Over the years since my son’s death by overdose in 2004, I have received many messages and signs from him. Some have come in dreams, some through songs on the radio. Perhaps the most powerful of all have been the heart-shaped stones and shells washed up by the sea to remind me that love never dies.
September 2004, South Padre Island – Calling Out
Four months after my son died, I visited South Padre Island and walked on the beach, feeling broken, drained and missing Cameron. I shouted and cried my grief into the sky and the sea. I felt a hollow emptiness, a black hole in the place in my heart that Cameron used to fill. I called out to him, “Are you still here? Do you still know me?”
Moments later, I spotted a piece of shell, black with silver streaks, shaped like a heart and washed smooth by the sea. I knew instantly this was an answer, a message of love and connection from my black-sheep son. It occurred to me that the most beautiful bits of shell, smooth and polished, only become so after being battered and beaten relentlessly by the flow of the sea. Perhaps there is hope for me, then, I thought.
The gift of the little black heart brought me some peace. The black hole in my own heart seemed to shrink just a little that day. Whether it was Cameron or the sea or the universe that answered my cry, someone was trying to tell me that love endures.
On the drive back from the beach, I saw a sign at the county line that I hadn’t noticed on the way in. I was startled to see that South Padre Island is in Cameron County. How fitting!
November 2004, Puerto Vallarta – Letting Go
A few months later, I found myself once again by the sea, this time in Puerto Vallarta. I was feeling tremendous guilt over Cameron’s death by overdose and second-guessing everything about my parenting. I felt I had failed as his mother. I wrote an emotional letter to Cameron in my journal, expressing all that I was feeling and telling him how sorry I was for the many ways I felt I’d let him down. It was a good release and I felt lighter for having done it.
After writing the letter, I walked on the beach collecting stones and shells and driftwood. I decided to leave all that I’d gathered on a giant silvered driftwood log that I could tell would be under water at high tide. It would be an altar to letting go. I lined up all the little treasures I’d collected along the top of the log and offered them to the sea, thinking all along of the cycles of life and death, the high and low tides, the coming and going of everything. It is natural for things to change and pass away – even the people in our lives. I talked to Cameron and told him how much I missed him, but that I understood he had to go and that I would try to let him go even though I would never stop loving him. I turned from the altar I’d created, willing it to the sea, knowing it would wash away during the night.
As I started to walk away, something caught my eye. It was a gray, egg-shaped stone, just a plain river rock, but it had these two indentations in it that made the shape of a heart and the indentations were bright red! I picked it up and looked at it closely. The indentations had the remnants of some algae or moss from the sea which created the red color. I couldn’t believe it. Like that little black shell heart from South Padre, here was another heart gift from the sea in answer to my love and sadness, this one in stone, carved deep and permanent.
It seemed an unmistakable sign of love and forgiveness from Cameron. It seemed to be a message about letting go of everything but love – letting go of the guilt and the grief, but remembering that love is eternal and holding on to that. In my willingness to let go, I’d been given a lifeline to hang on to.
March 2006, South Padre Island – Knowing
A few years later, after lots of processing and inner work, I had made much progress in my healing journey. I was beginning to be able to remember Cameron without pain, and I was growing more and more certain that we were still connected despite his death. One day I found myself back at South Padre Island. Remembering my last two experiences, I was anticipating connection and communication with Cameron.
Feeling a little cocky, I stepped from the parking lot to the sand and said, “OK, kiddo. I’m here. Where’s my gift?” Instantly I found at my feet a stone with the shape of a heart carved nearly all the way through it. I walked that beach all the way down to the end that day and never saw another stone, only shells and seaweed and sand. I was delighted. It was like this third time I wasn’t asking from an empty space, a sad space, a longing space. Instead I was asking from a knowing space, a space of expectation, knowing before I ever saw the gift that it would be there for me, knowing in my heart that the connection was there.
Later, I drew a picture of myself on the beach, arms up to the sky, with a bunch of little hearts in the sand around my feet. I journaled about my drawing and the three experiences of finding hearts on the beach. I recognized the progressive transformation I’d made from emptiness and longing to a willingness to let go and finally to a peaceful certainty about the eternal bond I have with my son. I wrote, “I don’t have to hold my arms out in longing, his love is all around me all the time.”
April 2006 – Surrounded By Love
The following month, I went to Rocky Point, Mexico, with my husband. It was a great, relaxing getaway and I didn’t feel any need to look for heart gifts from Cameron. I walked the beach several times, alone and with my husband, never really even thinking about looking for a heart. On one walk, alone, it crossed my mind that here was yet another step on the healing journey. Not only was I not sadly longing, I didn’t even feel the need to ask with expectation. I just knew with no need for confirmation that we were still connected. At that moment, I looked down and all around my feet there were dozens of little heart-shaped fragments of shell. It was just like the picture I’d drawn.
Maybe heart-shaped shell pieces and stones are more common than I realized. Maybe they were always there and I just never noticed. Maybe they didn’t come from Cameron at all. Maybe my own wishful thinking created a message I wanted to hear. But I don’t believe that. I believe that somehow Cameron’s out there watching over me, watching over his sister and brother, watching over his dad. He’s watching over all of us and sending waves of love.
Copyright 2014 Claire M. Perkins.
Adapted from The Deep Water Leaf Society: Harnessing the Transformative Power of Grief, (Intuitive Journey Press, 2008)Tags: after-death communication, getting to the other side of grief, guilt, healing, hope, signs and connections