During the last year of my friend’s life, when she was suffering the horrific side effects of stage four lung cancer, her husband planned several family beach vacations. I thought he was nuts. His wife was so sick, and long drives to the beach sounded exhausting. She couldn’t help with packing or driving, and I worried she would have a medical emergency while far away from her care team. But her husband told me that it was worth all the effort and inconvenience just to see the smile on her face as she sat on the beach, watching their kids play in the sand and listening to the waves roll in and out. “The beach is her happy place. If I could bottle that feeling and bring it home with us, I would,” he told me. He gave her a beautiful gift; I was just too judgmental and narrow-minded to see it. Those beach trips were a balm for her soul and the relentless, agonizing pain she desperately tried to hide from us all.
Last week our family traveled to the beautiful island of Saint Martin for spring break. I thought of her as I sat on the beach, breathed in the salt air and let the rhythmic crashing of waves lull me into a trance. I have this strange habit of spilling my soul to the ocean—maybe you do too?!?. As painful memories, unanswered questions and deep longings bubbled to the surface, I released them one by one, allowing the waves to carry them out to sea. I realized what a gift this must have been to my friend. The ocean gave her so much while requiring nothing in return (except the long car rides).
I scanned the horizon, hoping it will tell me why I’m here and my friend is not. The waves just pounded the shoreline in response. I looked over and noticed my middle daughter standing nervously in the surf. I made the mistake of watching Jaws and The Impossible with her, and now she asks me about tsunamis and shark attacks every time we head to the beach. (FYI: The last time a tsunami struck the Caribbean was in 1946.) I go to my daughter, grab her hand and lead her into the warm, crystal-clear water. A large wave looms, and we both dive under. I emerge sputtering and laughing, grateful for this time, this trip, this moment.
Wishing you calm seas and sunny skies,