Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 58 years old.
The summer before my mom passed away, we spent a week renting a beach house. She loved the beach. Out of all the places in the world, the sand and the shore were her second home. My mom would share stories of renting old shacks with my grandparents at Indian Rocks Beach, just a little west of Tampa. I was fortunate enough to create similar memories growing up with my cousins at those same beach shacks year after year. My mother adored the water, and even if no one else was swimming, she would be. We’d bob in the Gulf for hours day in and day out, until nothing but tan lines and pruned toes defined us. Even as an adult we kept these traditions alive, renting beach houses or taking the RV down to Turtle Beach for a week of beachfront camping. Salt water ran through my mother’s veins. She loved fishing, she was SCUBA certified, and would even be out there with the big guys trolling for lobsters in the Keys. Florida living was in my mother’s soul.
That last summer together, my mom sat under the canopy by the shore watching the sunset. She had finished her chemotherapy, was about to undergo a double mastectomy, and was in the middle of radiation, yet she’d wrap herself up, throw on her bandana and enjoy a few minutes of the fading sun each evening. We’d talk about the good ol’ days of vacationing on Indian Rocks and reminisce about years past when my cousin Ryan and I were babies, playing on the shore. She loved that beach. It’s bursting at the seams with memories. And it was then that she told me about her final wishes.
Everyday, with every breath of my being, I honor and remember my mother. It’s the true spirit of Team Judy, and I will continue to rally our team toward great things. My mom would be proud of us.
Today, on a cool November morning, my father, brother and I honored her memory and her request.
Indian Rocks beach was empty. Just a few walkers and shell combers here and there. As I walked closer to the shore, I could feel my mother there with us.
There were thousands upon thousands of shells all up and down the shoreline. The salty breeze blew our hair and the sun rose behind us.
We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful morning.
We stood on the shore and placed Mom on the water’s edge. Within seconds a gentle wave embraced her and carried her into the sea, leaving a heart behind.
With each wave, thin pearl-colored threads of mom would gracefully glide into the blue-green water.
The three of us watched in silence until the very last fleck of dust could no longer be seen, and all that was left behind was sand and shells.
We said our goodbyes to Mom, and as my father and brother walked back to their car, I decided to stay for a while. I wasn’t ready to leave. I sat and watched the waves for a long time, thinking about my mother, and recalling so many vibrant memories of those beach vacations. I yearned for just one more weekend. Just one more second. I could hear her voice with each wave. I could hear her talking about what she was planning to cook out for dinner, or if she’d rather walk across the street for a slice of Pajano’s Pizza. I could see her black sunglasses sitting on top of her head as she avoided “raccoon eyes”. I could see her running up and down the beach with my brother, chasing ghost crabs with flashlights. I could smell her suntan lotion and her perfume.
I know each time I visit this site, my mother will be there. She’s in sand, she’s in the water. She’s in the sea breeze caressing the sea oats. She’ll be lapping at my toes as I walk along the shore, and embracing me each time I swim. My mother is now a part of what she loved most, and I know she’ll be happy dancing among the starfish, reliving those childhood memories with her own mother. And because we shared that love, I’ll be visiting her often.
Before I left, I collected a few mementos to remember the day. If my mom was a part of the beach now, then I wanted some to take home. And I as walked back to my car, I noticed something on the boardwalk’s railing I hadn’t noticed before.
I understood this as a sign of my mother’s presence, acknowledging my seashell gesture.
Happy Birthday Mom. Although our hearts ache, I hope you only look down on us and see the good that is happening. I miss you terribly. Life isn’t the same. But with each day I learn to cope a little easier, with friends and family there to help me keep your memory alive. Please keep visiting me in my dreams. I don’t ever want to forget your voice. I wish you were here to celebrate your birthday, and the holidays to come. I don’t know how I will get through them, but just like today, I will find new traditions and ways to remember the amazing 32 years of life I got to spend with you.
The space between your heart and mine is the space we fill with time. -Dave Matthews