The Colors of the Sea

The second I saw the Capiz shell wind chime in the store, I thought “mom.” A Capiz shell is a round, nearly flat shell and is thin as glass. In their natural state, they are a shiny white, but these store shells were dyed in beautiful shades of turquoise, purple, pale green and yellow; some of them looked like colors from the sea. I remember she had once owned a white Capiz shell art hanging, and I had a feeling she would like the “rainbow” version too. As a daughter of artists, along with her own interest in art, she would be drawn to the colors.

I instantly bought it and brought it with me on my next visit. Luckily, she had a cork board with thumbtacks on the wall at the end of her bed in her skilled nursing facility and that’s where I put it. She could look straight ahead at the colors. Perhaps they might move a little when a nurse walked by.

It is with a true emptiness that I share my mom has died. Giving her that small gift was the last time I saw her. After that, she was in the hospital and when she returned; they placed her on a new floor. In terms of the wind chime, she may have had the chance to look at it for five days. She was more than likely not aware of it.

It is the strangest feeling. I can barely articulate it. I thought I was preparing two years ago when her dementia accelerated and our conversations changed forever. I thought I understood the path and where it was leading when she lost all mobility. And then I was sure that I was prepared when she had new health challenges right at the end.

But I wasn’t. When the call came from my sister Hailey, who was with her when she died, it’s as if the ground beneath me gave way. That feeling hasn’t changed even minutely two weeks later.

At first, there was much to do with various calls, emails, obituary placements and final resting decisions. I drove across the state to see Hailey and discuss those arrangements. Then my husband moved forward with previously scheduled surgery. We are waiting for the results.

When I returned home, I found myself in a fog, pushing the grocery cart up and down the aisles. I forgot things. I’m still tired. Where I thought the journey was ending, it is actually just beginning. I’ll say it again: it is the strangest feeling.

In a blog post a long time ago, I wrote how mom’s last wish is to be taken by boat out to sea and have her ashes spread there. During that final trip, she would like some Preservation Hall Jazz Band music playing in the background.

Hailey found an incredible resting spot. It is called The Neptune Memorial Reef, and it lies 3.2 miles east of Key Biscayne, Florida, in the Atlantic Ocean. It is a 16-acre artificial reef which also serves as a columbarium. It lies 40 feet below the surface. Family members can have ashes scattered over it or the organization can intern them as part of the reef (which is quite expensive.)

The reef is certified by the Green Burial Council. A marine biologist designed it to build an ecosystem and attract and support certain marine life. It is now teeming with life. As they say on their information page: “creating life, after life.”

The arrangements we chose will include a boat and we will scatter her ashes above the reef. Then, they will dive and place a plaque with her name attached to the reef. We are currently in the middle of this process.

I created this blog to honestly address the problems and solutions I’ve learned along the way about aging parent issues. It seemed like a good idea to write openly about my own experiences and “share notes” with other readers facing similar situations. Eventually, I broadened the site to include other themes, but mom will always be the heart of it. I find comfort in that because there are so many stories about her now which I can hold onto permanently.

I did include a few stories about mother-daughter relationships and how they are not always easy. But it was in the very process of writing those stories where I learned so much. Oscar Wilde once said “with age, comes wisdom.” Somewhere in the journey, I let the differences go and began to embrace the similarities. I am choosing to post this today in honor of what would have been her 92nd birthday. It just feels right.

And just like the colors of the Capiz shells, she will soon be a part of the colors of the sea; and that brings our family true peace. We love you mom.


  1. I love the coral reef ash spreading and plaque. She’d love that. When my parents died I was shocked at how I felt like I reverted back to being a little kid and it wasn’t fair that I lost my parents. It’s not any easier because you are expecting it. Still thinking about you. XOXO

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There should be something other than clicking “LIKE” to honor the sacredness of this post. You knew and I knew) it was coming, but still it feels surreal to experience separation from a loved one. And you know I do understand the feeling: “As if the ground beneath you has given way.” So, you turn to the sea. The details of the ritual planned to honor your mother are beautiful and unique. I had not heard of the reef as a final resting place with an ecosystem teeming with life. Outside the hospice center where my brother died is a memorial path. My sisters and I purchased a brick for the pathway, inscribed with his name, the phrase “Kind Brother” along with his birth and death year. We honor our loved ones as best we can, knowing we are taking a first step to assuage our grief.

    I love Capiz shells, which capture color and pearlescent qualities. This is the perfect metaphor for this post. My condolences to you and your family. And a special hug for you, dear Melanie. ((( )))

    Liked by 1 person

    • These are the sweetest words Marian, they mean so much to me. ♥ You have been through this with your dear Aunt Ruthie (in terms of dementia and the struggles) and I paid attention to your experiences with her. I appreciate your connection (that I didn’t see 🙂 ) between the earth giving way and turning to the sea. It’s a beautiful thought. I also love the idea of a memorial path (a path to me is a journey) and that you added your brother’s name to it. It’s perfect. Thank you so much for your hug and kind attention to me at this difficult time. ♥♥

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We think we’re ready, but I think that’s our defense system tricking us. Your plans sound just right, Melanie. Hopefully, that will ease some of your grief.

    When my father-in-law passed, his girls decided on an unusual plan for his ashes. He was a hard-working man, but his life was running the family business. The only things he ever liked to do in his free time were to watch television or play golf. When his health declined, he could no longer golf. The girls decided that they would sneak onto his favorite golf course late at night and spread his ashes. I’m sure it was illegal, and yet it felt like the right thing to do.

    Trust your heart, Big hugs, Melanie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your father-in-law’s story is more common than you think in terms of being illegal. I know people who have spread ashes on a beach (not allowed), in a river and someone let some ashes fall here and there while on a tour of Wrigley Field. Seriously though, thank you Pete for your support. You have literally been there since the beginning and saw the progression in “real-time.” WHAT a journey it’s been. I love your line about our defense system tricking us, that is spot on. To paraphrase that saying, “you don’t know what you CAN’T know” until you go through it, that’s right where I am, and will be for awhile. Thanks for your hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh Melanie. What a heartfelt piece. I truly feel the raw emotion that comes from losing our Moms. We get so tied up in the whole cycle of nursing homes, diagnosis’ how close til end? etc etc …. Seems strange that its still a shock when our loved one passes. I don’t think we truly understand the complex relationship a daughter has with her Mom until she is no longer there. I miss mine everyday. You will find your peace. Her becoming a part of the reef is such a wonderful tribute. Every time you are at the beach you so love you will think of her and feel her presence. And of course a million times in a million other ways. She sounds like a very cool lady. I wish I could have known her.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Pam. I agree about the cycles; we were certainly in constant crisis mode for a long, long time. And suddenly. it’s gone. It will take time to adjust. I find it fascinating what you say that we don’t fully understand our relationships with our moms until they are gone. That rings true to me, especially when I think of friends who have lost their moms, but it is also sad that the insight can only come when it’s too late to ask questions or say “I understand.” The perspective has to come in hindsight. Yes, we feel really good about our reef decision and know we did our best until the very end. ♥


  5. Melanie, this was such a heartfelt post about your mom. I’m so sorry for your loss. Even though we know what’s coming, we can never be ready for a great loss. I know exactly what you mean about feeling the ground beneath us disappearing. And I know there are never the right words. May you heal in peace. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just returned home from taking care of a few things; thank you so much for your healing thoughts Debby. ♥ Yes, this post kind of poured out of me, I know you have had a similar experience with grieving through writing. I was just in her old neighborhood and memories were popping up all over the place. It’s going to take time. Thanks for being here and for your condolences. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know well of what you speak Melanie. Everything always reminds. Hopefully in time, those memories won’t sting so bad, but bring back the joy in our hearts. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

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