“Excuse me, Miss. I’m curious about what you’re doing there.” The old man motioned toward the sand as he spoke.
“Is this something personal, or artistic?”
I didn’t realize anyone had been watching me carve the sand with my toes—camera in hand—so I was somewhat startled by his question.
“Both,” I suppose.
“I lost my little brother two years ago today so that makes it personal. And, it’s artistic because I created a blog in his memory. When I leave here, I’ll post these photographs and try to write about my experience.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss.” His eyes were kind as he respectfully tipped his worn denim hat toward me. I couldn’t help but notice his thin frame and knobby knees.
“Thank you.” I responded, looking into the old man’s eyes.
“How did he die?”
Ah, now there’s a question that is always awkward; kind of like the old man himself.
“He killed himself.”
My answer startled both of us. Having been asked that question numerous times over the last two years, I’ve always used the phrase, “Jay took his life,” when responding. Somehow saying it that way felt less…intense. It also seemed to soften the blow and minimize the discomfort for the person who asked and for me. That question never gets any easier to answer. While I jump at the chance to talk about my loss as most grieving people do, the suicide factor always pierces my heart clean through.
“I’m so sorry.”
The old man’s sincerity was rather refreshing.
“Thank you for wanting to know.” I said. “Most people don’t, or at least they won’t risk asking.”
“Well, it’s beautiful what you’re doing there…for your brother,” he said. “Really beautiful.”
“This is the best part,” I explained. “Watch what happens next.”
We watched as the tide came in, bringing the magenta-colored daisies with it.
A few minutes later, a woman who was walking along the shoreline began plucking up each one of the daises from the sand and surf.
Soon she cradled the entire bouquet.
I could tell the man was concerned about her picking up the very same flowers I had so tearfully released into the sea.
“It’s alright,” I said, responding to his worry before he had the chance to admit it.
“Every time I release flowers in Jay’s memory, I sit back and watch them for a while. Eventually, the tide brings them back and someone comes by to gather them up with wonder, as if the ocean has handed them a miracle. The last time I did it, a little blonde girl ran along the sand and presented her mother with an ocean-bouquet. I watched as she pointed to the flowers and then out to the waves, trying to explain to her mother where the flowers came from.”
“As I release the flowers, I guess I release my brother all over again. Each petal represents a memory that I treasure. And somehow, God gives Jay back to me. God allows Jay’s memory to be a thing of beauty for someone else who never even knew him.”
“Jay’s life still brings joy, even through his death.”
We sat there for about fifteen minutes talking about life and loss and God before the old man finally stood up, dusted the sand off his cargo shorts, and reached out to shake my hand.
“Bless you,” I said, as he turned and walked away.
Just before I gathered up my things to vacate my sacred spot, a single magenta daisy caught my eye.
I coddled it gently, as if I was cupping Jay’s face right there in my hands.
You see, that’s the funny thing about grief. The more you let go, the more God gives you back. I know that’s not some new earth-shattering lesson or anything. It’s been a part of God’s economy from the get-go. Jesus Himself said, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).
But the difference is that now, I know this truth.
I know it because I’ve lived it.
I am living it.
Sometimes you just have to live something out for yourself, before it becomes really real, you know?
As a fellow survivor so poignantly put it,
“Once I accepted he was gone…”
“I realized he never really left.”