The Laguna Beach Independent is proud to once again partner with the Third Street Writers, a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting writing and literary arts in Laguna Beach and beyond. Guest writers will contribute essays for the 2020 Holiday Digest through the end of the year.
By Miranda McPhee
For many months this year, I dreaded the holiday season and its association with joy.
At 58, I was dragged silently kicking and screaming into the club of widows. I wasn’t ready for this membership—I thought we’d grow old together—but Alzheimer’s stole my husband – in the middle of the pandemic, no less. I was left heartbroken, burnt out from caregiving, and isolated.
We lived eight miles from Laguna Beach, and I avoided the town for weeks, unable to face the memories that I knew would race toward me from every direction. This was where we came to walk, dine, and people–watch; where we spent part of our honeymoon; where we celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, my husband’s son’s wedding. This is where we came to make the most of every fading moment, and we never missed an opportunity to sit by the sea and watch the world go by. Laguna Beach was special, perhaps all the more so because we didn’t live there.
When Main Beach reopened, it drew me like a magnet with its early morning dogwalkers and runners offering a modicum of normalcy to lean into. I sat on the sand sharing my secrets with sandpipers and seagulls, endlessly watching the waves as the morning haze lifted to reveal another perfect day. As I walked along the shore, foamy water caressed my bare feet, making me gasp as the impulse of the sea caught me unaware and soaked the legs of my pants. I would return home windswept, sandy, wet, calmer.
As time crept by, grief relinquished space to gratitude, allowing me to tiptoe through the past more easily. As I drove down Laguna Canyon Road, I started to smile with anticipation of the salty air and shimmer of water at the end of Broadway. I retraced our footsteps all over town, and one by one our favorite places became long-lost friends, and the memories amassed into a treasure trove that is mine alone.
My husband and I were very different, but we glued our lives together, shrugged off a 13-year age gap, and accepted each other’s baggage without judgment. Meeting mid-life, we had enough years between us never to take each other for granted and the ability to like our imperfections and quirks. Time offers clarity, and as we approach Thanksgiving, I know two things: that I was lucky to have loved and been loved for 18 years, and that I would not fare so well these days without the solid bedrock of support from my family and friends.
The loneliness can be jarring, but I have learned to sit quietly and appreciate the panorama of my life, letting grains of ideas for the future percolate. My husband always made me want to be a better person, and this is my magnetic north. Our time together was cut short, so I have determined to live more fully for both of us. He once told me he thought I could do anything I set my mind to, and eventually I will carve a new role for myself in the world; it may not be big, but it will have purpose.
It takes strength, focus, and an open heart to be thankful—this year of all years, and for so many people who cannot be with their loved ones for whatever the reason, temporary or permanent. But in order to look forwards, we must be able to give thanks for both our past and our present in equal measure.
So, if you see a woman this Thanksgiving weekend walking along the shoreline on Main Beach, it will probably be me, counting my blessings. Happy Thanksgiving.
Miranda McPhee retired to Laguna Woods after a 30-year career in financial services, has co-authored four children’s activity books, and is working on a novel.