Alif's parents own a couple of time-shares, so they sometimes get opportunities to preview other time-shares to see if they'd like to buy in to them. They invited us along on their most recent trip so we could celebrate Alif's 34th Birthday in style. We stayed at a beautiful resort at Avila Beach. As soon as I heard about this trip I got a little nervous. Avila Beach is right next door to Shell Beach, where my Grandparents lived. I hadn't been over there in quite a while - my last trip was to help clear out the house after we had moved them both to nursing homes in town. Even then it was a time of grieving. I have so many cherished memories of this quaint little beach town.
A lot has happened since that last trip. Both of my Grandparents have passed on. Their old house was torn down and a new one built in its place. How could I face driving through Shell Beach, seeing this new house, knowing my Grandparents are really really GONE?
The drive over was both soothing and painful. The familiarity of it was like a punch in the gut, over and over, but also comforting. I told Alif as we drove, "I would like to take a photographic trip over here, where I can stop any time something strikes me. It wouldn't be about the beach and everything, it would just be a way to document this trip, this place." He, in all of his emotionally sensitive splendor, said, "I'll let you do that." I thought, "Pbbt!" but then - hey, maybe I will. Maybe Mom and Megan and I could take a little photographic trip over here, stay in the Apple Farm like we always wanted to, and then compile our efforts into a big Shutterfly photobook to treasure. (Mom? Megan? Want to?)
As we got closer Alif asked where I'd like to go first. I said I didn't know but ultimately it came down to me. I said I'd like to go to Shell Beach, dreading it even as I said it. How it hurt to see the Shell Beach exit, the Welcome to Shell Beach sign, all the familiar businesses and streets. Tears trickled down as I saw that the city has built a cool new playground at one end. It's changed! It's not exactly the same as the last time I was here! By the time we reached my Grandparents' old street, the tears were streaming down. Mom was right, though - I was pleasantly surprised at the new house built on their lot. It looks like an upgraded version of what used to stand in its place. There was a young woman gardening in the front yard and a young man standing in the driveway, chatting with his neighbor. They're really, really gone. They no longer walk these streets, arm in arm.
Alif asked where I'd like to park for beach access and I said, "this is so much harder than you might think. Let's please just go down to that new park." I pulled myself together and the kids had a lovely time and thought the new park was awesome. After that we left Shell Beach, thankfully, and headed into Avila. I took the kids swimming in the hotel pool, and then we had dinner on the pier in Avila at a nice, unfamiliar restaurant. When we got back to the hotel I took Malachi into the bedroom and hugged him. He was being so attitude-ish. I told him that we all have bad days sometimes, and is there something he would like to talk about? He said no and looked grumpy. I told him, "You know what, honey? On the way in here today, I had to have a nice, long cry in the car. It was so overwhelming to me to drive in to a place so familiar to me and to know that my Grandparents are gone now. I really miss them." Wow, was I shocked when he started bawling. I haven't seen him cry that hard in a long, long time. I asked if he was missing them too and he nodded. I held him there for a long time and then asked if he'd like some time to be alone. He said he would. I was so sad for him feeling that way, but so grateful too that he DOES carry a strong memory of them, of this place that mean so much to me.
The next morning we went out to the beach and like the soft waves pouring in, my grief set in again. Visions of my Grandparents walking along the street, the stores they used to frequent, the restaurants. Having a familiar, loving place to visit when we went to the beach. Everything we did, everything anyone said, evoked some memory very precious to me. Alif asked if I'd like to take a nap with him and I thought of that big oak bed upstairs, those white curtains we pesky cousins once dropped out onto the grass and stained green, the view onto their backyard from the upstairs window, plants calling to be watered, an old water pump waiting for little hands to work it again. Oh, Lord, how can it all be gone? This is unbearable! I miss them too much!
That afternoon we drove in to San Luis to visit the mission there and gather information for Malachi's 4th-grade mission project. I dreaded seeing some little shop where my Grandma loved to look at fabrics or something but didn't and felt very thankful. My last memories of the San Luis farmer's market were just of Alif & I. It was a nice afternoon, feeling somewhat emotionally steady and really enjoying the mission and the information we received there.
Then we took one last trip down to the beach. I walked slowly with Canaan as he chased the seagulls and picked up treasures of driftwood, seaweed or rocks. Alif & Fred walked along behind the big kids as they darted in and out of the water, climbed rocks, stashed their own little treasures into a big blue grocery bag. Canaan sat and I sat next to him, combing through the sand like I did as a little girl, looking for polished little bits of white shells. The wave came over me again: They're really not here, Lord. They're really with you, and I'm glad they are but this hole is so BIG. I can't stand it, Lord, I can't stand it. I can't face that they're gone from this place. In that moment, with my kids around me and my husband strong and sure, and the sun setting, birds soaring overhead, waves crashing in higher now, smooth stones glistening, God spoke clearly to my heart:
God with us
so close to us
God with us
I sang that refrain over and over, this time like a soothing, calming wave over my heart. My Grandparents aren't my security. Their home wasn't my security either. Even my own parents, husband, children aren't my security. God is my safe place, and he is with me wherever I go, whatever path my feet may travel, whatever place I call home. I know that mourning my Grandparents will take time, but I am so thankful that I can choose to live in the security that God is with me.