Sunday, September 4, 2011

Places that Heal

This summer as I watched my 7-year-old splash in Lake Michigan's frothy surf I was overcome with just how lucky we are and how grateful I am to these unsalted waters. They've tamed many aches and always washed hope back up on the shore.

It was this beach where Rick and I decided that we'd tell medical reality to go to hell and dove in headfirst to finally become parents. This is also where we weathered the storms that arose along that journey, always keeping an eagle eye focused on the horizon and the final goal of holding the hand of our very own child. I'll never forget the first time we brought Connor to this beach...the wind on his face made him laugh. It was so healing.

We experienced a blur of loss later that year when my father and brother died. As spring dawned, it was this beach where we returned. It is the perfect place to scream in anger and pound the waves without harming yourself or alarming the neighbors.

We returned with our mom several times over the next couple of years. Often helping her make the seemingly impossible climb down the dune stairs to the beach to revel in the splendor of the setting sun. This view always filled even our broken hearts with the possibility that tomorrow would come and bring beauty and joy. Truly healing.

My younger sisters and I were with our mom on our annual beach getaway when we realized that she was struggling with a serious health issue. There we were in the place we turned for healing, facing a challenge that seemed surreal. We laugh now at our inept bravado as we sat on the deck of my brother's beach house, drinking coffee and mulling what was happening with mom...and one of us had the audacity to say, "God wouldn't do that to us or to her, and if anything happens to mom we're just moving to the beach and putting our heads in the sand."

Mom died in January. The beach was frozen solid and the sand had rearranged the landscape and left a jagged profile in its wake. We kept our heads up and continued with our lives.

That summer we stared at the sunsets and swore we could hear our mom's voice marveling at the beauty. The waves had returned the beach to a sugar soft runway for our children's games. It was a place of healing yet again.

Now, when I swim in those waters and toss a ball on that beach with my sweet little boy, I am overcome by what a sacred place it is for us. It may be littered with tears and broken hearts, but it is certainly also shored up with moments of pure joy and the absolute confidence that life may ebb and flow, but it leaves a lasting memory in its wake.

Soon, our healing place will play host to one of those moments of hope and happiness. Later this month, surrounded by a small group of supporters, my baby sister and her love will marry on our beach and join their families in a lifetime of shared emotion.

They will stand on that beach and absorb the power of all that beauty and healing and transform it into a vow to each other and their children. We will stand united on that beach and allow ourselves to be transfixed by the glory of the setting sun and its promise of another tomorrow...for the bride and groom...and for everyone who has ever needed healing. For everyone who has ever turned to this place where God himself painted the sky and suffused the waters with such glory and peace.

Addendum (9/26/2011): They did it! Marcia and Dave were married on our beach Saturday, September 24, 2011. What a happy, spectacular event for them. We all felt honored to be invited to witness their joyful ceremony. And, really, nothing can convey all of that better than a couple of snapshots (credit to my sister Colleen Fitzgerald for the photos).