Earlier this month I finally fulfilled a promise I made to Bri. In 2001, we spent 10 wonderful days of our honeymoon in Maui and both absolutely fell in love with Hawaii. The lush, tropical beauty of the islands, the riotous color of the fish and warm, clear water touched us both deeply. We felt right at home. Even more than that, there was a palpable vibrancy of the natural world that was more pronounced than at anyplace either of us had been before.
Within a few days we both settled into the relaxed island pace so well that locals kept assuming we lived there. I am fairly “ambiguiously ethnic” in appearance (my father is African-American and my mother is Caucasian), and once my tan darkened to a deep chocolate, several native Hawaiians assumed I was Hawaiian. This struck both of us as humorous since in California, people always assumed I was Hispanic.
After our honeymoon, we promised each other we would visit the islands again and even had fantasies of moving there one day. Our financial situation did not allow for that though and when Bri began her losing battle with cancer, we never had a chance to go back.
After she passed away in late October 2008, I was compelled to scatter her ashes in Hawaii. I didn’t know where the money would come from, but it would be the best way for me to say goodbye.
I was surprised when a bunch of friends and family members got together and presented me with a check to help pay my way to Hawaii. I felt so grateful and relieved. Throughout this whole experience I have been surprised over and over again by people’s generosity and compassion.
My brother David and my friends Brian and Tom came with me for a week on the big island of Hawaii. It was life changing. We snorkeled almost every day, dove off of 30 foot cliffs into the ocean, swam with 10 foot manta rays and sea turtles, and hiked across the steaming crater of an active volcano.
Apparently it is common for people to ship the ashes of their loved ones to hawaii to have them scattered at sea, but that just seemed too impersonal. I finally found a charter company that allowed us all to go out on a catamaran for the ceremony. I booked it for the fourth day we would be on the island, since my brother was following us out later and I wanted him to be there.
He arrived and we picked him up from the airport, took him to the store to buy some snorkel gear and spent the next few hours in the tropical water. That evening, Brian suggested that we go swimming with manta rays. Apparently, there are several charter boats that go out at dusk and allow you to snorkel or scuba dive with mantas. They anchor at this spot where people have installed underwater lights that attract the plankton the mantas feed on.
I thought snorkeling at night might be a little scary. Even though it was only 30 feet deep and the water was clear enough to easily see the bottom, we were in open water. My trepidation was totally unfounded and all doubts evaporated the moment I hit the water and took in the remarkable view.
A ring of scuba divers encircled the lights at the ocean floor 30 feet below me. Streams of bubbles from their tanks shimmered like Christmas lights as they floated to the surface. Schools of fish swam in formation amidst the bubbles. Then with silent grace the mantas approached. Slowly flapping their 8-14 foot wingspans they wove in and out of the lights. It was spectacularly beautiful. It really is something you must experience to appreciate. Even in the dark you always knew where to look because a cacophony of muffled shrieks and laughter would erupt through the swimmers snorkels with each approach of the graceful mantas. It was thrilling to see these massive, yet gentle creatures doing balletic backflips an inch or two below my chest as I floated at the surface of the water. It was one of the most awe inspiring experiences of my life.
Here is a link to a manta dive video. I know it must be the same place we went, since I recognize one of the mantas, called “Lefty” because it is missing a cephalic lobe.
A couple days after that expedition, we went out to scatter Bri’s ashes. We were all surprised to find out that I had unknowingly chartered the exact same boat for the ash scattering trip. The captain said that there are 20 or so different charters that do the manta dives and we just happened to pick the one that also does ash scatterings.
I made a play list of some of our favorite songs on my iPod and brought my external speakers to take out on the boat. The captain took us a mile offshore and I read some tributes from Bri’s friends and family. Tom read an incredibly moving and heartfelt tribute that moved us to tears. I scattered her ashes and the four of us sprinkled fresh flower petals over water. The boat slowly circled the spot before heading back to shore.
I read the following:
“When Bri and I first began our relationship, she asked me “is it better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all?”
I wish I had the vision to see where our spirits go when we die. I wish I knew why Bri had to suffer pain and disease. Sadly, I do not. What I do know is that Bri lived her short life with her heart open. She uplifted those around her. She was courageous and loving and showed grace and gratitude to the end.
The weight of our unrealized dreams weighs heavily at times and I am overcome with grief, but I know that I have been unusually blessed to have loved so deeply. She met me fully at all levels. We walked our paths side by side, honoring, respecting and cherishing our partnership, encouraging each other to grow spiritually along the way. Now I must walk on alone. Bri gave me the gifts of integrity, courage and optimism to help light my way wherever it leads.
Bri, thank you for every moment. No matter what, I know I have loved and been fully loved in return.”
Here is a slide show I put together as a tribute to her. The voice at the beginning is her singing as a kid.
Here is the eulogy her uncle Walt gave at the memorial.
Bri dying at only 31 years old has radically shifted my view on life. It is no longer acceptable to push off the dreams I have to a future that may never come. I have always wanted to travel and so far this year I have spent 3 weeks in Germany and Switzerland working and visiting with friends and family, a week in Hawaii with my brother and two best friends and am just about to embark on a month long road trip across the USA with Brian. Life is too short to postpone my dreams, I am looking forward to many more adventures.