This Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the sudden passing my step-mother-in-law, Annelies. As I painfully noted at the time in Expectations, Interrupted, my father-in-law found her in their hot tub. The coroner theorized that she had stood up too quickly, passed out, and drowned.
I now know the pain of people whose loved ones pass away close to holidays and other annual events. The week this year is remarkably similar to the week last year. It began with my father’s 90th birthday party, which was the last time we saw Annelies, at her most engaging and social best. It ended with an annual Microsoft conference, the one I was attending when my father-in-law was frantically trying to find me.
But other things are different this year. In the wake of Annelies’ passing, my wife asked her father what we could do for him. Stung by the speed with which life gets snatched away, he asked nothing more than to see us more often.
For a long time, he and Annelies had a weekly Saturday morning date with her daughter and son-in-law, Suzanne and Vural, who live not far from us. They would walk on a beach below Santa Cruz, between the towns where they lived. They had coincidentally chosen the beach below the house my parents had bought in 1968, a beach I had grown up on. Annelies had frequently invited us to join them. But I knew the road between our home and that beach: part of it winds through mountains, the straightaway leadings to the beach is often clogged, and parking at Rio Del Mar is a nightmare. We never went.
Now, we go. Every Saturday morning, the four of us carpool to the beach, Suzanne and Vural’s dog Bradley in the back of either our station wagon or their SUV. To our utter horror, we discovered that even in the midst of summer, by leaving early enough on Saturday morning, there are never any backups and, even more surprising, we always find parking. We might as well be going at midnight.
Sometimes the beach is sunny. Sometimes the beach is gray. On sunny days, someone will always remember that on such days Annelies would spread her arms out as if to embrace the entire ocean and say, “Isn’t it a beautiful day?”
Sometimes when we walk along the shore of Monterey Bay, the place where we spread her ashes, we’ll see otters or dolphins splashing close to the shore. We’re sure they’re Annelies, come to escort us on the walk we regret never having taken with her.