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You’re Not Alone: Regrets, guilt, and seashells

linda jonesColumn by Linda R. Jones

My father loved walking the beaches of Florida.  He enjoyed the sunny weather, the sun beating down on him, the smell of the Gulf, and collecting seashells and shark teeth.

As a hobby, he would make trinkets, boxes, even lamps out of the shells and shark teeth.  For a few Christmases, he gave me some of these trinkets as gifts.  At the time I thought, “Pop really?  Nothing I have matches this motif.  They’re kind of cheesy.  I’d rather have a check.”  I cringe just thinking about my thoughts then.  I accepted them half-heartedly and didn’t know what to do with them.  I couldn’t get rid of them because they were from my father.  These cheesy trinkets went from closet to closet, drawer to drawer, and room to room.

These cheesy trinkets were about to embark on a journey to the “kids” room.  The “kids” room is a collection of furniture and toys from my children; my treasures.  I added on over the years and the motif became The Little Mermaid.  In the process of creating the “kids” room, I used a little seashell box my father had given me and put my daughter’s first birthday cake topper into it.  At the time I thought, “Ah, that works, the Little Mermaid popping out of this cheesy seashell trinket.”  It matched.  I didn’t realize during the creation of the “kids” room that my father would become an integral part of my treasures.

A few months after my father died, I was organizing the guest room.  I noticed another seashell box my father had made.  It all came together for me.  That box didn’t belong in the guest room it belonged in the “kids” room.  I picked up the box, about the size of a book, and ran my hands across every part of it.  I turned it over and saw my father’s handwriting, “MADE WITH LOVE HR.”  I didn’t cry.  I was numb.  I found the perfect spot for this treasure in the “kids” room.

A few weeks later, we had friends visiting with their young children.  Their children played in the “kids” room.  Their little boy noticed my father’s large seashell box, looked at me and exclaimed as he picked it up, “This is wonderful!  Where did you get it?!”  It took all my inner strength to keep from letting my swelling tears drop.  I told the little boy it was made by my father.  “Wow!  It’s very well made!  We’re going to the beach too and we’re going to collect shells!”  He was so excited about collecting shells, as I should have been when my father gave me these beautiful treasures he made with love.

When our friends left, I went into the “kids” room and looked at all of the seashell treasures my father made for me.  I never realized how beautiful they were and the detail that went into every one.  I carefully looked at every treasure.  Each one had flawless shells arranged and attached with the eye of an artist.  Some shells were spaced with shark teeth to maintain symmetry.  The large box had little pearls arranged throughout.  They were sprinkled with glitter that didn’t dust off.  He lined the boxes with felt.  The little box even had a mirror in it and I can see the reflection of the Little Mermaid emerging from it.  It was as if my father had specifically made that box for a treasure of mine.

All it cost my father was a glue stick, time, and love.  No amount of money could equal what these treasures, now so meticulously arranged in the “kids” room, mean to me.  Then I sobbed.  How could I have been so ungrateful?  How did I not see the beauty?  How did I not know my father created priceless treasures for my favorite room in my home?  How did I not realize he made them specifically for me in my favorite motif – love.

My father never saw the “kids” room completed.  I never had the chance to tell him how much I appreciated these treasures.  I will tell any child (or adult) that enjoys the “kids” room how these are my favorite and why they are.  I learned a priceless and painful lesson.

My healing journey continues.  Join me.  We can take a stroll on the beach and collect shells.  Maybe we can even make some trinkets.  We can make them with love.  I have a few we can use as guidelines.  We can do this together.

(Henry Alfred Rudolph.  Born April 2, 1930.  Died March 2, 2015.)