Island Retreat

A few days ago marked one year since my husband passed away, and my grown children and I, along with their significant others, got away for a few days to one of his favorite spots in Florida.

I’ve heard this one-year point called every thing from “death anniversary” to “angelversary” to, as one crazy widow calls it, a “damniversary”.  [Note:  I am not referring to this widow as crazy; this is actually what she calls herself and her loyal legion of Facebook followers, myself included.]  None of these terms sound quite right to me, though.  An anniversary is meant to be a celebration of sorts and, while we spent the weekend honoring the man he was, we weren’t exactly celebrating.  (In my mind there is a distinction, although as my husband often told me, mine is not a “normal” mind, so there’s always that…)

In any case, we wanted to acknowledge the day, and the fact that it fell on Easter weekend made it especially meaningful as that was my husband’s Name Day in the Greek Orthodox church where he was raised.  So we packed our respective cars and headed out early Sunday morning and drove to Sanibel Island.  We met for a quick lunch, after which we headed to our first “memory spot” (for want of a better phrase), the D.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Just one of the sights at “Ding” Darling Refuge

The first time we went to the wildlife preserve, it had been on a whim, but the kids fell in love with the visitor center (which always included at least a small purchase at their gift shop) and we all enjoyed spotting the various flora and fauna along the nature drive.  Naturally, it became one place we had to visit on nearly every trip, with this being no exception.  It was hot and sticky and somewhat crowded, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying it anyway (although truth be told by the time we were nearing the end we were all just jonesing for something cold to drink).

After a quick stop to grab some refreshments, we headed to our condo to check in, rest and freshen up before dinner.  We chose to eat at one of A’s favorite restaurants, the Bubble Room on Captiva Island, a unique, kitschy eatery decorated in a cross between Christmas and old Hollywood, with antique toys, a working model train and other curios thrown in.  In addition to the childlike atmosphere, A absolutely loved their version of saganaki (kasseri cheese doused in brandy and set on fire, a dish they like to call Socra Cheese – it literally took my addled brain days to finally “get it” and realize it was a play on an ancient Greek philosopher, but I’ll blame the Widow’s Fog, not the blonde factor…).

If you’ve never been, you would do well to add the establishment to your Bucket List, but understand going in that you will receive copious amounts of food and the menu is filled with so many interesting choices it will be hard to choose.  And don’t get me started on the desserts.

After dinner and a quick trip into the gift shop, we returned to the condo where I promptly fell asleep to the sounds of the younger crowd laughing and reminiscing in the living room.  Somewhere around 3:00 a.m., I woke up, unable to sleep any longer and I began to scroll through my Facebook “On This Day” memories while tears streamed down my face.  About halfway through the nearly 250 comments I received last year on a post about my husband, I completely lost it and began to sob.

The Duchess, who herself was having difficulty sleeping, invited me out to the beach.  Soon there were four of us out by the Gulf of Mexico listening to the waves, each of us somewhat lost in our own thoughts and allowing the ocean to heal us.  After awhile – long enough for the sand fleas to eat me alive and cause it to look as though my calves, and calves alone, caught the chicken pox – we drifted back toward our home for the night.  Duchess and I ventured off around 5 a.m. in search of some caffeine after which I found myself the only one still awake.

IMG_0992I grabbed my coffee, my camera, and my cell phone and returned to the water’s edge to watch the sun rise.  It was just me, the ocean, the rising sun and the sandpipers.  As the sky got brighter, there were more visitors wandering the shoreline, but initially I was able to speak freely to my husband and allow my thoughts to wander.

After awhile, I abandoned my belongings and my shoes on the sand and wandered into the retreating surf to look for shells.  In case you weren’t aware, Sanibel Island has arguably the best shelling opportunities in North America, giving rise to the condition known as the “Sanibel Stoop”.  At all hours of the day (but especially at low tide) you can spot dozens of beachgoers wandering around hunched over at the waist in search of the perfect shell.

While I stood there in knee-deep water (a welcome relief to my itchy calves), it occurred to me that my method for shell-searching was very much like my approach to grieving and life in general.  While common sense tells you that it would be easier or simpler to wait for the tide to go out and then pick gingerly through the literally thousands of shell fragments along the shore to find those tiny, unbroken treasures to gather and cherish, I chose to get right into the heart of things long before the water fully retreated, eyes scanning the churning sand for the larger, more elusive ones. These are the shells that are still light enough to be tossed about by the waves but too heavy to actually make their way to shore intact.

So I stood there, my clothes becoming increasingly drenched by the minute, periodically reaching my hand in to quickly grasp at the dark patches that may or may not have actually been shells.  Sometimes I would miss what I was aiming for and others I would retrieve a rock, clump of sand or seaweed, or perhaps a large, unwanted clam shell.  Other times, I would recover the type of shell I was searching for but it would be broken or occupied (like this

<p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> <a href="; style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_blank">Found the #perfectshell but it was occupied and I had to let him go… @sanibel.island #sanibelstoop #shelling #liveconch</a></p> <p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;">A post shared by Cheri G (@manyfacesofcherig) on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2017-04-17T12:23:23+00:00">Apr 17, 2017 at 5:23am PDT</time></p></div></blockquote> //” target=”_blank”>conch shell I found). Several times, however, I was able to latch onto exactly what I was looking for, amassing a small collection of beautiful shells to bring home.

A couple of times, my back was to the water and I would get knocked in the behind by a rogue wave.  Each time, it made me laugh, look to the sky and shake my head, thinking “you brat!”  My husband always was a butt guy, and I could just picture him taking perfect aim and smacking me a good one when I wasn’t looking.

When I finally had my fill, I collected my belongings and headed back to the condo where our gang tidied up and headed out for breakfast at my husband’s favorite spot for breakfast on the island, The Island Cow.  Although he loved the spot mainly for their outdoor seating, we didn’t want to wait the 30-45 minutes and chose to sit inside.  Everything there is delicious and the atmosphere is so relaxed.  I do feel sorry for our waiter who I think felt responsible for my outburst of tears when I had to send my omelette back for having onions.  I assure you (and him) the two issues were unrelated; I was simply having an emotional moment.

We spent the remainder of the day wandering in and out of some of the shops on the

An especially meaningful sign spotted while we enjoyed our ice cream.  (Yet another tear-inducing moment…)

island, on the beach, and having ice cream at Pinocchio’s (the best ice cream! I suggest Sanibel Krunch)  before finally grabbing dinner at our favorite “on-the-way-off-the-island” food stop, Schnapper Hots.  Although we were a bit disappointed that they no longer serve the pizza we loved to grab, we were more than happy they still have the fresh french fries we knew and loved.

IMG_0994We took our mix-and-match meal out to the Sanibel Causeway where we parked in “our spot” and ate at one of the picnic tables that dot the shoreline there before laying out a blanket and alternately sitting down to rest or wandering the water’s edge in search of more shells.

As the sun was sinking (although the day got progressively more overcast and it was less sunset and more darkening skies), we finally took turns individually sprinkling a dusting of ash* from the tiny urn that resides in my car console along with the rubber male and female Menehune my husband always rearranged into compromising positions.  We cried separately and together, clinging to one another like shipwrecked sailors to the sinking ship.

Those few moments were the condensed version of the whole weekend – laughing, IMG_1004crying, remembering and healing.  We spent time together, individually, in pairs or small groups and reminisced about all the previous trips to the same little sanctuary.  There were a lot of “Daddy-loved-this-places”, “remember-whens”, and “the-last-time-we-did-thises”.  There was pain and emptiness but always surrounded by joy and laughter and most importantly, love.

It was the first of what we hope will be annual excursions to places both that A loved or that he wanted to visit with our expanding family.  He always wanted to travel with his children and grandchildren.  I’m not sure this was what he meant (and it certainly wasn’t what I expected), but we have to be flexible and work with what we’re dealt.  Much like the shells that are tossed about by the ocean, we must sometimes allow ourselves to change course lest we shatter into bits trying to reach the shore.  Sometimes the ocean knows best.

© 2017  Many Faces of Cheri G  All Rights Reserved

[*Before you chastise me for “illegally” spreading ashes, please be aware that between us, it may have been a tablespoon’s worth.  Possibly.  I’m certain there are much worse (i.e. harmful) things that get dumped into that water and certainly in larger quantities.  We in no way polluted the ocean.]

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