My faith has always been a big part of my life, who I am and the decisions I make. I don’t know anything different. I’ve never questioned my faith, its always been solid. Two weeks ago today, my brother passed away from cancer. I’ve had people in my life pass away, important people but I’ve never lost a sibling. Someone who’s known you from the day you were born, that you grew up with, fought with, laughed with or cried with. We may have had our moments, but he was still my brother and a big part of my life from the day I was born. His loss….significant. I will miss him everyday that I walk this earth.
Although we knew his cancer was likely terminal, you still live in this place of denial thinking “there is hope”. By the time he was diagnosed, he was already at stage four lung cancer. We never gave up hope. He never gave up hope. He was a fighter and determined until the very end. He smiled. He laughed. He made sure everyone else was doing “okay”. I would always tell people “he has the biggest heart and there is nothing he wouldn’t do for someone else”. My brother was my hero.
Six days after his passing, my parents and I headed to the Oregon Coast for a week…on a “healing” trip. It sounded a little more positive than a “sad” trip. We wanted to remember Dwayne, the good times and celebrate his life. We arrived Monday after a long 9 hour drive. Tuesday morning, I had made an appointment with my friend and fellow photographer Don Best/Best Impressions Picture Company to take a family photo of my folks, the dogs and I. We met at a very special beach for me that I hadn’t been to in several years. As my mom and I are walking down the beach before the photo session started, we both looked down and saw a sand dollar at the same time. (I don’t remember if it was a dream or a thought – but I remember sand dollars had been on my mind before our trip). I thought “how cool!” Apparently, the beach we were at its very rare to fine a whole sand dollar. Ironically, we found it at the exact time of day my brother passed the week before. We smiled and both shared how we felt Dwayne was watching over us.
My folks are having the hardest time. One is not supposed to outlive their children. Grieving the loss of a brother is difficult, I can’t imagine grieving the loss of a child no matter how old they are. You’re not supposed to outlive your children. My heart breaks for my parents. I’m thankful for the love and support of family and friends who have checked in on them to see how they’re doing.
(Several years ago Dwayne gave me a beautiful glass horse figurine that lights up and sitting on the corner of it is a white heart shaped rock. Perhaps he knew this was significant to me. The heart shaped rock. I put it there because I love horses and loved my brother). This leads me to the rest of our trip…
The rest of our trip I started finding heart shaped rocks. Not one, or two…but several over the course of several days. The first heart shaped rock found, was with the help of my dog Jayde. She loves to dig in the sand (searching for clams?) and dug up a heart shaped rock that had a crack down the center of it. Its the largest one in the photo below. I thought how appropriate to find a heart shaped rock on the beach, with help, that has a crack in it. That crack signifies for me, the loss of my brother and the heart that is now broken.
Our hearts are broken with the loss of such an amazing person, forever cracked. Again, I felt as though Dwayne was with me in that moment when Jayde and I found the rock. A part of me wondered if it was just a coincidence, but after 5 days, I found 20 heart shaped rocks without looking for them. Each time I saw one, I was thinking about him, wondering if he’s ok, wondering where he went, wondering if he is still with us and hoping for a sign. It brings me peace to think this is my brother’s way of saying “he’s okay and we’re going to be okay” and how much he loved us. How much he loved me, his sister.
The rest of the trip we spent time on the beach together and I spent time on the beach by myself. I found moments of peace. Moments of quiet. There were moments when sadness would creep in and in those moments it seems as though each time I looked down at my feet in the sand, I found, heart shaped rocks.
Losing someone that you’ve known your entire life, and grown up with. The loss shakes you to the core. You question. You wonder. It makes you think. It seems as though with each question I asked, my answers were met with heart shaped rocks. When my grief was overwhelming, heart shaped rocks would be in the sand waiting for me.
Our last day on the beach I found a beautiful seashell. I tucked it in the pouch of my dogs vest and when we returned to the hotel it was gone. It fell out somewhere along the beach while I was out walking earlier in the morning. I went back to the beach to look for the shell and trace my steps thinking “this is hopeless, I’m never going to find this”, this is like finding a “needle in the haystack”. The tide was coming in and with each wave that went back out, the tide kept returning things back to the sea. I thought for a moment “okay Dwayne, if you’re really here with me, I will find this seashell”. Just when I almost gave up, after I spoke those words, I took four more steps and looked down and there was the seashell at my feet…right next to…a heart shaped rock. My faith is even more solid after our week at the beach than before we left. I don’t question. I don’t wonder. I firmly believe that there is something beyond this place. Something amazing! I believe he smiled down on us during our trip each day, to let us know he’s okay, he’s not in pain and he’s at peace. That its okay for us to be sad and miss him.
I was blessed with an amazing brother who was taken to soon. Each day, he will be missed. Each year, when I visit the Oregon Coast, I will continue to look for heart shaped rocks and when I find them I will smile, put them in my pocket and think of my brother Dwayne.