The Ghosts of Summers Past

From the time our children were babies, we vacationed on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We rented the same house,  No Egrets in Corolla, year after year. It felt like our own summer house, and in fact, until they were teenagers, our daughters thought we owned it.

We enjoyed visits from relatives who came to relax with us on the beach. We celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. Neil and I sat out on the deck every night and talked about life, shared our dreams and made plans like it was New Year’s Eve. One year we came home to Virginia and remodeled our whole kitchen so it felt more open and beachy. Another year we decided to put in a pool so it felt like we were on vacation all summer. Another time we planned to bike more at home since we enjoyed it so much there. Corolla was where Neil encouraged me to write and I encouraged him to find work he enjoyed. It was truly one of our favorite places.

The first summer after he died, I could barely face our own house without him, let alone the beach house. Last summer, I started to feel a yearning for the coast and the sand, but couldn’t bring myself to go. This summer I was ready. I chose to go by myself, so I wouldn’t make anyone else sad if I got mopey, and I stayed at the sweet Corolla Inn instead of “our” house.

As soon as I got situated on my room, I headed out to walk along the beach. At first, I was nervous, but gratefully, I didn’t get sad, and the wind on my face was refreshing. The waves always make me feel God’s presence and this time was no different. Gradually I started to see the ghosts of summers past.

I saw the ghost of little Gina strolling dreamily down the beach, splashing her dress and bare legs as the waves washed in.
I saw the ghost of little Jackie skim boarding impressively as all the other kids watched with envy.
I saw the ghost of little Jordan building sand castles and timidly putting her toes in at the edge of the surf as she collected water for her lagoon.
I saw the ghost of Rufus, chasing sea foam back and forth across the shore, barking at it all the while, not quite brave enough to jump in.
I saw the ghost of Neil, laying on his towel in the sand with his shirt over his face, pretending to be asleep so I wouldn’t ask him to do something.

Everywhere I looked were more glimpses of my family- different ages, different activities– happy ghosts who made me smile as I saw their shadows. So many memories were spinning around in my head that I felt like spinning, too, right there in the sand, like Julie Andrews on the hilltop in the Sound of Music. I wanted to sing “The beach is alive, with the sound of memories.”

That joy stayed with me for the rest of the trip. It was a precious gift, a celebration of remembrance. I went to the barbecue place and the local bookstore like we always did, but I also started making new memories. I visited the nature center and learned about water fowl – something we never did before because everyone else thought it was too boring. I learned the best spot to kayak on Currituck Sound and walked on the beach at high tide when there was practically no beach left. I even ordered a pizza without cheese one night!

The closest I got to sad was feeling a little guilty about being there alone and having so much fun doing just what I wanted to do. This isn’t selfish, I told myself. You didn’t choose for your kids to grow up, and your husband to die. You paid a great price to have this time to yourself. And I remembered:

There is a time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace and a time to be far from embraces;
a time to seek and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away…..
God has made everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:1-6, 11).

Whatever time this is for you dear friends, it won’t last. If you are swamped taking care of little ones, remember someday they’ll be grown. If you are mourning or weeping, remember someday you will dance and laugh. If things are falling apart, remember you will rebuild. This is my time to plant and to keep.

Thank you, God, for all You have given me,
and for making everything beautiful in its time. Help me to appreciate what I have now, and not fixate on what I have lost. Amen.


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  1. Wow–this is so moving, Colleen! I have tears in my eyes as I imagine you walking on the beach. My husband and I have our favorite places, too. I know one of us will die first but I don’t even like to think about the other being left alone. Yet here you are doing it. We can do so much more than we imagine. Thanks for your example of courage and resilience. I’m sure your loss is still unfathomable, but you aren’t crumbling underneath it.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Lisa. There are definitely good days and bad, but God is always there with me, encouraging me and supporting me. And I like to picture Neil up in heaven giving Him suggestions, lol.
      Thanks so much for stopping by!

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