A walk on the beach is about as good it gets in a global pandemic. That’s what we could do for my friend Ben’s milestone birthday on Saturday. But that 30th birthday walk was made more meaningful when we found a message in a bottle.
It was cool to find, and we expected a message from a child testing the water's ability to carry it. We’re all finding it hard to place our faith these days.
The bottle, which we found on the shore of South Beach on Martha’s Vineyard, wasn’t from a child. It carried a letter from Brandy Bard, of Whitehall, N.Y. She slid pictures of her cousin and best friend Star Lynn Douillard into the bottle. Douillard died in February at age 40. She had liver disease. Her diagnosis came too late to get her the transplant she would have needed to live.
“We were supposed to go to the ocean together, for she had never been,” Bard wrote in the letter. “So as promised I am now bringing her in hopes she will travel and see so much more of the ocean than just the front view.”
Douillard and Bard had a special bond; the kind where you feel lucky that genetics gave you more than similar features, but also a true friend. They even had matching tattoos: “friends 4 life, cousins first.” Douillard also had three sons.
We didn’t say it out loud, but walking back from the beach there was a feeling that this message landed in the right hands at the right time. As Ben read the letter to us the meaning and magnitude of Brandy’s loss came off the page.
“It honestly put things in perspective for me,” Ben said when I asked him what he was thinking in the moment. “I was in no way looking forward to turning 30, but this simple connection via a message in a bottle helped me appreciate the people that I was fortunate enough to celebrate with, and the love that I’m surrounded by even when we are physically distant.”
Ben texted Bard that he was incredibly touched by her heartfelt and sincere act to honor her best friend. “We know how difficult it is to lose a loved one, especially during these difficult times in the world,” he wrote.
“At first I cried, I still cry, I’m crying right now,” Bard said when she and I talked. “It warms my heart so to know that people care and our fulfilling my wishes.”
We weren’t the first to find Bard’s letter. Cara Jordan and her daughter Ashleigh found it when they were playing fetch with their dog on Shipyard Lane in Duxbury. Jordan released it near Nantucket before it was found Martha’s Vineyard on Oct. 1. A few weeks later, the bottle washed up on the same shore where we would find it.
“I was at peace knowing that she did see the ocean, even if it was just one part of what the world has to offer,” Bard told me. “I knew she was at peace with that too.”
Even though the bottle didn’t make it off of Martha’s Vineyard in October, Douillard will soon travel farther than Bard imagined.
Ben and his wife Alex are taking the bottle to St. Croix in December and will release it into the Caribbean Sea.
“Seeing how appreciative and grateful Brandy has been for even just letting her know we found the bottle has been amazing, and I’m genuinely grateful for being able to play such a small role in helping her to remember her best friend,” said Ben.
“I will admit I’m a little jealous that she will be sailing the Caribbean seas,” Bard said, like only a close family member could say, “but she deserves it.”
In a world that feels crushing some days, the crush of the waves on Saturday washed a sense of calm and peace over me. Now I know I was sharing those waves and hopefully those feelings with a woman who never stood on the shore while she was alive. A mother, a wife, a friend who is deeply missed. Her family’s loss gave us the gift of gratitude for a simple celebration of another year of life.