I buried my mother a week ago today. She died the previous Sunday after a
long struggle with dementia, complicated by diabetes and heart disease. The
five days between her death and burial were a blur of telephone calls,
meetings, paperwork, and the constant inflow and outflow of relatives.
When it was all over, the last casserole eaten, the Thank-You notes written,
and the out-of-state siblings out the door, I did what I always do when grief
presses down on me: I went to The Coast. (I have a close friend who lives in a
small beach town about an hour south of San Francisco. She says that only
"inlanders" say "The Coast." When you live at or near the
ocean, you say "the beach." Well, I live in eastern Washington State,
and while my state borders the Pacific Ocean, it takes me a good six hours to
reach either the Washington or the Oregon coast. So I say, "The
The Balm Of The Beach
I did no planning except to secure a pet-friendly room so I could take my dog.
The morning I left home, I checked the weather forecast as I headed out the
door. It called for five straight days of rain. I threw in a raincoat and an
umbrella. Fine, I figured. Rain and clouds and gloom will suit my mood just
fine. I'll sit in my bungalow and drink strong hot coffee and look out at the
rain pelting the sand and the waves crashing on the shore. I'll watch DVDs and
read and take long, wet walks and try not to think about Mom.
But the weatherman was wrong.
Wide sandy flat beach.
Came expecting springtime rain --
The sun shone every day of my trip -- some days weak and milky, other days
July-dazzling -- a real anomaly for spring at the Oregon Coast. It was
impossible to stay indoors.
Mornings dawn foggy,
Damp gray memories threaten.
Thin sunshine burns through.
Mornings were usually gray, as they tend to be at The Coast. Each day, I
would brew my coffee, stare at what threatened to become a grim, dark, wet day,
and prepare for a good, old-fashioned wallow in self-pity. Then the sun would
come out again, and my dog would agitate for a walk, and off we'd go, strolling
miles of uncrowded, midweek beach.
Poetry And Philosophy
It's hard not to be philosophic at the beach. Try as I might to block out all
but the most immediate sensations -- warmth, breeze, salt air, hunger,
sleepiness -- eventually my thoughts would turn to The Big Picture, to the
overriding metaphor of tides and the passage of time. I was determined not to
write, not to make any attempts to process my grief or my mother's passage in
the feeble medium of words, but the relentless march of syllables kept trekking
across my brain, mostly in the form of tidy little haikus.
Shifting sands, tides come,
Tides go, nothing permanent.
But Twin Rocks stand firm.
The monoliths off the Oregon Coast are iconic. They are a photographer's
dream and an easy target for a poet. The shorebirds come and go, making their
nests on them. The waves batter them; the tides rise and fall against them. But
year after year, as I return to The Coast, there they are: Twin Rocks, Haystack
Rock, and all the other named and nameless crags emerging from the sea just
The Heart Of The Matter
Eventually, of course, no matter how hard I tried, my thoughts would return to
my mother. She who dragged not one, not two, but SIX children on camping trips
to the mountains and to the ocean. She who showed me my first sand dollar,
baked the salmon my father caught, and held my head when I got seasick from
going out in wretched little boats on the open ocean.
Shovels, buckets, sandy shoes:
Mom took SIX kids to the coast.
Is that love or lunacy?
I've often marveled at my mother's willingness to drag her large brood
around and make sure we saw the wonders of nature. But as I let my Irish Wolfhound
off his leash and watch him run along the foamy margins of the shore, perhaps I
get an inkling of the love she felt for us, a love that transcends the
momentary mess we stirred up.
Big dog, shaggy hair,
Sand and salt spray everywhere.
Hole in my heart filled.
Is it OK to let my love for a four-legged companion fill a part of the void
left by my mother's passing? My mother's eulogy, obituary, and memorial service
included as many references to her pets as her children. She was buried wearing
a necklace with a carved ivory Samoyed dog, with a photo of her cat in her
purse, and with a silver wolf pinned to her lapel. I think Mom would
Sally O'Neal Coates is a travel writer whose "Trailside with
Sally O'Neal Coates" has appeared weekly at The Sportsman's Guide website, sportsmansguide.com, for six