I had never experienced so many emotions come together as they had this weekend and this morning. My heart twisted in and out of itself. We were here fulfilling our mother's last request. We all knew that she wanted to be a part of the beach. She wanted to be free. It felt so odd to already be here in this place, carrying out her last request. About a month before she died we talked about her wish to be taken to Jones Beach.
"Are you sure that's what you want?" I asked her.
"Yes, I want my ashes scattered there," she answered.
We were sitting in her bedroom next to one another on her bed. The soft glow of the television lit her face up. I could see the certainty in her eyes when she answered me. She was so tired and her body hurt for many years. This was the last discussion we would have and I think we both understood that.
"It may take us a few months because we all need to get there," I said. "Is that O.K.?"
She nodded her head and told me that was fine. She just wanted to go home.
For reasons I won't get into, only three of us made it to the beach. My baby sister, Jodie, had a hard time letting go. We all understood and carried her with us in spirit. Even though she wasn't physically there, her heart was with us and at the end of the day, we were a complete family. In total, there were ten of us on that beach; siblings, spouses, and grandchildren all gathered between the fisherman and the birds. The last time we were here together was so long ago that I only remember it in snapshots. My brother was three, I was just over a year old, and Mom was pregnant with my sisters. We had come full circle.
My husband, Cliff, found biodegradable urns and carried out the task of making sure that we each had a piece of Mom to carry to the ocean. The Lord's prayer was said in unison and with love. My sister Jannie and I held hands and walked together into the water with Mom and flowers in hand. The waves crashed up to our waists drenching everything. The water embraced us with a fluid hug. When the next wave came, we gave Mom to the water. Then my brother, Mitch, followed. The flowers and Mom washed back one more time as if to say, "I love you." Then the ocean swept back in and took her forever. We all stood in the water for a few more moments saying goodbye and sending up prayers.
During all of this, one of the most beautiful people that I know was there silently observing and capturing the moment for us all. Film maker and photographer, Natasha Straley joined our family and encapsulated this moment with her camera. I am and will be forever grateful that she was able to come to Jones Beach and be there with us and for us on this journey. It was another reminder of how blessed we are as family.
I can't say that something magical happened for me today but when it was all said and done, a sense of peace came over us all. The heavy burden that I have felt for the last several moths was lifted. I will still grieve for my mother every day. That's just the nature of grief. It has to run its course. For the last three years she was integrated into my life in much of the same way that she was when I was a child. I'm truly grateful for that time. Bringing her home was a privilege and it will be something that I carry with me. It's something we'll all carry with us. I love my family with every fiber of my being and I'm thankful that we could be together. Maybe that's where the magic is.
Rest In Peace Mom. We love you.
JoAnn Debra Almquist
September 14, 1949 - January 23, 2016