Monday, August 25, 2014


My friend collected all of these shells at the beach on Sanibel Island in December of 2011. And it appears she had a reason in mind for how she wanted to artistically display these dead creatures. However, she never did tell me. If anything, she may have placed them with care, and they were purposely arranged, or maybe done in a random act? I really can’t recall. And yes, in a way, it matters because these shells helped me through some of the most difficult events that I could have never imagined.

In the three years since we spent this week at the beach together, both of us have had our share of tragedy.  Mostly random. Funny how life works that way. It is inconvenient to say the least, unbelievable to sound almost cliché when describing sickness and death. Little did I know that I would witness the loss of eight people that I loved, including my brother, mother and father within one year. And I never dreamed that the one who collected these shells would go through radical breast and lymph surgery due to an aggressive cancer that nearly took her life.  

These shells in the photograph are beautiful, but dead. How can this be? The deaths I have experienced were anything but beautiful.  In the months and years that I have suffered great loss, I have often asked myself where to find the beauty in the midst of my world. Quite frankly, it has been hard to see, and I have tried to imagine it

Looking more closely at the photograph, I could not help but notice the red, purple, brown, pink, white and other hues of colorful shells. Vibrant, even in death. Really? Death is certainly not vibrant, it is depressing and painful, in my view.

Some of the shells are smooth, some are rough. Death came like that for my loved ones. For some it was sudden, for others it stalled for months and it was a brutal road.

One day, just like my friend took the picture of the shells, I took inventory of the memories of my loved ones.  Was there a big difference between the shells and my loved ones? They both died. I think the hardest thing to accept about death of a loved one is the absence of a physical “shell”. II only have my memories to rely on, the inner beauty of my loved ones and my inner abilities to conjure up pictures in my mind and heart of what they looked like, and who they were.

Life is ironic. I have always loved shells for what they looked like on the outside, never for the creature that was alive within. I never really bothered to know or enjoy the inner being of most of these creatures. And it is that inner being that caused such beauty to last.

Revisiting the photograph one last time caused me to look at things about death in a whole new perspective. That is the beautiful thing about grief. I get through it by seeing little glimpses of life, in the obscure, and this thing about dead seashells is definitely obscure. In doing so, I am reminded to make the intangible remnants of my loved ones’ lives matter. Intently, I place memories in my heart and mind.  I recall my mother’s words saying “honey, you always do a great job…”, my father taking the toothpick out of his mouth, tilting his head my way, waiting for a kiss on the cheek when I greet him, my brother reminding me to defrag my computer, and my friend conversing with me over the phone telling me about each of her four young children. I capture remnants of their characters, their kindnesses, their accomplishments, and dreams, often. Those things are what I picture deep inside. They are my shells, I just have to make the time to walk along the serene water’s edge and embrace them.

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