It’s 12:24 in the early afternoon on a Saturday. The temperature is a scalding 95 degrees with 100% humidity. It is August; the hottest time of the year in the Florida panhandle. I spent most of my childhood through young adult life here. Therefore, I naturally acclimate well with the warm weather.
- I never go to the beach without my girls because they enjoy it just as much, if not more, than I do. But, even though I felt terribly guilty, I knew I needed to go alone today. I needed some one-on-one time with Kayla. And, there is no other place in the world where I feel closer to her than while at the beach. Even as fair skinned and red-headed as she was, Kayla still loved the beach. It was, also, the last place she visited before her life was unexpectedly changed and lost from cancer.
- Florida Panhandle
Before leaving, I went in search of our beach chairs. The last place I remembered seeing them was summer a year ago in the garage. Eventually, I found the chairs buried under a large stack of boxes. But, I was determined to not allow anything to get in my way of retrieving those chairs. After juggling the cumbersome totes, I grabbed the dusty chairs and headed to my car. I eased my way into my hot and sticky vehicle and I carefully grabbed the hot seat belt and hoped to not burn myself with the metal clip. I started the engine and turned the air conditioner on full blast as I desperately tried to cool down. As I continued onto my beach destination, I spent some time thinking about things I wanted to ask Kayla. But, I worried more that I wouldn’t be able to hear her answers.
Several miles into my trip, I noticed my gas tank was nearly empty. So, I began looking for a gas station. However, I was traveling on a lengthy stretch of the highway with no signs of civilization for miles. Eventually, I came upon a small mom & pop store with one gas pump available. The store looked like it had been around since the 1950’s. It seemed so inviting and I just had to go inside and investigate. Once entering the store, I felt like I had stepped back in time. The vintage, wooden counters, shelves, and tin signs on the walls advertising milk and to “drink Coca-Cola” all seemed to be original and had probably been there since the day it opened. There was one little old lady behind the register. She was probably in her late 70’s or early 80’s, very petite, with crystal blue eyes…..eyes that made me feel like I had seen them before……Her hair was gray, coarse, wavy and with hints of red throughout each thin strand. She smiled at me and said, “Hello.” I smiled back at her and responded with, “Hi” as I continued walking toward her. Immediately, my eyes were drawn to a heart shaped pendant hanging from a long necklace she was wearing. It was gold and simply made. Maybe it was more of what was written on the pendant that caught my attention; “Isaiah 41:10.” This particular scripture was Kayla’s favorite one and is, also, written on her head stone. Seeing this scripture today made my heart glad, which is sometimes difficult for me to feel these days. As I was rummaging through my purse looking for money to pay for my gas, I set my keys on the counter in front of the lady. “Kayla,” she said. I looked at her with a lot of uncertainty and confusion. “Kayla,” she said, again, while pointing to my key chain. I then realized why she kept saying Kayla’s name. My key chain has a mini-license plate that says, “Kayla.” This was, actually, on Kayla’s key chain. But, I started using it myself not long after she died. I guess it’s another way for me to feel closer to her. “Oh, that is my daughter’s name,” I said to the lady. “I have a granddaughter named, ‘Kayla,'” she said. At that time, I told her about the 3 children I have with a brief summary of their ages and very different personalities. But, I never mentioned that Kayla was no longer living. Sometimes, it is so comforting to pretend as if all of my girls are happy,healthy and most of all…..alive. So, that is exactly what I did that day. And, for a moment, I felt normal again and not just the mother who lost a child to cancer.
I left the store and continued on my journey. I began reminiscing about the many times I took Kayla to the beach when she was a little girl. Once, when she was about 5-years-old, a swarm of mosquito’s attacked the back of her legs and covered her with numerous bites. She looked like she was having an allergic reaction to something that day at the beach. During another trip when she was much older, her foot was stung by a jelly fish, which was incredibly painful for her. And, when I think about these episodes at the beach earlier in her life, it makes me wonder, “Was it the mosquito’s or maybe the jelly fish that caused her to have leukemia?” My gut tells me that it was neither of these things. But, it’s just how my brain works; I’m constantly thinking and wondering if there was anything I could have done to prevent her from developing cancer. Her doctor’s assured me that there was nothing I could have done to stop it. Mosquito’s? Jelly fish? Chicken nuggets? Immunizations? Ugh!!! These are the things that keep me awake at night!
I had been thinking and talking to myself so much that I did not realize I had finally made it to my beach destination. And, it was as beautiful as I had remembered. After parking my car, I grabbed the beach chairs and began my hike to find the perfect spot. Where is the “perfect spot?” I don’t know, but, I always know it when I see it. There was a warm and comforting breeze. The scent of salt water and sea life was in the air. The sand was sugary white and it felt more like quick sand as I diligently lifted one foot in front of the other as if I was walking in slow motion. And, then I found it…..the perfect spot. I opened my chairs, sat down and let out a sigh of relief. I was so content and comfortable digging my toes in the sand. The only sound I heard was the crashing of the waves. Surprisingly, there was no one else there, which was really okay with me. A few seagulls flew by to see if I had any food to offer them. I could see a small boat off in a distance and thought how nice it would be to take a ride. I looked up into the bright blue sky and saw a small airplane flying by as it pulled a banner advertising a local seafood restaurant. The seagulls, boats, airplanes; a cluster of beach objects was all too familiar to me since I’ve been in this environment just about my entire life….these things are probably very simple and minute to some people, but, they are very meaningful to me.
As I sat in my beach chair, with the empty chair next to me, I began to look around for Kayla. I thought if I hoped and prayed enough, she might just show up. And, then in a distance, I see someone walking along the shore. I tried to really focus on the person by tightly squinting my eyes while my hand shaded them from the bright sun. The person was so very far away and looked like a tiny ant walking through the sand. “Maybe that is her! God heard my cries and my prayers! Oh, God! Please let that be Kayla……Please, God!” I could not stand the anticipation anymore and I started running and waving my arms up in the air and saying, “Kayla! I’m here! I’m here! I knew you would be here, too!” But, as I got closer and my eyes became a little more focused, I realized that what I was seeing was not a person….and it was not Kayla. The combination of the glare from the sun reflecting off of the water and the intense heat created a mirage or an optical illusion. Or, maybe my mind was just playing a cruel trick on me. Disappointed, I bowed my head and stood on the shore while allowing the cold waves to rush in over my feet. I finally realized that Kayla would not be here today. What was I thinking, anyway? Did I honestly think God would allow her to leave Heaven and visit me ? Have I completely lost my mind? I turned around and began walking back to my beach chairs. I sat down in one of the chairs while starring at the empty one. “Kayla, if you can hear me, I need and want to talk to you. I came here today because the beach is the one place where I can feel your presence even though I cannot see you with my eyes. I was full of wishful thinking that you would actually come walking down the beach today with your beautiful, long red hair blowing in the wind. I was going to hug you for as long as I possibly could. I wanted to really look at you and take every ounce of you in. I wanted to hear you say that you were really okay and everything is so much better in Heaven…..I even saved a seat for you……One beach chair for me and one for you. I want to understand why you had to die and I thought….just maybe…..you would be here today to tell me everything I needed and wanted to know. But, reality finally hit me and I knew you were not going to be here today. I still want you to know that I miss you terribly and my life will never be the same again. Your sister’s and I keep going each day, but, it is just not the same without you. Thank you for all of the messages that you send me. I love and miss you, Kayla.”
As I wiped away my tears, I decided it was time to leave. But, today, I would not be leaving with my two beach chairs. I left them there on the beach…just in case Kayla might decide to visit. There was a purpose for leaving the second empty chair, as well. It would be there waiting for someone else’s child that passed away from cancer……one chair for my child and one chair for their child.
As I drove away, a big part of me felt like I was leaving Kayla behind; I was going home to see her sister’s and felt guilty for leaving, just as I did when I went to the beach alone. I started beating myself up for actually getting my hopes up to see Kayla today. “Why did I put myself through this torture?” I knew I could have saved myself a lot of grief by simply taking my girls to the beach and having a fun family day. But, I really felt like this was what I needed to do. Even if it was only to leave the two beach chairs behind in hopes to be found by my girl and another child who lost their life to cancer.
The traffic was, unexpectedly, heavy and thick during my commute home. At one point, every car on the road was at a complete stop. There was nothing I could do but sit….and think. I thought about my entire day from my decision to go to the beach alone to the very moment I became trapped in my vehicle. My mind became focused on something I had seen earlier in the day; Isaiah 41:10 written on the old lady’s gold pendant. How ironic it was to just so happen to stop at this store and see Isaiah 41:10 engraved on a piece of jewelry. And, then it hit me…….”The little old lady at the store! Kayla sent me a message through the precious elderly woman!” It all made perfect sense to me……Her petite frame, hints of red in her hair, the crystal blue eyes and Isaiah 41:10. I had to go back to the store and talk to the lady! The traffic began creeping along at a snail’s pace; I could see the old store just up ahead and anxiously tried to get there. After sitting in traffic for what seemed like an eternity, I excitedly pulled into the store parking lot. I jumped out of my car and ran to the front door saying to myself, “I have to tell the lady that Kayla sent her to visit me. She needs to know the significance of Isaiah 41:10 on her pendant! Maybe she’s an angel! Kayla was sending me a message through this lady! She might have more to tell me! I need to see her again!” I grabbed the handle to the front door to open it only to find the it locked; the store was closed. I peeked through the glass door to see if I could see her. I tried knocking on the door and windows. But, she was gone. And, once I accepted the fact that I would not see the lady again, I got back in my car and continued driving home. I thought to myself, “If I had only left the beach a few minutes earlier, maybe I could have gotten to the lady before she left.” I, eventually,realized that I shouldn’t be sad or disappointed. My day was, actually, fulfilled with a few unexpected events. If I had woken up this morning and made a completely different decision to do something else, I never would have received a visit from Kayla by way of the little old lady. And, this might have all been nothing but a pure coincidence. But, is there really such a thing as a “coincidence?” Or, are things that happen just meant to be? I’ll never know for sure the answer to these questions. But, I choose to believe that everything that happened during my beach trip was absolutely meant to be.
10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.