The creamy white sand dollars felt velvety and cool moving through my fingers. I had removed them from the kitchen windowsill, attempting to examine them more closely. I was hoping to discover something new about them, hoping to learn why they are so good at surviving constant changes.
Sand dollars, introduced to me by my now-deceased son, have spawned many stories. “Legends of the Sand Dollar” is the tale of five doves that live inside a sand dollar; when the sand dollar is opened, it spreads good will and peace. Equally sweet is another legend that declares that sand dollars are mermaid’s money, adrift on the ocean floor in beautiful circular patterns — a gift of Mother Nature herself.
My son, Brian, was an avid scuba diver, and he loved the sea. He was certified diver at 15 years old. He would often dive off the chilly waters of Gloucester, MA, and other New England beaches wherever his curiosity beckoned him. His lucky net, as he called it, would be filled with all kinds of interesting sea urchins. He would tell us of his silent adventures of the sea – its flora remarkably beautiful, free-swimming curious jelly fish, swaying in and around him, and crabs and mussels buried in the sand, not wanting to be bothered. On several occasions, Brian told us he had run-ins with nasty boaters who hadn’t learned to respect the divers or beaches.
Brian died in a tragic car crash caused by a drunk driver on Dec. 22, 1985. We buried Brian on Christmas Eve day. He was 19 — a perfect son, brother and friend. Many who knew him would say he’s an “old soul.” He was giving, caring, loving and compassionate, all the wonderful qualities of a special person who cares about others and the world around him.
The devastating loss and heartbreak of Brian’s death has always defied any logic my mind and soul were capable of comprehending, let alone accepting. The intense grieving period lasted for about three years. I was very guarded, not attending events or functions that could intensify the memories. I was extremely quiet, tearful, isolated – but worst of all, I wasn’t communicating and being “my old self” with my surviving children Lizzie and Timmy.
The three of us sat down to celebrate my 42nd birthday. I wasn’t sure I could do this, it was the first I had celebrated since Brian’s death. I stared at the piece of cake in front of me. I couldn’t pick up my fork. The tears welled up and fell on the frosting of the cake.
“Why should I have a birthday? Brian can’t. It should have been me who died, not him.”
“Mom, don’t say that,” my son Tim said. “We need you. It was an accident we couldn’t predict or control.”
“Mom, where’s the faith and hope you have always talked to us about?” Lizzie said.
I looked into their precious faces and saw their concern and sadness. I knew I had to go on in a different way. I knew I had to deal with my living and suffering children and let go of my grief and pain as best I could. We lit a candle in Brian’s memory and together we renewed our faith, hope and love in our family knowing that we would all be together again, someday.
As I cleared the table, I moved toward the sink and I looked out of the window. As the gloaming quietly approached, a mourning dove sat facing me on a branch not far from the kitchen window. I reached for a sand dollar and broke it into five pieces. Like the legend, I decided to open the door to peace and good will.
In nature and in life, we are like the sand dollar. We survive constant changes, rolling back and forth in life’s tidal wave, weathering storms we would never expect. We do our best to land on the shore to appreciate another day.
Born in Worcester, MA, Yvonne is a former newspaper columnist and is the recipient of numerous writing awards from United Press International, Massachusetts Press Association and New England Press Association for her column From the Heart. Currently, she writes short stories, poetry and is a still life painter. She is co-author of Every Step of the Way: How Four Mother’s Coped with Child Loss (2006) and From the Heart, Sketches from Life (1985). She was named Woman of the Year by the Business and Professional Women of America. She is currently working on her first novel. Her website is http://www.yvonnelancaster.com/.Tags: grief, hope, signs and connections