I have been fortunate the past few springs with the opportunity to visit Marco Island. What I love about Marco is it is my speed. Or maybe I take my mentality of living on island time everywhere I go. It is simple. I can get away without a car. I cook and eat in except for once a week. All I need is a swimsuit and a pair of sweats for the nighttime because my socialization is with beach life. Give me a bungalow by the sea, and I'd be happy as can be.
When I am by the ocean, I walk the beach every day without worrying about time and distance. It is more of a walking meditation allowing the rhythm of the water to calm my mind. When I get carried away with shelling and other things that wash ashore, I enter another world where I stay for hours.
Last year, a couple of miles up the beach from where I stay, I came upon a grouping of trees full of shells hanging on branches. I imagined the many reasons people would hang these naturally holy and broken shells.
For someone who is sick
For someone who has died
For someone whom death is near
In gratitude for a vacation
In appreciation to be employed
In hope for employment
Prayer for a stressful situation
Prayer for a calm mind
Prayer for peace
Surrender to trust
The reasons are endless!
I was so grateful last year to have time alone with a few of my children away from Alzheimer's. On one of my beach walks, I found a shell with a perfect hole in it that would allow me to hang it on a branch. I found a space on a tree that felt right and as I slid it on the stem I prayed,
God, please help me through this challenging time with my mom. How long is this going to go on? Is there any way you can make this less stressful because sometimes I don't know if you are near. This situation is way more intense than living through my dad, who had cancer and my brother, who needed a transplant. I place this shell in honor of my mom and with the hope for more peace than drama. Hold her. Hold me. Get us through this!
Maybe it was more of a demand than a prayer. I'm not sure. Is there a right or wrong? Isn't any communication with the Divine better than no communication at all?
A few weeks after I came back home from that week of rest last March, things escalated with my mom. The following nine weeks she spent in and out of the hospital and rehab unit, in isolation, before being on hospice for a miraculous twelve weeks. Gosh, she was a fighter and had a mind of her own. That is one of the few things I love reminiscing about her Alz days. And that God was indeed in charge. So much happened in that five months after I hung that shell in Marco until she died late in August. Then there were the past six months of figuring life out here on earth after death and healing from the experience of Alzheimer's. If I can say one thing, it takes time to heal from the effects of caring for someone with Alzheimer's when you are intimately involved.
So I was extremely excited and grateful I was going back to Marco a few weeks ago to continue to heal, restore, and reenergize. My first morning was the only morning I had a destination for my beach hike. It was Sunday morning, and I didn't attend Mass. Would the idea of traveler's dispensation count this morning, I wondered? If there is one place I encounter God's love and presence, it is at the seashore. So, I made a pilgrimage on the beach. I headed in the direction of the trees adorned with holy shells on the sacred ground of the Gulf. I was anxious to see if my mom's shell, my shell of hope, was still there. On the way, I saw the bottom of a cane and feet that caught my eye, walking along the frothy waves melting into the sand. The metal cane was like one my mother used, and the toes of these feet resembled my mom's. I'll describe them as beautiful feet with the aftereffects of bunyon surgery and crooked toes all pointing toward the big toes. Caught off guard, I was looking at the feet of my mother, feet that gave her great pain and problems, feet with which she persevered the best she could for as long as she could.
Crossing each other's path, I started talking to this woman, who was I'm guessing in her seventies. She had lost her husband last year, and it was her first time back without him. We talked about grief, her husband, my mom, the will to keep living life to the fullest after someone is gone. The more we talked, the more we learned about one another. Come to find out we live a few miles from one another back here in Chicago! Her feet, her cane, her losing her husband, her doing the best she can without him. I felt I met my mother on the beach that morning, and I was still a half-mile away from the tree. Would she still be there on the branch where I left her? Did she survive the year? Had I? I continued traveling down the beach.
When I came to the tree, a spot where the beach gets more deserted, I saw her; right where I placed her with care and held her close through the summer, fall, and winter. She had survived, this shell of strength through I imagine howling hurricane winds and damp winter storms. I could feel my mom's presence as I stood before it, listening to soothing waters. All in a little broken shell hanging from a seaside branch? I had just encountered a Divine presence on the way there. As I met delicate footsteps in the sand?
I stood before this unique shell and the surrounding trees decorated with holy shells—the voyage of wonder and awe of it all, the challenge and despair of it all. When forceful winds threaten, the intangible is all I have to navigate through them. When restorative waters come after, to believe all shall be well is all I know.
Trust is vital.
Hope is essential.
Faith is life.
Patience is a practice.
Time heals all things.
All things will renew.
In times of trouble and anxiety, encourage me to have faith that all shall be well and renewed again.