Happy Birthday, Mama.
I remember and honor your wishes, Mama; that my siblings and I would be close and get along in your absence and for you to live on in Cannon Beach by having your ashes spread in the Pacific Ocean by Haystack Rock.
I remember the day you were told that the cancer had spread to your brain. I could never forget it. Although, if I am being honest, sometimes I wish I could. Because nobody should ever have to receive that news. Especially not you. And definitely not on your birthday. A death sentence on what is meant to be a day of celebration of life… I will never understand the cruel and unusual games of The Universe. And I will never forget that level of despair I felt (and still feel) for you, for me, and for everyone that knows you and loves you.
I remember when you passed, in addition to finding a place to celebrate and honor your memory, I wanted to find the perfect time that we, as a strong brother-sister unit, could lay you to rest in your favorite place. When I realized your 63rd birthday fell on Good Friday and that we could celebrate you and your favorite holiday all in one weekend, it was a sign – a big, bright, beautifully blinding sign – that I couldn’t turn away from. We HAD to give you the birthday you deserved. I knew we couldn’t give you the one back that you were robbed of, but I knew we could do something to honor and celebrate you the way you are meant to be.
So, we did it. Lisa and I booked flights from ORD to PDX and from EUG to MKE. We booked an Airbnb in Cannon Beach that was not a far walk to Haystack Rock. Michael planned a night out in Eugene for us to meet his friends and an Easter/Birthday Brunch for my sister. We had a weekend planned with places to stay, places to eat, places to meet, and things to do.
But what we didn’t plan for was the raw, real, honest beauty that came with this trip. How could we? You can’t plan for what it would feel like to say your final “See you later” to the woman who birthed you. You can’t plan for the bevy of emotions that come like waves (you also can’t plan for the waves that almost take you out while you’re standing in the ocean throwing flowers into it, but that’s another part of this story). You can’t plan for that and for that, I am grateful. Because to be truly in the moment for every moment? I can’t put what that even feels like into words. All I can tell you is to try it.
But I digress. I know you were there with us, Mama. I could feel you every step of the way. And I can’t thank you enough for that. I have been replaying that weekend, especially your birthday, over and over and over again, in my mind and I knew it was time to get it on paper.
So Here We Are.
And There We Were.
On Thursday, April 18th, buying tulips to make wishes on in your honor. Walking around Cannon Beach discussing the best place to dig the small trench in which we would place your ashes. Embracing the misty gloominess and celebrating the vibrant colors of the foliage and seeing your favorite flower everywhere we turned. Watching Beat Bobby Flay on the Food Network. Laughing our collective faces off throughout the entire day and night. It couldn’t have been a better first day together or a better lead into your birthday.
On Friday, April 19th, your 63rd birthday we got a later start than anticipated. I will admit my slower pace had everything to do with the absolute sadness I felt in the pit of my stomach and in the center of my soul. But we got moving, dressed in our rain-wicking best, and headed to Haystack. We arrived about 7:00 am and walked slowly to our destination. Somewhat somberly, somewhat peacefully, and full of love, we embraced each other and told one another how much we loved each other. We each chose a tulip we wanted to say a prayer/make a wish on for you and we then took a few deep breaths as Michael dug a small trench into the sand. As it slowly filled up with water, I felt a sense of peace and a deeper connection to you than ever. Perhaps it’s the cohesive properties of water, the soothing sound of the ocean waves, or the freshness of the sea air, or ALL of the above, but I felt truly grounded for the first time in my life.
As we took turns gently placing your ashes in the sand, my heart and mind raced. I rapidly thought about all of the things I wanted to apologize for and said I was sorry a million times over in my mind. And then I stopped myself short – this wasn’t about my grief – this was about YOU and your beautiful life and soul and laugh and heart and the imprint you left on everyone you met. I quickly turned my “sorrys” to “thank yous” for all that you have done, all that you are, and everything you continue to do. And I am happy I did because you deserve every last one of them.
We never discussed what we would do after we placed your ashes in the sand. Turns out, we didn’t have to. In unison, we took a few steps back and looked at your sandy grave. Lisa walked up first to say her peace, to herself and you. I was next and then Michael followed suit. We embraced each other and held our flowers as we silently waited for you.
And when you were ready, you brought the tide in. Gently, peacefully, and beautifully your wave washed over your ashes and reached our feet, letting us know you were okay, you were free, and you were on your way. I’ve never experienced peace like that before and I cannot thank you enough for being the reason for it.
As you retreated into the ocean, a small depression from the trench was left in the sand, and moments later the second tide rolled in, smoothing it out and taking the last of you with it. We followed that wave out, walking briskly into the powerful waters, making wishes and saying prayers on our tulips. On the count of three, we said, “I LOVE YOU!” and tossed them into the ocean so they could be with you in the seemingly endless abyss of beautiful water.
Granted, they washed right back up to shore, but we knew that was you fucking with us. And we had a good laugh because of it. We also had a good laugh (and scream) when the third tide rolled in, a bit more fiercely than the others, and almost took us out to the middle of the ocean, soaking us from the waist down. Well played, Mama Wisth. Well played…
The rest of the day panned out just as beautifully. We napped, took in more Food Network, toasted you with a bottle of rosé champagne, and ate and laughed our way through the day; a day that I think would have made you proud; a day that screamed “CINDY WISTH!”; a day that I will never forget. I hope you never forget it too.
I miss you and love you more than words could ever explain. It never gets “easier”; it just gets “different”. The waves of grief have been quite a bit higher since I’ve been home from this trip and of late I feel like I am drowning; but when it gets to be too much, I just close my eyes and wish you a “Happy Birthday” and it brings me right back to that unforgettable day. And for that, among many other things, I am truly grateful. Happy Birthday, Mama.