(Humpback whale exhales.)
What have you wanted the most in your life?
For me, the answer is clear. No one ever wanted anything more than I wanted my daughter to survive her brain tumor. My heart only had one desire… for my child to live. I was a walking ball of neediness … I needed Brittany not to die. Not before me.
My desire for Britt to live consumed every ounce of strength I had for a while. This hunger, this longing, this craving wasn’t helpful to my daughter or me. It sucked up energy I needed for focusing on the precious little time we had left together here on earth.
Since her death, I’ve tried to understand why I wasted time missing my daughter before she was gone (called pre-grief). Missing Brittany was and still is my heart’s way of reminding me how much I love her. At the same time, I’ve tried not to let my sense of loss to cause me to stop living a full life because Brittany asked me repeatedly to live a bigger life, not a smaller life, after her death.
I celebrated my sixtieth birthday today by spending the afternoon on a whale watching cruise just outside Dana Point harbor in Southern California. My sister, her husband and my niece were with me and we saw a humpback whale and literally a thousand dolphin.
Birthdays are hard for me. I have an obstinate repeating refrain in my brain. “You shouldn’t celebrate a birthday when your child is not here to celebrate any more birthdays.” It is helpful to plan activities that I’m positive Brittany would’ve enjoyed with me. Doing life-affirming things help positive thoughts to emerge and drown out negative circular thinking.
This birthday I heard a crowd of boat passengers gasp in unison when the humpback whale, probably a male juvenile, surfaced. The blow (exhalation) was round and symmetrical. The whale rolled on its side and we could see the elongated pectoral fin. Another whale behavior that elicited an awed intake of breath was fluking. The humpback would raise its massive tail fin, called a fluke, above the water when it arched its back to dive under water. Captain Dave told us that the humpback sings a complex and mysterious underwater song that can be heard twenty miles away. The song changes each year and all the males learn the new song.
On our way back in to the dock we stopped to enjoy a pod of dolphin that contained somewhere between 800 and 1,000 of these magnificent mammals. In front of the boat, under the boat, on every side of the boat dolphin leapt out of the water. Sometimes three to five dolphins jumped side by side in unison seemingly choreographed as they leapt together. Larger dolphins did somersaults and belly flops. Dolphins spun in the air like ice skaters and tumbled through the air like Olympic gymnasts.
Next to man, dolphins have the largest and most complex brains. Pound for pound, relative to their body size, dolphins definitely give mankind some rivalry in the cerebral area. Dolphins have demonstrated use of language, self-awareness and abstract thought processes. I found myself watching them at play, a sight of unadulterated joy, and couldn’t help but wonder if in some areas they might not have superior judgement.
While feeling the salt air in my face and watching the whale and dolphins, I felt Brittany’s presence all around me. I knew that I was doing exactly what she’d had urged me to do before she died. She implored me to “live in the moment”, travel and seek out nature (always my place of solace). She advised me to love deeply. In her last year of life, Brittany lived her life that way. She set an example of how to breathe in nature’s beauty.
While enjoying nature, traveling to new places, loving my family, I feel Britt is with me. It is as though she is right beside me – that tangible – that real. These times are a comforting balm to my aching soul. Thank you, sweet daughter. Love you always.