A Heavenly Dolphin Encounter

It was her family's first summer trip without her mom...or was it?

Posted in , Jun 25, 2020

Illustration of a dolphin

Orange Beach, Alabama, was the site of so many happy memories for my family. For 20 years my parents rented a condo on the beach for one week in August. But this year was different. It was our first trip without Mom.

“I’m glad we came,” my sister said as we unloaded the car. “Mom would have wanted us to all be here.”

There was no doubt about that. Last summer, when Mom was in the hospital with leukemia, she still insisted we get to the beach. She even surprised us by getting strong enough to come along! She peeled peaches with us in the kitchen, baked one of her famous pies, sat by the pool, played card games, did jigsaw puzzles. At night Mom and I always slept on an air mattress on the balcony, and every morning we woke to a glorious sunrise over the ocean. We tried our best to be quiet while we chatted before everyone else got up. But sometimes our excitement was hard to contain.

I see a dolphin!” Mom said one morning, pointing down to the water.

“There are two!” I said, following the shapes with my finger.

Mom and I had seen so many beautiful creatures from that balcony over the years. Stingrays, sea gulls, sharks—even a beloved blue heron we named Helen. But dolphins were our favorite.

That week last summer was perfect, I thought as I followed my family up to our seventh-floor condo. Mom had been so energetic and cheerful, we could almost forget she was sick. We left the beach on a Saturday morning. By Wednesday, Mom had taken her first breath in heaven.

We reached the door to our unit, and I touched the dolphin necklace I wore every day, a gift from Mom. We had come to celebrate her life, but how could our family vacation possibly be the same without her?

My father unlocked the front door and we all filed in. My sister threw open the curtains. “Wow, look!” she said.

We turned, expecting a familiar view of the beach. But there was something more. Over the water floated a magnificent double rainbow. We all went out on the balcony. I couldn’t help but feel joyful just looking at it. Mom would have loved this, I thought. It was official. The celebration had begun. I felt as if Mom was right there with us at the window.

In fact, I’d often sensed Mom’s presence. During the worst times, when I was most lonely for her, I could have sworn I felt her arms wrap around me. Maybe she sent an angel to comfort me, I’d think. I wished that angel was with us at the beach now.

At sunset the whole family went down to the dunes. “This was probably your mother’s favorite spot in the world,” Daddy said.

“I’m glad our last memories of her were here,” I said. “It was almost as if she planned it.”

“I thought the same thing,” Daddy said. “In fact, I asked her if she had asked God to give her one last perfect week with us. She confessed she had done just that.”

That night one of my sisters took Mom’s place with me on the balcony. I fell asleep listening to the rolling waves and awoke just before dawn. Mom wasn’t there for an early morning chat, and my sister was still asleep, so I crept into the kitchen to make some coffee. I picked up the pot to fill it with water.

Go down to the beach.

I didn’t know where the idea had come from, but I slipped on a sundress and went outside. Walking through the pool area, I could see something in the ocean beyond. A fin. A dolphin fin.

I walked over the sand toward the water. The dolphin was about three feet from the shore. I stared at her in wonder, the rising sun flashing on the tip of her fin. She swam slowly east toward the dawn, so slowly it was easy for me to walk with her along the shore. She’s so close, I thought, I can almost touch her.

After walking beside her for about a mile, I knew it was time to turn back. To let the dolphin swim off on her own. Just like it’s time to let Mom go, I thought. At that very moment the dolphin flipped her tail with a splash. She dipped under the water and swam right out to sea, happy and free, just as Mom was in heaven. I rubbed my dolphin charm around my neck, thinking how glad I was that Mom managed to be in two places at once. Because she was at Orange Beach with us too.

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