Written and Submitted by Jennifer Browne
Christmas morning , 2021 - Kids are squealing with excitement as they run to the Christmas tree, families are together unwrapping gifts, everyone laughing, making a big holiday breakfast…”happiest time of the year!”
Me? I’m in bed with the covers pulled over my head, fighting back tears, wondering how I’m going to get through the day. You see, my mother passed October 1, 2020. And if you’ve lost someone very close to you, you know. Every day is hard, but the holidays and those days that have some significance are even harder. The absence of the loved one, compounded. The grief, augmented. Any healing you’ve felt, negated.
I was 43 then, single, living alone with my two dogs in Raleigh, NC. I volunteer for a local rescue and had one scrappy foster puppy as well at the time. The previous Christmas, the first after my mom’s passing, I couldn’t even remember because I was so heart broken. I’m pretty sure I drank myself into oblivion to dull the pain. Not proud.
This Christmas, I knew I needed to do better. She would want me to. I had to. But all that was going through my head was - I can’t do this! I’m too sad! I miss you, Mom! I don’t want to be here! In this house! Alone! While everyone else is “Christmas-ing”!
And then suddenly, something in me just said - well, then don’t. Where do you want to be? What do you want to do?
The beach. I want to be at the beach.
My family has had a place in Morehead City, NC since I was 4. I spent my childhood summers there. Where I learned to swim, to fish, to go crabbing, to ski - all of it. Where I met my childhood best friend who I was inseparable from. Where I fell in love with the wild horses on Shackleford Banks. That was and still is my happy place.
But Morehead is so deeply saturated in memories, especially of my mother. I couldn’t go there. Screw it, I thought to myself though. There are other beaches. An entire Outer Banks. I NEED the salt air and the water. So I hauled my butt out of bed, loaded up my car with some minimal supplies and all three dogs and just headed east. No idea really where we were going.
About half an hour into the drive, I settled on Wrightsville Beach. I wasn’t familiar with it at all, but I knew it was one of the closest. The dogs were enjoying the drive, I put on an “Anything BUT Christmas music” playlist, and started to feel better.
When we got to Wrightsville, I aimlessly and very luckily found parking near a beach access. It was a beautiful day, December and almost 80 degrees, so there were many more people out than I had anticipated. I was happy to find the spot.
I leashed my pack up and off we went. Short walk down the access path and I knew I had made the right decision. It was so gorgeous. There were kiteboarders flying around in the surf that were amazing to watch, lots of people and other dogs, the perfect breeze…I began to feel some peace.
Three big dogs on a semi-crowded beach though is a lot to handle though, so after about an hour I decided to head back. And as we started back to the car, I spotted a curious yellow something on the side of the path. If you’re reading this, you already know what it was.
I picked up the puffer fish and read the note attached, about Jax’s joy, and even though I didn’t know his story at that moment, I wept. Tears of joy.
I was meant to be at that spot, at that moment, to be reminded - life is hard and there is loss and pain and sadness. But there is still so much joy! And you’ve got to cling to it and you have to spread it! My mother was a beacon of joy, just like Jax.
I’ve given a lot of detail leading up to my finding the puffer fish, I know (maybe too much, so grateful if you’re still reading). But I just wanted to be sure to convey, how serendipitous it was that I was there that day. How much it meant to me. How much I needed that joy. How impactful a beautiful soul who is no longer with us can still be…
Oh, one last thing! When we got back to the car to head home, I felt so much better, I decided I could handle some Christmas music. First song to come on? “Joy To The World.” 💛💛💛