Holiday Digest: Gratitude and Light in Laguna


By Susan Heiligman

It’s an early sunset during the Thanksgiving holiday, and those marvelous limited hours of daylight are to be relished. We would often arrive in good time for low tide to scout for the tiny sea creatures trying to hide in the rocks at Diver’s Cove.

The skyline of coral pink charms us, and we quickly amaze each other with “Look here, I found an octopus!” and “Oh my gosh, a hermit crab!” Our discoveries practically become lyrics to a catchy tune. Then, finally, we cry, “Watch out, the tide is sneaking up on you!” And with that, the scavenger hunt is over.

We shift into walk mode as we begin the trek along the shoreline, hoping for a golden sunset at Sleepy Hollow’s Driftwood Kitchen. No better spot to savor Laguna’s best gift: sunset over the Pacific.

There were three of us until now, having recently lost our older sister. Celebrating her life is on our minds this Thanksgiving season. My younger sister has joined me for the holiday, and returning to the waters of Laguna is part of our way forward without her.

The author and her two sisters would walk along the beach at Diver’s Cove during holidays. Photo courtesy of Susan Heiligman

Her beauty was like a queen perched on a rattan peacock fan chair. Her presence commanded a nod to something regal. Maybe it was her bearing, her gorgeous posture, learned in her early years and gained from learning how to project her voice, a voice like no other that our mother recognized with private training from the age of three. A voice that sang in Latin and Italian on the Dallas stage, a voice that starred in productions at college from the libretto of Madame Butterfly to wedding performances of the Hawaiian Wedding Song, “Ke Kali Nei Au,” (“Waiting There for Thee”). Never losing her presence of grace, she left us swathed in beauty in her final days like a symphony drawing to its closing movement.

She asked that “California Dreamin’” be played at her funeral service, keeping precious memories of trips here in her heart. Her last days found her body weakened yet still brave, knowing she had to let go of fear and rely on light and gratitude. She softly pleaded atonement for past misjudgments and reminded us of mercy, that essential component of happiness.

We three sisters had seen tragedy and joy over the years. Thankful, for the support of sisters, is a gift that carried us through our journeys.

Susan Heiligman lives in South Coast Metro and, besides writing, enjoys her granddaughter’s sports matches, supporting the nearby ABT school and frequent travel. 

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