The Cycle of Life

While sitting in Atlanta International Airport awaiting my connecting flight that would take me to my getaway spot for the next several days I kept telling myself that this trip was not to be squandered.  Somehow, I needed to muster enough willpower to leave thoughts of the past few weeks at home and live in the moment; to distract myself long enough for my mind and body to prepare itself for the next stage in my life.  For a planner and a natural-born worrier like me, that seemed like a tall order to fill. 

Perhaps you feel like I do when recalling a past or present crisis in your life.  Just days or even hours before, you move along living your life like everyone else.  You get up, eat your usual breakfast, go to work and run errands afterwards.  You make an effort to eat well, exercise and have dinner. You spend what is left of the day talking with your family members, make plans for tomorrow and go to bed.  Although sometimes a bit mundane, it’s a routine that you’ve developed and it works for you. 

Then, suddenly – your entire life skids out of control like a car on wet pavement.  When the careening finally stops and you realize that you’re still alive, everything around you is a complete and total wreck.  Have you ever noticed that when Life hits you with a sucker punch it knocks the breath out of you and forces a cold stop, while it continues to move along like nothing ever happened?  It’s like you’ve been shifted onto a parallel universe where the people around you go about their usual business without realizing that everything is different.  You want to yell, “Don’t you see what just happened? Life has stopped, here!” But people continue their ritual of getting out of bed in the mornings while you struggle to touch your feet to the floor.  They eat their usual breakfast while you can barely tolerate a bowl of cereal due to the knot that’s settled in the pit of your stomach.  They go to their jobs; you no longer have one.  Their days pass with not enough time to complete life’s many tasks.  Your day drags on.  And on.  And feels like it will never end.  You’re so consumed in your own grief to see that it’s your life that’s changed, not theirs.  This is your battle to fight.

 

I heard from a dear friend during my time away.  I told her that I was struggling in my attempt at being in the now; I couldn’t shake the despair long enough to enjoy even the simplest cleansing breath.  She gave me in part, this advice:

Feel the warmth of the sun; appreciate the cycle of life, anomalous circumstances, compensation, beauty, simplicity, complexity.  Life is good, my friend. 

I understood and appreciated what she was telling me.  I made the decision that I was going to sift through the muck clouding my heart and head and find the beauty that was surrounding me.  As it turned out, the beauty found me. 

As some of you know, I have a special fondness for Loggerhead Sea Turtles.  They are some of the most beautiful, endangered creatures of the sea.  The last time we were in Florida we arrived at the end of nesting season.  During that time, my husband and I were given GPS coordinates to a turtle feeding ground.  We kayaked to the area a couple of miles off shore and watched as several dozen or so rose to the surface to gather air before plunging back into the depths of the bay.  This year our arrival coincided with the beginning of nesting season.  It’s during this time of year that the female Loggerhead swims to shore and uses all of her energy to make her way to the upper area of the beach where she uses her flippers to laboriously dig a hole deep enough so that she can deposit anywhere from 75 to 100 eggs.  Using her flippers once again she covers the nest with sand and then uses what little energy she has left to push her way back to sea.   It’s uncommon to witness this kind of activity, however if you’re walking the beach at daybreak you can spot evidence of the turtle’s activity from the previous night.  She leaves behind clues in the sand that looks like this:

Around mid-week my husband and I decided to take a walk on the beach.  I didn’t particularly want to go but reluctantly agreed.  It was around 10:30 PM.   We walked silently, enjoying the solitude of our surroundings until I spotted a dark object on the surf.  It was large enough to stop us dead in our tracks – most likely four feet long by three feet wide.  We stood there watching as it slowly worked its way onto the beach.  We looked at each other and I whispered, ‘Is that what I think it is?’  He didn’t answer, but we both knew exactly what it was – a female loggerhead looking to lay her eggs.  We watched in awe as she struggled against the sand, dragging herself to the perfect spot on the beach.  We remained nearby (within 30 feet or so) for almost an hour and a half before she finished covering her eggs with sand and made her way back to the water.

While we sat watching her in silence, I had some time to be alone with my thoughts.  Here was this nearly three hundred pound creature who likely traveled hundreds, even thousands of miles just so that she could offer the gift of life to her offspring even though roughly, only one in 5,000 hatchlings survive to adulthood.  I thought about how incredibly precious her life was; how beautiful she looked and how incredibly lucky we were that she allowed us to share such a personal moment with her. 

Then my mind started wandering to thoughts of Patty.  For the past year or so she often said to me, ‘Ellen, if I died tonight I’d die a happy woman. I have wonderful memories and have known some wonderful people. I’ve enjoyed my life, and feel very fortunate.’  There I was, in the midst of dealing with death while the beginning of life was unfolding before my eyes.  I missed her terribly at that moment, though my tears weren’t coming from the same sorrow I’d been feeling these past 3 weeks.  They were tears of understanding, acceptance.  We all lose people we love in many different ways.  We mourn broken friendships; loss of pets, the end of marriages, and the death of those whom we cannot imagine existing without.  We wonder how we will carry on.  I wondered how I was going to carry on with all of the changes in my life that are happening.  But then I’d shift my focus back to the turtle on the sand, and I felt at peace with it all.

When the sea turtle made her way back across the beach and slipped into the water it was around 12:45 AM.  I walked up behind her as she was about to disappear and took this photograph:

Early the next morning we waited anxiously for the proper authorities to come and mark the nest – tamping stakes into the ground and surrounding the area with orange tape.  They attached a sign to the site as a warning that it isn’t to be disturbed.  We thanked the team of volunteers for their time and effort, and one of them asked if we’d be interested in adopting the nest.  Along with a certificate and an open line of communication regarding the progress of the nest, we eagerly accepted with the standard $25 donation and asked that it be dedicated in honor of Patty’s memory.

 

I recently read a passage on grief.  I cannot remember where I read it, but in essence it stated: 

Grief is nature’s way of assisting us to cope with the loss we have experienced. We learn to take all the love and emotion that we had in the person we have lost and reinvest it in those living around us. 

I take comfort in that statement, and on that night, felt the love and emotion over losing someone dear to me being reinvested into that turtle.  She was a gift.  She gave me a deeper appreciation of the cycle of life and reminded me of how precious it is.

As I await the Memorial Service on Wednesday I know that Patty wouldn’t have tolerated my sadness in this way.  Instead, she would have reminded me to be happy that we had each other for as long as we did. 

For that, I am very happy.    

XO,

~Ellen

35 thoughts on “The Cycle of Life

  1. Jill

    I don’t believe there is a more appropriate or well written article for Memorial Day than this one. I have tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Jill, thank you for reading – and for such a heartfelt statement. I’m glad this article was as meaningful to others as it was to me.

      Reply
  2. Kyra

    What an amazing thing you were able to witness! I’m sorry for the loss you are experiencing, but glad that life is winding its way through the connections that you are witnessing. *hugs*

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Thanks, Kyra. I am working my way through this maze of a life and am grateful to have such wonderful, supportive readers – like you!

      Reply
  3. Jan

    I’m so glad you were able to get away. I LOVE that you adopted the next in Patty’s memory. What a wonderful way to help her name live on. :) Thank you for sharing the passage you read on grief. It’s very encouraging and uplifting.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Thanks for reading, Jan. I hope you are doing well. I will be in touch when I arrive back home and am lucid enough to put two sentences together! lol

      Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      You know how sometimes you’re just acutely aware that there is something much bigger than you that’s happening in front of your eyes – like it was for your benefit only? That was how my experience was. A blessing.

      Reply
  4. Hanlie

    This is an incredible post! You have a gift for writing, my friend. Thank you for sharing this – it brought tears to my eyes.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Thank you for reading, Hanlie. I had such a difficult time writing this post – it took me three days to get it ‘right’. But, I’m glad it conveyed what I needed it to. xoxo

      Reply
  5. Cindy

    What a beautiful story, and a wonderful way to remember and honor Patty. I’m so very happy for you that you are starting to feel better.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Grief is a very personal thing, but I always seem to feel the same way whenever I experience it. Such a painful part of life, but it’s also what makes living so special. Thank you for reading, Karen.

      Reply
  6. Val

    This is beautiful – reminds me, I need to take a picture of all MY darling lil’ pond turtles… Every morning they eagerly await their breakfast!
    One of these days I’ll get to see some of the big ‘uns…

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I should have known that you have pond turtles, Val. ;)
      How sweet is that? You know I’ll be awaiting a photo, now – right? Oh, the things I ask of you! Let me know if I become too much of a pain in the neck! lol

      Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Carrie, thank you so much for reading and for your kind comment on this post. I really appreciate hearing from you. I hope you are doing well!

      Reply
  7. Laura @ LauraLivesLife

    Your post was so beautiful and poignant – and even though you think Patty wouldn’t approve of your grieving process, I think she would be honored to have known someone so thoughtful AND understood that you needed to go through your stages of grief to recover. And you will.

    Reply
  8. teresa

    That photo is incredible. I’m so glad you got it and so amazed that you had the opportunity. What an adventure.
    You have some good friends. I love what your friend said about feeling the warmth of the sun…..
    Of course you are the best friend so you deserve it all.
    I like Patty more and more even now as you talk about her.
    I’m glad you’re finding your way through this time. With grace, as always.
    xoxoxoxoxoxxo

    Reply
  9. debby

    I loved all of this. what a gift that you were able to see that turtle laying her eggs! I love turtles too. And I could relate so much to your thoughts about grief. I remember sitting in church thinking “these people can’t even see that I am dissolving right in front of their eyes..” thank you for sharing so eloquently Ellen.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      What a way to describe it, Debby: I am dissolving right in front of their eyes. Those are some powerful words – and so spot-on. Grief is something no one really wants to talk about because it’s so hard to deal with but that’s precisely why we should. It makes the inevitable a little easier to bear. Hugs to you.

      Reply
  10. vickie

    Students from my kids’ high school make a service trip for turtle volunteer work each year. My own kids have not gone, but many of their friends have. The school sets up the trip and each parent pays expenses for their own child. It is run through the science department. It is a very busy trip with learning during the day and wee hours turtle shore work.

    I am on my way to Mayo with my youngest the end of this week and will be there (at least) all of next week. I will check email while I am gone if you need to reach me. Good luck with your surgery. I will be thinking of you.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      What an incredibly cool thing to do. I would do that in a heartbeat – so fulfilling, and to be exposed to environmental things at that age can be life changing.
      I hope all is going well at Mayo. Thinking of you and your youngest as well.

      Reply
      1. Vickie

        I bought an iPad to bring with me and am very glad I did, couldn’t sleep last night and it gave me something calming and company to dowhile youngest slept, she doesn’t feel good today so playing words with friends with oldest and also solitaire with myself and listening t.o music. I broke my foot about a week and a half ago, so iPad is helping me stay off and prop up foot

        Reply
  11. NewMe

    I have rarely read something both so heartfelt and superbly written.

    I am blown away by your wisdom, love and humility in the face of sadness.

    Many thanks for this beautiful post. I feel lucky to know you.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      You are too kind; I am beyond grateful that this story has had an effect on others similar to the way it affected me. I am still reeling from the experience and hope I can hold onto it as I go into the hospital on Tue. We’ll see if I can actually practice what I preach!

      Reply
  12. Goodnuff

    What a super cool thing to experience. I hope that the time to think has helped. I know that when I was coping with the death of the baby at work I really felt like it was never, ever going to get better. That I was always going to be broken. I can not even express how that event changed my life and that I somehow came out the other side of it a better person never ceases to amaze me. It’ll be two years on August 4 and I still think of her nearly everyday.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I am so sorry you had to go through such a traumatic experience but am comforted by the fact that you can look back on it and see that you gained something that you’d never before imagined. We don’t always get to know/understand why things happen. When we are let in on the secret, it is so powerful and meaningful. Thank you for sharing that with me.

      Reply
  13. didi

    What a beautiful moment to witness! Isn’t it amazing how life hands us moments like these when we let go of control and simply leave ourselves open?
    Once when I was paddling around in the gulf last summer, I saw a large object quite a ways out that was moving towards me in a direct line. Something about it made me curious, so I swam out to meet it. It was a large turtle, and she literally swam right up to me until our noses were a centimeter or two apart. She floated there and looked at me for a moment, and then turned and swam right back to wherever it was that she had come from. Amazing!
    It’s snippets like that that rejuvenate our souls when things seem too tough to deal with.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      That is a great example of a ‘moment’. What a cool story, Didi. You are absolutely right – it’s times like those that have the ability to rejuvenate us when we need it most. The universe really has a way of looking out for us. Thank you for sharing that story.

      Reply
  14. Lynn ~Learning Curves

    What a beautiful story and wonderful reminder to not only embrace the moments we have but also to be open to the beauty and lessons life hands us. It is hard sometimes to remember that there is always beauty around us and insdie of us. I’ve had some very dark hours, much like you mentioned where you wonder how the world can go on while everything is fall apart around you. I remember lying in the grass one night, looking at the stars and realizing how very small all of us are, and it dawned on me, regardless of how hopeless it all seemed (at the time) I am still fortunate enough to be able to feel sad or desperate…because it meant I was still alive.

    Lovely post my friend.

    Reply

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