This was written and submitted by Chloe McGuire.
Just a few weeks before my son died, my husband and I took a vacation to a resort in Puerto Rico. It was supposed to be our “last hurrah” before our lives totally changed and became consumed with being parents.
It was an amazing trip, one we will never forget. We had honeymooned at this same resort only two years before, and it was the perfect destination for our last vacation as a couple. Well, we thought it w
The days of our honeymoon were spent snorkeling, boating, hiking, sightseeing until our feet throbbed, and drinking margaritas and pina coladas. On our second trip, we simply walked on the beach, our fingers entwined, and talked excitedly about the future that awaited us, so full of promise and joy. We scooped up shells by the handfuls, dumped them into our beach bag, then spent warm evenings on our patio picking through them as the sun set, choosing special shells to place in bowl in our soon-to-be-born son’s nursery. We both grew up near the beach, we both love the beach, and we talked about how our son would grow up with that same love. We envisioned our vacation the next summer, the three of us building sand castles and taking photographs of waves splashing over us. We wondered if he would be frightened by the waves, if he would make funny faces when he was splashed by salt water. We wondered if he would leave the beach hat on that we purchased for him in a souvenir shop one night after dinner or if he would yank it off, giggling, exposing his sweet bald head to the sun’s scorching rays. We were so secure in the future of our family that when we checked out at the end of our glorious vacation, we booked the same room for the same week the next summer, telling the hotel employees that the next time they saw us, we would be pushing a stroller.
How swiftly life changes.
How swiftly dreams and hopes and joys wash away like footprints left too close to the surf.
How swiftly life changes, transforms.
One day, you are walking on the beach, one hand held gently in the hand of your beloved, your other hand resting on the swell of your son who grows within you as warm waters gently splash over your feet. A few days later, your hand is once again held in the hand of your beloved, although not so gently. It is held so tightly it hurts while you scream sounds you never imagined you would scream as you hear those words, “I am so sorry, there is no heartbeat. Your son has died.”
How swiftly life changes.
How swiftly your dreams of the future wash away, though not like footprints your feet leave on the sand. Footprints on the sand wash away without a trace, leaving a smooth, pristine surface behind with no evidence the footprints ever existed. Dreams of the future aren’t so easily erased. Dreams of the future with your baby are more like footprints left in concrete that slowly hardens, that are there forever. Nothing can wash them away.
After our son’s death and birth, I worried that the beach would be forever tainted for me. I often went into his room and gazed at the crystal clear bowl of shells that I had tied a sandy-colored ribbon around and placed on a shelf the morning we went to the doctor to have our world shattered. Those shells were gathered when we were blissfully happy, and I never was sure if I wanted to throw them away or hold them in my hands.
The months bled into one another, and we eventually remembered the vacation we had scheduled months before, the vacation we planned with our new baby. Just the thought of it took my breath away, but my husband insisted. He convinced me that a trip to the beach would be healing, but all I wanted to do was stay home under the covers. I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly be healing to go to the place we had been such a short time ago dreaming about our son and the beautiful vacations we would have over the years. We even imagined that the beach would become so special to our son as he grew that we would continue to vacation there when we were grandparents.
I gave in to my husband’s wishes. He had been so wonderful to me in the months since our son had died, putting his own needs aside to tend to mine, and I felt I owed him this gift. A strange thing happened, and he was right. The flight to the resort was turbulent in more ways than one, and walking into the lobby nearly brought on a panic attack. We settled into our room, the same room we had enjoyed so much the previous year, and I walked onto the deck, the sea breeze blowing my hair away from my face, and I felt a peace unlike anything I had felt since our son’s death. I closed my eyes, breathing the salty air in gulps.
It’s been 5 years since our first son died, and we have since been blessed with another son. Each year, the same week, we return to the resort in Puerto Rico that once held so many of our dreams along with so many of our heartaches. We have made many beautiful memories there with our son, and we envision creating many more over the years. Each year, we take photographs of our feet in the sand and another of the water washing the footprints away. The bowl full of shells sits on a shelf in our family room along with a photograph of a sunset we took on that last trip before our world came crashing down around us.
Some people have told us they can’t understand how we can continue to go to a place that must hold such unhappy memories. But for us, we can’t NOT return there because so much of our lives, our hearts, our very history are connected to that beach.