Diamond in the Sand
His tragic death affected me more than it really should have. I didn’t know him, or anything about him. Yet I felt so sad, as if the loss was personal, and I couldn’t explain why. He owned a very successful restaurant with his wife, but that’s all I knew. I had never even gone to their restaurant. I heard about the accident while driving with my husband and three very young sons to the beach in East Hampton, where we were vacationing for the week. Don dropped the four of us off with our beach gear then went to park the car a mile & and half away (we didn’t have the coveted EH parking permit) and he rollerbladed back to us. I think that was secretly one of his favorite parts that day! We enjoyed every minute, taking in every wave, digging deep holes and building our version of sand castles. We were the only five left on the beach, as we packed up our things and I took a few more pictures of the boys, when, almost as if on cue, a stranger appeared out of nowhere and asked if we wanted a picture of the five of us together. Much appreciated in the days before selfies. It was the perfect end to a perfect day. And we had the photo to memorialize it. Yet, I recall, on the drive back, I was preoccupied with thoughts of the wife and children “Nick” left behind. After all, I thought, they sent him off to work not knowing that that was the last time they would see him. It was overwhelmingly sad. And eerily prophetic although I couldn’t know that at the time.
What was left of summer 2001 was fun with our little guys ~ one meaningful bike ride for five, the start of first grade for our oldest, pre- K for the middle guy, new discoveries for the little one, soccer season with dad coaching, one final Point Lookout triathlon, and celebrating their dad’s 40th birthday just a little early, although he remained forever 39. There were evening baths and goodnight kisses and then there was September 11 and we would never see him again. We were now the wife and children that others felt pain for. We were now the ones that others couldn’t imagine being. Those that knew nothing about my husband now felt sadness beyond reason for him, for us ~ like I had once felt for strangers. And we took up residence in the fishbowl, consoling others while they consoled us, doing our best to march forward while always honoring the steps behind us.
As others watched and wondered, we went about our new life, never forgetting and profoundly missing, the old one we had with him in it. We found ourselves doing some of the things he loved because I wanted the boys to know him, to honor him, like spending time at the beach, riding bikes, playing any sport, but also creating our own new memories like filling summer days with baseball, family, and friends. We reminisced with friends in Quogue, at the beach in Westhampton, and feeding the ducks on David’s Lane. Some of our best summer days were spent laughing and crying, bike riding and story telling by blazing bonfires on the beach at Amagansett. The Eelpot (you know who you are!) was our favorite place in the whole world, and we all tried to figure out if we could never ever leave! We all secretly knew that Don had his hand in putting us there together, on the beach, in the waves, with thoughtful, loving friends.
It was summer 2008 when a visit to the North Fork brought us to a new place, a fresh start (unbeknownst at the time), in more ways than one. Don’s best friend ~ the greatest gift he left us ~ was visiting his family in Mattituck. He asked us to join his very large clan for a day at the beach, on the bay, fishing, kayaking, tubing, doing all the things that the North Fork has to offer. My boys were in love and I was now on a mission to recreate this kind of summer of our own, close to “family”. It was also this summer, that I had a new man in my life. Would he be right for me and my boys? After all, we were a package deal. Only time would tell.
The last house on the left, with a view of the Bay, became mine and by summer 2009 we had our little version of perfection! Mattituck became our new place, and Anthony was a loving and accepted part of our family. He helped the boys untangle fishing rods, carry kayaks down to the beach, play football in the sand, and offer much appreciated male advice to my growing boys. We were creating what I hoped would be a treasure chest of forever memories. Gratitude abounding!
In 2010, we added the first of two puppies to our family (“because people with dogs are happy”, said my then 10 year old as he convinced us of this fact!). Nighttime puppy walks under millions of North Fork stars became one of our favorite things to do. And to have my partner by my side, I felt so blessed. Summer was nearing its end, you could feel it in the coolness of night. We went out for our evening puppy walk, flashlight in hand, down towards the beach. However this time, Anthony stopped for a moment, and under those million Mattituck stars, got down on his knee, took out a ring, and with our little puppy right by his side, asked me to marry him, to commit to sharing this life together. With tears in my eyes and love in my heart I said “Yes!”. I reached up and threw my arms around his neck for the tightest embrace when suddenly my diamond earring dropped into the sand. The diamond earrings that Don and the boys had given me, that I never took out. In this happiest of moments, a flood of emotions rushed through me, as we stood very still, and shined the flashlight in search of the diamond. Suddenly, there it was, sparkling amidst the speckles of sand, as if to say, this is a sign, a sign from Don that yes, this is the right man, and yes, I give my blessing. Now to share the news with the boys, hoping that they would be excited too. The following evening, we drove to the lighthouse in Southhold for sunset, and with the three boys sitting on the rocks, we tried to find the perfect words to share our news which they had already figured out. “So you get to be our new dad”, exclaimed the littlest. And Anthony tenderly expressed never to replace their dad, but to be the best new one.
I never did find out what became of “Nick’s” family. Perhaps their experience mirrored ours, that after darkness there is light again, that by walking through the grief of profound loss, happiness and a new life with forever remembrance can be found on the other side. And, like a diamond in the sand, always be open to reading the signs. The message could be the answer you’ve been searching for.