Sand, Sea, And Sadness

Something gut crushing happened yesterday. Ernie, my 61-year-old brother, died.

Ernie had happiness in life, but he also struggled. Illness wore him away, deploying one medical challenge after another. After the latest battle, his kidneys stopped working. His body became increasingly bloated. His energy level whispered away, little by little. His heart beat a slow requiem as his blood pressure steadily decreased. He could not get comfortable. He could not communicate. He teetered in and out of consciousness. His body was attacking him. When we at last released him from life support, pain, and fear, he smiled and found his own way out of this world.

My brother and I had a complicated relationship. We loved each other to the core of our hearts, but we also did not understand each other very well.  My perceptions of him (I cannot yet say “memories”) are jagged and awkward. They are pieces of various jigsaw puzzles tangled in the same box together. They are ill-fitting and dissonant. It is hard to make sense of them.

Family dynamics are often fraught. I once read that, in healthy families, the alliances within the family should be generational. In other words, the parents should bond together as  one team and the siblings should bond together as another team. This does not mean “us” against “them,” necessarily. At its best, family provides the opportunity for the teams to work together to nurture a mutually happy life. The point is that different relationships and different affinities are inevitably going to form. The balance of power is best preserved when those connections are generational.

Such was not the case in my family. To me, it always seemed that my parents and I were on one end of the spectrum, with my brother at the other. We were staid and safe. He was wild and reckless. We thought to the future and colored within the lines. He lived hard in the moment and didn’t even realize there were lines. He saw life differently from the three of us. He made choices the rest of us did not understand. I have always felt wistful and regretful about this state of affairs. I felt sad for my brother who was sort of on his own in the family. I felt guilty for not being able to find a way to bring him into the “happy family” fold. I do not know if it ever occurred to me that he might have been happy in the life he was living. He burst his way into life, leaving behind a safety net that consisted of my parents and myself. He had the freedom to live life on the wild side knowing that his protective (although somewhat judgmental) cocoon would be there when the wildness became unmanageable.

As time went on and my parents passed, my role became almost that of a caretaker. I became almost a surrogate parent for my brother. As we settled into these roles, acceptance of who each other was grew but understanding never quite did. I continuously wobbled between annoyance, anger, and hopefulness about his fate.

When I heard that Ernie died, my boyfriend asked me what I needed- what I wanted to do. I told him that I wanted to go to the beach. I wanted to feel sand on my feet. I wanted to taste salt in the air. I wanted to see tiny fish swifter past my ankles in the tide. I wanted to hear the waves slapping the beach. I wanted to smell the gritty brine.

The beach has a kind of magic for me. Being near the ocean has always felt like a hug to my senses. There is something about the whine of the waves and the hypnotic properties of the sea that covers me like a magic protective shield. I have been to many of the most popular beaches in the United States… Waikiki, Huntington, Daytona… and have not felt crowded at any of them. Yes, there might have been other people around but there was always sufficient personal space for everyone.

My favorite memories of the beach involve being alone with my thoughts and the ocean. When I was a little girl, my family used to camp at a state beach about an hour from our house. I liked it best when we went to the beach during the winter. In the early evenings, I would walk down the wooden staircase from the cliff where we camped to the beach below. I counted the steps. Depending on which campsite we occupied, I recall that there were 128 stairs. I have a clear picture in my head of myself wearing burgundy jeans and a grey turtleneck sweater.

When I reached the shore, I’d climb up a ladder to a lifeguard station that was abandoned for the season. In my lifeguard station sanctuary, it was quiet. Often, I’d not see another person the whole time I was there. I’d scrunch myself down to the edge of the platform with a book. I would think and read and watch the sun go down until it was too dark to see. I was literally above it all- not only above the beach but also above all the sadness, anxiety, disappointment, and self-denigration I kept bottled up within me.

These memories of the beach convinced me that I would find some sort of magic properties that would help me cope with my brother’s death. When we arrived at the parking lot for the beach, I jumped out of the car hopefully. As I trudged my way down to the water, my mood unraveled. Lethargy, exhaustion, and disappointment weighed on me. Even the portable chair over my right shoulder and a small beach bag over my left seemed too heavy a burden to carry. The brief walk from the car to the shore seemed almost beyond my capabilities. I panted as I walked. My ankles rolled over the cobbled, pitted pavement, causing sharp perpendicular pains to zip through the meniscus beneath my right knee. The sun glared so fiercely that I checked to make sure I was still wearing my sunglasses. But I soldiered on towards the magic I knew awaited me at the beach.

When I set up my chair and gazed at the horizon, I felt… nothing. I walked down to the water, but the waves did not feel refreshing. They felt cold and sharp. The skittering sand shifted with the tide, creating trenches that captured my feet. I knew those trenches would be oh so easy for me to trip into the next time a wave broke against my body. I tried to move my legs, but the undertow trapped them in the cement sand. As I stood there, all I felt was a rigid band of tightness surrounding my abdomen right below my ribs. There was no magic.

I finally freed my feet from the sand. I decided that moving might shift the band of tightness away from any of my crucial internal organs. I walked down the beach, thinking about nothing and everything. I kept waiting for the magic. It did not come.

I stopped and stared out into the sea, trying to feel something. The magic might not appear, but maybe I could at least find a place within me that would illuminate this strange nothingness. As I looked around, I noticed a group of 20 or 30 children playing on the beach. They reminded me of something.

One summer, when I was about nine or ten, Ernie and I attended Red Rider Day Camp for two months. The camp spent several days a week at the beach, creating a scene remarkably similar to what I was witnessing here in the present. I realized that summer was perhaps the only time in my life when I felt like my brother and I were teammates.

I was a shy child. I inclined towards observation rather than participation. I would often stand on the outskirts of childhood and watch. Other children did not understand my strangeness and disconnection. This strangeness and disconnection led to isolation. I was perfectly happy with a reasonable level of disconnection. However,  it seemed the rest of the world- child and adult alike- were not quite so tolerant of my definition of “a reasonable level of disconnection.” Counselors pushed me to engage. I tried to comply. Children taunted me. I was brave. I pretended not to care. I did my best to enjoy the summer days at camp, but I would have rather been at home alone with a book.

My brother, on the other hand, was an extroverted child. He was funny and loud and friendly. He was most happy when flamboyantly connected with everyone in the same zip code. Even as an eight-year-old, he was an imposing character- both physically and socially. He relished day camp. The counselors could not direct or contain his energy. His personality often burst out unexpectedly when the pitch of his own performance became too high. His roughhousing and arguing and “boys will be boys” tricks sometimes devolved into potentially dangerous activities. He never meant harm when he roughhoused and joked, but not meaning harm does not prohibit harm from occurring.

This introversion of mine was one aspect of our divergent personalities that my brother “got” about me. I remember him patiently involving me in the day camp activities. I remember him drawing me gently into his crowd of joviality. I remember him protecting me from “over connection” when I needed to disengage a bit. When other children said cruel, thoughtless things, he was my fierce defender. We did face the world of the Red Rider Day Camp together. Together, we were more than the sum of our parts. We not only protected each other, but we also impacted other children. My natural quietness and nurturing drew me to children who were also struggling. Ernie’s extroversion, assertiveness, and confidence shielded us all from bullying. My fellow outcasts and I brought purpose to my brother’s energy, which kept him out of trouble. If Ernie was guiding me into the social fabric of day camp, he was much less likely to be capturing another child in an innocent headlock.  

The camp selected my brother and me as the “campers of the month” at the end of our day camping term. They explained they selected us because of the kindness we displayed to each other and to the other children. That was pretty great.

As soon as this memory formed in my mind, I tasted the salt in the air. I smelled the cocoanut scent of sunblock mixed with the brininess of the sea. I heard the whirling, whining sound of the surf. I felt the ever-moving water slip between my toes. I saw the tiny fish playing tag in the shallow water. I giggled when I saw tiny birds perambulating down the shore with the pompous strides of Olympic speed walkers.

The rigid band around my abdomen shifted up my torso. Somewhere in the journey, it reconfigured itself into a sob. Somehow, the tangled jigsaw pieces in my mind sorted themselves out and formed a beautiful memory of the best of my brother.

The beach is magic, after all.

How have you and your siblings worked together in the past? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at

Hope today is a day at the beach for you!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Encore Presentation- A Beam Of Love

I miss my mother every single day.  Lately, she has been even more in my mind than usual.  A few months ago, a dear friend passed away.  This friend was there to provide some “pinch hit” mothering when my own mother died.  As my friend wrestled with end stage Parkinson’s Disease, it felt like my beloved mother was slipping away from me again.  My mother’s birthday was a couple of weeks ago.  Tomorrow, she will have been dead for four years.  My grieving for my mother is amplified.  It is eating away at my spirit more viciously than usual.  On the other hand, even after all this time, the light of her joy, laughter, and love is the coziest comfort imaginable. 

Because of that succor, I thought I would re-publish a blog piece I posted soon after her death.  Those of you who knew my mom will understand and enjoy remembering her this way.  For those of you who didn’t know my mom, perhaps this re-publication will remind you that, in the worst of times, there can always be joy and love.

A Beam Of Love

In the wee hours of the morning on September 2, my mother found her way out of this life.  After over a year of struggling on her path towards the next life, she fell asleep.  When she awoke, I am sure she found herself in God’s dwelling place instead of in the nursing home.

All my mother’s life, she lived joyously and richly. She squeezed every drop of enjoyment and meaning out of every day.  She was almost always happy.  It wasn’t that her life was always wonderful or exciting or fun.  It wasn’t even that she had a particularly exotic or interesting life.  Most people would say that her life was pretty conventional. She was a daughter and a sister and an aunt and a wife and a career woman and a mother and a friend.   What made her so special was not so much what her life was, but how she lived it. 

My mother had a gift for satisfaction.  She collected fulfillment and meaning in her every action, even the most mundane experiences. When we were out driving somewhere and got off course, she’d often say, “I never get lost; I just have adventures.”  I think that pretty much summed up how she approached life, way beyond just how she approached a road trip. Wherever she was going in life and whatever she did, she was determined to find happiness and pleasure in the process.

She was the kind of person who attracted other people. She was an interesting and interested person.  She was curious about all kinds of things and embraced opportunities to learn.  She relished good, meaty conversations.  She was an excellent listener. She knew how to make people feel safe.  She heard what you said and what you didn’t say.  She heard what was underneath your words.  I don’t believe there was ever anyone who knew her who did not love her.  She constantly sowed love and harvested relationships as she rollicked through her day-to-day existence.  She valued those relationships and nurtured them.  Even in the nursing home in her very compromised state, she radiated a kindness and joy that attracted people. 

On the other hand, she followed her own heart in living her own life.  She did what she believed was right and followed the paths that brought her happiness. She used to say that she liked herself and she liked her own company.  She had a busy mind that was always tooling away happily, creating thought and considering possibilities.  I used to say she was her own occupational therapist because she could figure out alternate ways to do almost everything when her mobility started to desert her.   She owned a home computer before most people did and, even in her eighties, she embraced new technology that added interest to her life. 

She had courage of conviction.  She walked her life with God as her guide.  She held firm in her convictions and relied on her relationship with God to support her in her journey.  She believed in miracles and in prayer. 

She loved God.  She loved life. She loved other people.  She loved herself.  In short, she was a joyful beam of love, illuminating and warming everyone with whom she came in contact. 

Now this beam of love has faded into the next life, leaving this life darker and colder and considerably less sparkling.  The thought of going on with my journey without her physically by my side seems unconscionable.  Considering all the memories we shared, all the things she taught me, and all the gifts she gave me, it is inaccurate to say I will ever be traveling through this life without her.  All that she was is embedded in me and will be with me forever. I want to honor all she was and all that made her beam by carrying on her legacy of loving, joyful living.  

It seems that now I will have to grow towards the joy on my own, without her walking in tandem with me. I don’t know yet how I am going to do that.  It helps to know that she has found the greatest Joy of all. 

Madonna flowers at church on 8/22/21- would have been Mom’s 90th birthday.
Flowers from the altar on 8/22
Happy birthday in Heaven, Momma!

Memory Superbloom

Last week, I talked about the beauty of the spring superbloom in Southern California this year.  During my recent trip back to visit my old homeland, I realized that I forgot how uniquely beautiful the desert can be when the wildflowers carpet the terrain.  It was heart-stoppingly gorgeous.  However, I also realized it was heart-stoppingly dangerous, as the flowers will soon fade and die and become fuel for the wildfires we so dread in Southern California. 

The flowers were not the only thing that bloomed on my trip.  Nor were they the only things that can be dangerous.  As I prepared for the trip, I subconsciously steeled myself for the impact of a superbloom of memories.  The southwest is where I grew up.  It is where I lived most of my life.  It is where most of my conscious memories were born.  My family lived together in New York until I was almost six, but I was so young that most of those memories are lost.  The only home where my immediate family formed memories together was California.  My schooling was there.  My career was there. The crucible of maturity that was my marriage and divorce was there.  I raised my fur child there.  I met Max there and we built a together life there. 

Most of these memories are happy ones.  Still, I have learned, over several trips back to California after moving to Florida, that exposure to the site of my memory banks is not necessarily a completely pleasant sensation.  I’ve found that sticking my toe in the California memory banks can be a complicated, confusing experience.  I’ve enjoyed my time visiting California in the past.  It has been wonderful to spend time with my friends and do activities that were part of my entertainment life when I lived there.  Still, there has always been this sort of nagging gray haze hanging over me when I was there.  I put it down to the idea that everything is so familiar to me that it doesn’t really feel like an adventure or an exotic vacation, but nothing is still familiar enough to me to make it feel like home.  It is very disorienting.  I don’t let it impede my enjoyment of the trip.  I just kind of go with it, but it is a weird feeling.

I was more hesitant about this trip than about other ones, oddly enough.  It was not that I didn’t want to go, but I did feel a certain apprehension.  This time would be my first trip back after my mother passed away, except for last January when I went back to scatter her ashes.  That trip was kind of all about her, even though she wasn’t with us in this life any more.  This time, the trip was about Max and me.  In my anticipation, though, I was more afraid of the memories than I have ever been. 

It might have been because we were going to Laughlin during this trip.  Although Max and I used to go to Laughlin now and then when we lived in California, it was more a place that was part of my history with my mother.  We made several girls’ trips there.  We would pack up the car, head east, and spend a few days just hanging out.  We would eat, sit by the pool, go to an occasional show, shop, ride the water taxi on the river, and just bask in some “us” time.  My mother enjoyed Laughlin and she enjoyed being with me.  I think a lot of the reason she enjoyed our trips to Laughlin so much, though, was a real “mom” reason.

You see, my mom always thought I worked too hard, became too tightly wound, and lived at a pace that was much too rapid.  She was probably right, but I’m not sure there was any alternative to any of that while I was still employed.  She was wise enough to know that nothing she could say was going to change any of it.  She had a sneaky little plan to lure me away from that fast-paced world once a year or so.  She would simply suggest a trip to Laughlin. She knew I would agree to take her because I loved her and wanted to make her happy.  In her mind, if I took her to Laughlin, I’d be forced to slow down and ease up.  Manipulating me into spending two or three days with her by the river, living at the much slower pace required by her age and infirmities, was her strategy for nurturing me.  Truth?  It worked. 

Laughlin reminds me how much I was loved. I was afraid that going back to Laughlin would remind me that the love is gone. 

The trip turned out to be great.  For the first time, I did not get that sense of disorientation that I’ve had every other time.  The gray haze was gone.  Nothing felt sinister or wounded.  I remembered the happy times with real pleasure.  For the first time, I felt like I could be part of the California world and the Florida world without experiencing a psychotic break.  Max had a lot to do with that.  He is always good to me, but he seemed to be making it his particular mission to take care of me during this trip… to find ways of delighting me and making the time special. 

And Laughlin was wonderful.  I thought often of my mother. I re-experienced the warmth and joy of our memories together at the river.  As I looked out of our hotel window at the river, I could feel her smiling at me.  I cried once or twice, but I was so happy.  I felt such overwhelming gratitude to have had those times with my mother and to be able to relive them in my mind and heart.  I learned there is nothing to fear from my memories of being loved so much.  That love is not gone, after all.

Is there a particular place that spurs memories for you of a deceased loved one? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at

Have a memorable day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Second Christmas

I woke up this morning with a heart so heavy it felt like it was dangling lethargically somewhere in the vicinity of my left kidney.

Everyone says that the first year after losing a loved one is the hardest. I can certainly understand that. All through the tail end of 2017 and 2018, the “firsts” bombarded me. I experienced my first birthday without my mother. I experienced my first Christmas holiday season without my mother. I experienced my first Mother’s Day without my mother. I experienced August 22, which was my mother’s birthday, for the first time without her. I experienced the first anniversary of her death.

In addition, there were many challenging activities related to her death that I had to plow my way through in that first year. I told friends and relatives of her passing. I arranged for her cremation. I packed up her personal items from the nursing facility. I scattered her ashes. I applied for life insurance proceeds. I closed out her affairs.

Now that I am in the second year of orphanhood, I expected life to get a little easier to bear. For the most part, I think it has. It has been a year filled with a certain harshness that has been hard to overlook. On the other hand, it has been a year of great satisfaction in some ways. I’ll be writing more about that next week.

However, the Christmas season this year has been much harder on my psyche than I thought it would be. At first, the sadness surprised me, but I came to realize it makes perfect sense.

Last Christmas, I expected to miss my mother bitterly. I knew I would feel bereft and broken. In a world where most people love Christmas, my mother was a uniquely committed Yule-a-phile. She never met a Christmas decoration she didn’t like. She purchased truckloads of presents. She gathered her family to her heart like toys in Santa’s sleigh and draped us with holly. She let her wacky side run wild, embracing oddball traditions and creating serendipitous surprises.

People who know me would say that description sounds a lot like me. Trust me, the angel doesn’t fall far from the Christmas tree. I am only a faded carbon copy of my mother and her addiction to all things ho-ho-holiday.

Strangely, I floated through the holiday season last year without unbearable pain. There certainly were times when I was sad, but, for the most part, I managed well. I was easy on myself, anticipated moments of grief, and allowed my Christmas season to be gentler and more peaceful than usual. I cocooned myself in the warmth of that gentleness and enjoyed that kind of Christmas. It wasn’t that I tried to avoid celebrating Christmas because the whole holiday thing reminded me too much of my loss. I just settled into enjoying simplicity and doing whatever felt appealing in the moment.

Last year, my mother’s death was still so fresh. I felt shell shocked. I was processing my grief through a veil of relief that my mother wasn’t suffering anymore and that the job of accompanying her as she died little by little was finally done. I think my psyche was more wrapped up in the close of that painful chapter than in the close of the entire book of my mother’s life. I was so glad to turn the page that I didn’t fully experience the sinister finality of slamming of the book’s cover.

This year, the finality of the loss has had time to resurface in my brain. I am no longer as vague and relieved as I was last year. I just miss my mom being with me and doing the things we used to do. As a result, this holiday season has felt much sadder. And I think that is a good thing.

One of my biggest fears when my mother was ill was that all the difficult times and suffering were overlaying the lifetime of joyful memories I had with my mother. I felt like I was not only losing my mother in death, but that I was losing who she had always been in life because I could no longer fully experience the joyful memories. If you’d like to read more about that fear, you can visit my blog post I Miss My Momma. You can access that post by clicking this link:

I Miss My Momma

I think my sadness in this holiday season has to do with the joyful memories returning to take their rightful place in my mind and heart. You can’t miss what you don’t know, right? I think the fact that I am sad that my mother isn’t here to “do Christmas” with me means that I am remembering and cherishing the times we had when we were together. I’m okay with that. There is nothing that can change the fact that my mother died. There is nothing that can change the fact that most everyone will go through the death of one or more parents in their life. There is nothing that can change the fact that it is sad when we miss the people we love. Since there is nothing we can do to change any of that, I’d much rather be sad sometimes than forgo the joy of remembering and re-experiencing the happy times!

To all of you are experiencing loss this Christmas, may you be blessed with peace, hope, and joy.  That is what Christmas really means.  In a Christian perspective, it is about the beginning of our redemption by Jesus.  In a secular perspective, it is about allowing the warmth and love of this world to fill your heart and comfort you.  Please allow my warmth and love for you travel through cyberspace to fill your heart and comfort you.


Terri/Dorry 🙂




Reader Neki commented that it sounded like my last year with my mother was extra special. When I read Neki’s comment, it caused me to reflect. While I was living that last year, I don’t know that I would have described it so. Living that year at my mom’s side was the most painful and most arduous thing I’ve done in my entire life. There were many times when I felt like the pressure of the grief and the stress were unbearable. In reality, though, Neki was absolutely right. That time with my mother was extra special.

As difficult as this past year has been, I would not have had it any other way. If my mother’s fate was to suffer a stroke and decline so heartbreakingly towards the end of her life, I wanted to travel that path with her. Whatever support I could give, I wanted to give. Whatever comfort I could provide, I wanted to provide. Whatever shared joy we could find, I wanted to find with her. The time and effort I spent with her in the past year was my gift to her, but it truly was also a gift to me.

Now that my mother is gone, I am a bit disoriented. The time I used to spend with her and taking care of her needs is now empty. I have a new-found and somewhat unwelcome freedom.

I’m not quite sure how to navigate this new life condition. I feel a bit tender and tentative, as if I am dipping my toe into the water of the part of my life that is all about me. In the days since my mother death, I grasp wildly for activity. I’ve started the processes to finalize my mom’s administrative matters. I’ve gone through most of her possessions. I’ve sent thank you notes to people who sent cards and flowers. My house is cleaner than it has ever been. I plunged myself into a new life filled with new events, new people, and new thoughts. I initiated outings with friends. I began accepting every invitation offered me. I signed up to join a women’s group at the church. I began preparations to survive Hurricane Irma in a manic frenzy, despite my absolute certainty that I would die in the storm. Max and I took a trip to Las Vegas. I’ve been planning a trip to New England to see the fall foliage next autumn. I seem to flit from one activity to another without ever stopping to let my feet touch the ground… or to take a breath.

I do want to try new things now that I have some more free time, but I think this busy-ness is more about not wanting to sit still and feel than it is about expanding my horizons.

The truth is that the hole my mother left in my life is so huge that I am afraid of falling into it. If I stop and stare at that hole, I am sure that it will suck me into its emptiness and I will never recover. My mother was all about light and happiness. Her absence leaves darkness and grief. If I am to honor her memory, it is important that I look beyond this present darkness and grief to find the love she left behind. I can use that love to live in a way that would bring her joy. I can and will be her legacy of light.

The thing is… I’m not quite ready to do that yet. I am still too vulnerable to the darkness to risk getting too close to that empty hole. After so much sadness for so long, my strength is depleted and needs rest to be replenished. So I keep moving and doing, propelling myself far away from the emptiness. I’m sure I will eventually be able to find a better balance between activity and introspection. When that happens, I know I’ll find a way to live more beautifully and meaningfully than I ever have because my mother showed me how. I’ll know my mom will be smiling down on me from Heaven.

In the meantime, I think I’ve earned a little distraction!

What do you think?  Does a whirlwind of activity help us heal after losing someone?  Or is it just a whirlwind of activity?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at

Have a pleasantly busy day!

Terri 🙂