Tag Archives: mourning

The Beach

Santa Cruz

The ocean doesn’t factor much in my memories. If anything, it was a trickster. When I was a child in Hawaii, it would lull me with its disarmingly benign surface, warm and inviting, only to upend me with a sudden swell that turned my world upside down. I emerged gasping and chastened, salt water filling my throat and churning in my stomach. When we crossed the ocean, I looked out from our ocean liner in fear, aware that our vessel was no more than flotsam in the unending sea that stretched from one vista to the other.

This is different.

We spent New Year’s eve and morning with two families we have known since we were young invincibles. Before kids. Back then we sat in tight huddles (the women), punched each other’s shoulders (the men), sat on laps (the couples), drank too much and stayed up late. The talk was salty, silly and sometimes serious. If we talked of the past, it was about our childhoods, our relationships with our siblings, mothers and fathers. If we talked of the future, it drifted toward where we would travel, the possibility of jobs and whether our children would like one another. Through years of three-day weekends spent together, one belly after another swelled with pregnancy. We carried the future in front of us.

Three girls and three boys we had between us. For a time, when the kids were small enough to curl up in sleeping bags on the floor, we crammed into a house together. A house on the beach. We hiked through the cut in the dunes down to the blustery shore where the kids would run up and down, chased by the waves, laughing. I see us adults clustered on the shore, bathed in orange light, watching contentedly. At night, the children dropped into exhausted sleep to adult chatter punctuated with regular bursts of laughter.

Pulled by the demands of jobs and families, we reformed in occasional twos and fours — girls’ weekends, and less often, guys’ weekends. Dinner with two families. Our gatherings became more infrequent.

We planned to gather on December 22 for a long-anticipated reunion, all twelve of us, at the instigation of our young adult children. But instead of twelve, we were eleven. Debbie — Debbie the Loyal, Debbie the Connector, Debbie the Loving — Debbie was suddenly and irrevocably gone forever. A hole had been punched in our universe.

We gathered again on New Year’s Eve in Santa Cruz. Eleven, not twelve. As we walked on the beach, listened to our kids riffing on guitar, poured the wine, gathered over dinner, played a raunchy game, and finally watched 2013 turn into 2014, I kept thinking, “Debbie would have loved this.”

And this: “Where two or three are gathered in my name.” Jesus understood the power of community as a way to bring Him present.

When we gather, I do not feel a void where Debbie should be. I feel her presence. But I ache that she is just beyond my reach, beyond the thin veil that separates her world from ours, that I cannot tell her how much I love her and miss her.

It is our last full day at the beach. My children, now grown, are sleeping downstairs. The ocean laps nearby, seagulls cry and sea lions bark. Of all of us, Debbie loved the beach. I think of this as where Debbie lives now, watching the surfers stream like otters toward the horizon where the swells are biggest, grinning at the children who delight in their wet sand creations, turning to me with love. She is smiling at all of us.

I look for the words that fail me, and find this:

Something there is,
(With my lips soothing thee, adding I whisper,
I give thee the first suggestion, the problem and indirection,)
Something there is more immortal even than the stars,
(Many the burials, many the days and nights, passing away,)
Something that shall endure longer even than lustrous Jupiter
Longer than sun or any revolving satellite,
Or the radiant sisters the Pleiades.
From “On the Beach at Night” by Walt Whitman


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I might as well get up.

The last few nights I’ve awakened around 3 a.m., my thoughts flying to my friend who died suddenly on November 8 at 57 years old.

I recognize this, this peculiar alarm clock that rings in the deep night to remind me that something is wrong.

In the days after my mother died in 1999, and my Dad died this past January, I awakened with a racing heartbeat, momentarily panicked, feeling that there was something I should do. This is different.

I awoke with her face floating gently in front of me, smiling. My awareness grew to include the percussion of the long-awaited rain tapping lightly and steadily in the metal gutter just outside my bedroom window. Rain reminds me of home.

In my adolescence in Tacoma, rain was often the last sound I heard before dropping into dreams and the first when I awakened. It surrounded me, drops splashing on the rear concrete patio to my left and rivulets sluicing off the sloped path behind me at window height, inches from my headboard. Periodically the white noise of the mammoth furnace would overtake it, but even that was a comforting sound. Above me, I heard the occasional creak of my father’s bedsprings as he adjusted his position in sleep.

The cat is concerned, padding over the papers on my desk to approach me at keyboard height, his tawny eyes observant. When I lean forward, he abrades my face with his rough tongue, scouring me with affection. I pick him up for the moment he will tolerate being cradled in my arms, and he purrs. For him to turn on his motor is a rarity, a sign of affection he seldom confers.

I don’t know what I’m doing up either. I know if I post this that friends will worry how I’m handling my friend’s loss, but to awaken and think of her is not a sign of distress. It’s more like communing with someone dear, someone worth missing.

Here comes the rain again. Shakespeare springs to mind,

“The quality of mercy is not strained./It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/ Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:/ It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”


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