I can’t get thoughts of the beach out of my mind today.
It would have been my husband’s 62nd birthday, and I know if he were still here, we would be sitting on a sandy dune in Wells Beach Maine, under an umbrella, slathered in SPF 50 while watching people and the waves as they meet on the shore.
Being near the ocean was James’s favorite place to be. Not necessarily during the summer months. We went more often during the winter or fall when they were deserted and it was not so hot.
Growing up in Massachusetts, his family would pack up the car and spend weeks at a time in Rhode Island, always staying at the same cottage. Many times we revisited that same beach and always had to meander down Breach Drive in Westerly so he could check out the cottage still standing that was filled with wonderful memories of a youth well-spent with an adoptive family where he was well-loved.
When we were married, I made more than one attempt to secure that cottage or another one on that street as a surprise, but they were always booked in advance with the same returning families who had built their own legacies there.
“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect the shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes.”
― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
I have not stepped foot on a beach in more than two years. I know it’s silly, and seems to many like such a small thing when I have faced so many other milestones. But it was our most special thing. Just the thought of doing so – any beach anywhere – still makes my eyes well up with tears. Well up, Wells Beach.
James still gets Christmas cards from the owners of the hotel where we stayed in Maine on our honeymoon and visited every year after. It is a heart breaker for sure. But I don’t have the courage to call and tell them to stop sending those cards. In a small way, it would be another fraying of the increasingly tenuous connection to him and to my most bittersweet memories.