Janet drove her Highlander alongside the shops and eateries of Lincoln City's Harbor Boulevard. The road running through town was quiet this time of year. The tourists had left, leaving the hardy coastal residents behind to hunker down for the approaching winter. Heading toward Fogarty, she glanced at the blue marble urn on the passenger seat. This year's pilgrimage to the beach where so much of her past had been defined marked yet another turning point in her life.
Her beloved husband, Neil, would be joining her father, their ashes comingling on the beach she loved. But as far as she was concerned, it was too soon. It was hard to believe he'd been gone almost a whole year. She thought about his last days at Hazelnut before his body gave up and finally quit. It had been a long haul for them the last two months before he passed, and she'd been there for all of it, standing beside his bed, holding his hand, whispering how beautiful he was. But that was the price she'd paid for marrying a man twenty-five years older than her.
“Someday we'll be back together again,” she muttered, because, yes, she'd come to believe there was something beyond this mortal life even though she didn't know what it was. All she knew was that he believed it, and that was all that mattered.
She came to a stoplight. Closed her eyes.
And then there was Megan.
It hadn't been easy to convince her fifty-four-year-old stepdaughter to agree with her plans for today. In the end, she prevailed. The hardest part was persuading Megan to hang back. She knew it wasn't fair, but she couldn't share her final moments with him with anyone, not even his daughter. To make up for it, she gave Megan his journals revealing his hopes and dreams. Perhaps through his words he might reach out from beyond and bring about peace between his children. Maybe someday, she could convince Megan to forgive her brother Trevor from walking out on his father after their mother died. As matriarch of the family, she owed Neil that.
An hour later, she was walking barefoot on the cool, compacted sand as the ocean pounded the shoreline. This was home, the place where her heart had led her to the only man she'd ever loved. And it was also here where she'd made peace with a father she'd desperately sought acceptance from growing up. Carrying the canvas bag holding the remains of her husband, she followed the shoreline of the sprawling beach, contemplating the final letter she'd write to him. There was so much she wanted to say but didn't know how to put it into words.
The fine, watery mist of Fogarty spritzed her face and the wafting brine wrinkled her nose. She inhaled deeply. “I'm back, Dad,” she said to no one, “and I brought someone with me. I'm sure you both have catching up to do. Nate's doing a second tour in Iraq and I'm scared. The world over there is crazy, people hating and killing each other. I wish you were here. If anything were to happen to him, I…” She broke off and fought to contain herself, then turned toward her Altar rock sitting on the bluff. “Anyway, I suppose I should let you two get reacquainted.”
With her hair spraying out behind her, she strode to the grotto nestled in the face of the eroded rock wall buttressing the picturesque town from the sprawling beach. The jutting slab of weathered granite she called her Altar rock stood firm amidst the strewn rocks and boulders banked against the towering bluff. She stopped and looked up at it, felt the sacred rock's powerful draw on her heart then climbed up over the pile of jumbled stones and found her place on its outstretched palm.
Here, she stood with eyes closed and listened to the thrum of the waves and the distant echoes of her past. Right below her, she'd married Neil on a bright, sunny day, and down the beach they'd spent weekend afternoons with Nate building sandcastles and playing Frisbee. She drank the memories in, marinating in them until at last she reached down and drew the urn from the bag. Holding the marble vessel in front of her, she opened it and poured the ashes over the rocks to the sand below.
As she watched them tumble down, her throat tightened. There were no words to express how she felt so she placed the urn back in the bag and sat with her journal, trying to write words that wouldn't come. Finally, she closed the book and held it tight to her chest as the unreachable distance between her and Neil widened further than she thought possible. For the last two years, she'd immersed herself in her work and the running of the local Alzheimer's Association, trying to escape the suffocating loneliness stalking her day and night. Her body quaked, and she buried her face in her hands. “It's so hard without you, baby. I know you want me to be happy, but I don't know how to do it. Please help me,” she rasped, wiping her eyes.
She rocked back and forth under the brooding sky as the wind died and a faint scent of sandalwood danced in the air. She looked up startled and searching the waves, felt something warm on her shoulder. Setting her journal aside, she jumped up knowing it was crazy to believe he was somehow there with her, but she couldn't help wishing it were so. The scent grew stronger and the cover of her journal flipped back. The pages riffed and when she looked down, the book was open. On the page were the paraphrased words of Gibran she'd written shortly after he died.
If I am to hold the spirit of you my love, I must open my heart wide to the body of life.