Whether you believe in divine guidance or whether you believe in happenstance, I have come to recognize that this was just one of many “coincidences” that happened at just the right time in just the right place for things to work out just right. It is not for me to say what is real or what is not, but aren’t our lives far richer by believing in something that connects us all? That this chain of events should happen just as they did was quite remarkable. I am still incredulous. I am still grateful.
And on our recent weekend “getaway,” I looked across the span of that wide open beach with the tide lapping the shore – so very much like the one where I had stood so many times with my mother – and I thought – Mom, you gave us something really special, just by being who and where you were, and I am still making sense of it all. You gave us fun memories with our children – your children’s children – the chance to run away from an oncoming wave, to fly a kite high in the sky, to build sea monsters in the sand, and to try to dig a hole to the other side of the earth.
But you gave us something more. Something that dawns on us as we watch the tides roll in and ebb away twice each day, as the sun sets on one side while the moon rises on the other, as we turn toward the light in the morning and turn away at dusk, and as the hardened beach grasses hold strong to the dunes even as they bend with the wind and as the sands shift around them.
That’s how we were. We were those colorful kites flying high amidst scattering clouds; we were the spinners twirling in a blur with ribbons flapping wildly behind us; we were the flock of Sanderlings suddenly flashing silver in the light, the gulls scrapping over a broken crab, the snowy plover hunkering down in the cold.
We were and are the breathing of the ocean. We are in the wind. We are the sand that changes but still anchors the land. We are the tides, coming and going but always here. Steadfast. Forever.
Thank you, Mom.