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On grief

Each and every day you live your life like millions of other people in the world. You get up, eat breakfast, go to work and run errands. You make an effort to eat well, exercise; you make plans for the weekend.

Then one day, when you least expect it, life skids out of control like a car on wet pavement. When the careening finally stops and you realize that you’re still alive, you take a look around to find that nothing will ever be the same. It feels like you’ve been catapulted into a parallel universe; the people around you continue about their usual business without realizing that a major disturbance has taken place. You want to yell, “Why aren’t you paying attention? Don’t you see what’s happened?” But you’re too filled with shock and grief to realize this isn’t their battle to fight, it’s yours.

I was living my life like everyone else when things took a sudden turn. In a period of less than four weeks I’d been scheduled for a complete hysterectomy, lost my job, and held the hand of my best friend as she slipped away from this world. Life as I’d once known it was gone. I found myself profoundly depressed; I couldn’t shake the despair long enough to enjoy the simplest cleansing breath.

A friend reached out and gave me this advice: Feel the warmth of the sun; appreciate the cycle of life, and all of its anomalous circumstances, compensation, beauty, simplicity and complexity. Life is good, my friend; please come back to it. I understood and appreciated what she was telling me. I needed to sift through the muck clouding my heart and head and reconnect with the beauty that was surrounding me. Whenever I long to feel nurtured, my first instinct is to head to the mountains and get lost in nature, but at that moment it was the ocean that was calling to me. My husband arranged to take a few days off work and we decided to take a short trip to the Florida Panhandle.

One balmy evening, a few days into our trip, my husband and I decided to take a walk on the beach. We strolled silently, enjoying the solitude of our surroundings until I spotted a dark object on the surf. It was too dark to see what it was, but large enough to stop us in our tracks; the form coming to shore was roughly four feet long by three feet wide. We walked closer, watching as it painstakingly inched its way onto the beach. I leaned in toward my husband and whispered, ‘Is that what I think it is?’ He didn’t answer, but we both knew what it was: a female Loggerhead sea turtle coming to shore to lay her eggs.
Female Loggerheads travel to many of Florida’s beaches during nesting season. Once they reach shore, they use their flippers to laboriously dig a hole deep enough to deposit anywhere from 75 to 100 eggs, then cover the nest with sand. Then, they turn and push their way back out to sea. They do all of this under the cover of night, however, evidence of their presence can be easily spotted on the sand the following morning.

It looks something like this.

Loggerhead sea turtles can weigh up to 300 pounds. Here, you can see signs of one pushing herself across the sand with her flippers in search of the perfect nesting spot.

It’s uncommon to witness a sea turtle coming to shore, but here she was, a mere 30 feet in front of us, struggling against the sand as the waves crashed around her. We slowly moved to sit where we stood, hoping not to disturb or frighten her, and watched her in awe under the moonlight. I thought about how far she traveled – hundreds, even thousands of miles to continue the cycle of life. As she deposited her eggs I remembered reading that only one in one-thousand hatchlings survive to adulthood. I thought about how precious life was, how beautiful she looked and how incredibly lucky we were that she allowed us to share such a personal moment with her.

My mind started wandering to thoughts of Patty, whom I was missing terribly. During the last year of her life she knew that her time was growing shorter. She often said to me, ‘If I left this earth tonight I’d die a happy woman. I have wonderful memories and have known some wonderful people. I’ve enjoyed my life, and feel very fortunate.’ My thoughts drifted back to the turtle. I was in the midst of dealing with death and new life was happening before my eyes. Tears began to flow, though they weren’t coming from the sorrowful place I’d been in; they were tears of understanding and acceptance.

Humans suffer loss in many different ways. We mourn broken friendships; the loss of pets, the end of marriages, and the death of those whom we cannot imagine our lives without. We wonder how we will carry on; I wondered how I would carry on with all of the changes happening in my life, but then I’d shift my focus back to the turtle on the sand and allowed peace to wash over me.

After nearly an hour and a half and her mission complete, the sea turtle used what little energy she had left and made her way back across the beach; she slipped into the water around 12:45 AM.

I walked up behind her as she was about to disappear and took this photograph.

Early the next morning we notified the proper authorities who came and marked the nest, tamping stakes into the ground and surrounding the area with orange tape. They attached a sign to the site as a warning that it wasn’t to be disturbed. We thanked the team of volunteers for their time and effort, and one of them asked if we’d be interested in adopting the nest. Along with a certificate and an open line of communication regarding the progress of the nest, we eagerly accepted with the standard $25 donation and asked that it be dedicated in honor of Patty’s memory.

I recently read a passage on grief. I cannot remember where I read it, but in essence it stated that grief is nature’s way of helping us cope with the loss we have experienced; through it, we learn to take all the love we have for the person we’ve lost and reinvest it in those living around us. I take comfort in that statement, and on that magical night, felt my heart overflow with love for that precious turtle; she gifted me with a deeper appreciation for the cycle of life and reminded me how delicate and beautiful it truly is.

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