I wrote this short essay last summer while spending a few quiet days at the beach. They say that mourning one loss is mourning all of our losses. I’m posting these words in memory of my niece Myriam who passed away a year ago. You’re with me, sweetie, you never left.
I once was a little girl playing in the sand, gathering shells that I would barter for paper flowers made by other children. There were colorful displays all along the beach: red tulips, yellow daffodils, and pink roses. I made flowers too but one did not trade flowers. One needed shells, pretty shells, to acquire the crafted blooms. So I spent a lot of time sifting sand in order to find the most prized of all: the tiny spiral seashell that would get me three flowers in one swift transaction.
A few years later I found myself on the beach again with my young niece Myriam, building sandcastles. Our specialty was tunnels. We would pile up the sand, surround our fortress with deep moats, and proceed to dig a secret tunnel so that the knight could come in and rescue his damsel. They would escape unnoticed by the servants of the dark Count. We did not stop to consider the suitability of such plots for a growing girl. We were just having fun.
Today Myriam is gone and as I walk the beach alone, I wonder where it’s all disappeared. Where is the girl who was looking for shells? Where is her playmate? Who is this woman traveling the tunnel of loss? Will she ever build sandcastles again? There are no paper flowers to cheer her up. Just sand. Sand everywhere. And the roar of the ocean. I sit down and close my eyes. The wind does as it pleases with my hair. My fingers fiddle with the soft ground. A pinch flowing between my thumb and forefinger. Then a handful spilling onto my lap, and another. Sifting through sand for the sake of it. For the feeling of life running against my skin. Grains, white and grey, small rocks, broken shells, twigs. All of it. All of life, the gorgeous and the painful . The living and the dead. I’m holding a small heart shaped shell in my right hand. Its edges are rough and it has a tiny hole in the middle. And on my left, nestled by my knee, I discover a delicate white turret.
I do not know where it’s all gone, where it all goes. I wiggle my toes and shake my legs. Like grains of sand my memories flow freely inside me. As I sift through them and accept today’s gifts, Myriam remains with me. And I’m simply who I need to be while my grief takes its own course and follows its own timetable. I stand up slowly. I breathe in the sun on my face. I soak up the waves stroking my feet. Just there, at the edge of the water appears a medieval town, complete with ramps for carriages, gates, and moats that have started filling with the tide. I get close and gently lean forward to rest the elegant spiral turret at the top of the dungeon. Smiling softly I start the unhurried walk home, the broken heart shaped shell safely tucked in my pocket.
Maryse G. Copans © 2010