This Sand Dollar Became a Heaven-Sent Sign

Finding the perfect sea creature reminded her that she was never alone.

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- Posted on Jun 25, 2021

A sand dollar underneath a wave; Illustration by Tatsuro Kiuchi

Gentle waves lapped at my bare feet as I walked along the Jersey Shore on an overcast day last summer. Sometimes I could almost hear God’s voice in the whisper of the water. I listened for him, but lately he had been silent. Even here at the ocean. The silence only made me miss my mother more, as if I were grieving her death all over again, feeling the sharp, fresh pain of being alone without her.

I tried to take comfort in the cool tickle of the water, the slight pull around my ankles as it changed course. I shielded my eyes from the sun and turned to see how far I’d walked. Traces of my footprints showed in a long chain in the wet sand. A solitary pair of footprints.

There were other people out walking. A few children hunting for shells. A man with a dog. Fishermen here and there. I dug my big toe into the sand, unearthing a scallop shell. Mom would like this one, I thought. Perhaps she would have kept it in the treasure box I’d found when I was cleaning out her apartment. I’d packed up her clothes, marked items for donation, gathered up keepsakes for the family to sort through together.

When I first came across the box, I didn’t know what it was. I opened it expecting to see old letters or documents she’d tucked away. Instead, I found a collection of things that didn’t go together. I ran my hand through the treasures. A matchbook. A round stone. A little carved bird. Memories that had meant something to Mom but were a mystery to me.

Then I spotted what looked like a flat disc and freed it from the jumble. A sand dollar with a hook on it, made to hang on a Christmas tree. There was a year painted on it too: 1989.

I continued walking down the beach, leaving the scallop shell for someone else to discover. I had a sand dollar to think about.

I’d recognized it in Mom’s treasure box right away. She’d given it to me in the spring of that year, 1989. The year I was expecting a baby at Christmas. Mom didn’t yet know that I’d lost the baby. She was so happy when she gave me the little present to open. “I saw it and thought of you,” she said. When I opened the gift, I burst into tears.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” She took me in her arms and let me cry. I don’t know how she could understand me through my tears. “I’m here,” she kept saying. “Just cry and cry. I’m not going to leave you.” Safe in her arms, in her love, I knew that everything would be okay.

Her gift of the sand dollar had been forgotten. At least by me. I didn’t even wonder about it as I struggled through that Christmas. But finding it years later in Mom’s treasure box told me it was her way of keeping her promise. I could almost feel her loving arms wrapped around me now on this beach. Hear her reassuring words, “I’m here.”

I took another step and stumbled. I plopped right onto the sand. Something in the surf had caught itself between my toes.

“Hey there,” a fisherman called. He ran over to help me. “You okay?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” I said, getting up.

I put a hand on his shoulder to balance myself and pulled whatever it was out from between my toes. I held it up in amazement. A perfect sand dollar, whole and unbroken. It was a message. God’s reassurance crashed over me like an ocean wave.

“That’s a really nice one!” the fisherman said. “Sand dollars almost never make it to shore in one piece. Not around here anyway.”

I brushed off my treasure and held it close on the walk home. God had made the same promise Mom did. I was never, ever alone.

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