Lessons from a turtle release

Someone handed a baby turtle in a small container to me. “Give him a name,” she said. And of course what popped into my head was ‘Gary.’ As in, my deceased husband.


Photo: Campamento Tortugueros Sayulita


This past week I was in Sayulita, a sleepy little seacoast village in Mexico, where my friends, Tom and Rose, go to escape the Rocky Mountain winters. Fabulous hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Gorgeous beaches. Great water for surfers of all ages. And home to Campamento Tortugueros Sayulita, a sea turtle preserve.

I released Gary the Turtle and watched him scurry toward the pounding surf, falling headlong into indentions in the sand, resting for a moment, and then slogging onward.

Ten minutes later, the little guy finally reached the place where the waves crashed over him and carried him out to sea.

It turned out to be a moving experience that involved a little misty-eyedness on my part. Which puzzled me, because I’m through with the sorrowful slice of grieving. So why this emotional response to a sea turtle named Gary?

I recently read a piece entitled, “4 Tasks of Mourning,” by Dr. J. William Worden. The 4 tasks are:

1. Accept the reality of the loss. “It is often very painful and sad,” wrote Dr. Worden, “when we cannot just pick up a telephone … to share the news of our lives.”

Loss accepted. Check.

2. Experience the pain of grief. According to Worden, this can include physical and emotional pain, depression, sadness, tears, anger, guilt.

Pain experienced. Check. Check.

3. Adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing. I’m remembering to fill my gas tank; learned how to look helpless when stranded on a busy highway with a flat tire (not because I’ve never changed a tire, but because I couldn’t find all the stowed-away bits and pieces of tire-changing equipment that are hidden all over my rig); and learned how to know if the chimney flu is in the open or closed position before lighting a fire (this learned the hard way) — all chronicled in a blog post: 17 things I lost when Hubby died.

Adjusted to new environment. Check.

4. Find an enduring connection with the deceased and move on with life. I stumbled across this concept a few months ago (and wrote a blog about it), which at the time, sounded a little communing-with-the-dead-ish.

Enduring connection. Done. All four tasks completed, even before I knew they needed to be.

So why this emotional response to a sea turtle named Gary?

Perhaps because Gary the Turtle’s persistent quest reminded me of how valiantly Gary the Husband lived and died with cancer. Resolutely. Uncomplainingly. Courageously.

I loved my husband very much, and his life and death inspires me in my widow years. His courage makes me want to live fearlessly, audaciously; his persistence stirs me up in the direction of tenacity.


Rose was throwing Tom a milestone birthday party this past week. Close to 125 people showed up — local Sayulitans, U.S. snowbirds who winter there, and a number of family and friends who flew in from the states.

This is how loved Tom and Rose are.

The week included leisurely barefooted walks in warm sand (think: foot massage) …



… and falling asleep each night to the crash of Pacific waves in this beach bungalow …



… with my bedroom located in the thatched loft at the end of this ladder (how cool is that?!).



Tom and Rose rented the bungalow and dubbed it Party Central because this was where they hosted the celebration. Incredible local food. A delightfully talented street musician. Dancing under the stars to the background beat of waves hammering the beach.



I almost declined the Mexico invitation. Because I couldn’t find a reasonably priced flight. After a conversation with a financial-advising family member, and one more quick flight search, I said Yes.

This lesson from a turtle release:

What obstacles?! Head in the direction of your God-breathed destiny. With tenacity. While you still have life. And take as many side adventures as possible.


P.S. If you know someone who needs to release a turtle, please share, tweet or pin!


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  1. Wendy Archer

    What a lovely thing to do .. I hope Gary is thriving and grows to be a healthy, strong adult turtle, living many years without problems. Your post reminds me that every now and then, even after many years, the pain of loss will sneak up and ambush me. I find that true after 15 years of losing my baby girl – in fact, a 90 year old once told me in tears that that will happen for the rest of my life. Because you don’t stop loving, even if you do eventually have to continue living. I also find it true with the loss of my husband to alcohol 7 years ago. Although my feelings towards him have now changed, occasionally I remember how much I loved him and how happy we were, and it makes me sad. Bless you Marlys, and your journey.

    • Well said, Wendy: “Because you don’t stop loving, even if you do eventually have to continue living.” And thank you for the best wishes for Gary the Turtle! 🙂

  2. Lizzi Katz

    I love that you are in Sayulita with Rose! Please give the town, and especially Rose, my love!

  3. stan

    Great story!! love ya!

  4. Peter Howe B.E.M.

    There… you’ve done it again (may be a title for a song). I felt slightly envious that you had been to Sayulta, Mexico, not really, good on you. Your blog took me to the time when I was 72 and I’d just completed ‘The Ultimate Cycle challenge’ across Mexico. The ‘Ultimate bit’ related to : The climbs/hill on the cycle challenge, each evening pitching our own tents, digging our own toilets/loos/johns!!, the heat, humidity, snow/Ice up in the Sierra’s, the friendships so strong as a result. BUT here’s the thing that you stirred up in me…… to end the cycle challenge, we didn’t know what our destination would be like, however we arrived at the cliff top overlooking Puerto Escondido and we were staying in ‘A HOTEL’.. wow, I thought I had arrived in heaven, AND there across the beach, waves were rolling in, probably the best surf waves I’d ever seen. We rode down to the beach and the HOTEL and everyone rushed into the sea/waves. Little did the rest of the team know but this ‘old fella’ had been surfing since he was a teenager, so you can imagine the joy, pleasure and fulfillment for me, in being able to surf those waves and feel ‘at one with God’ and I just did not know this was to be. I reminded the team at the celebration dinner that final evening, that I had ‘replaced hip joints’….. I surely did not wish to be thrown into the swimming pool like the rest of the team!!!. There were T shirt presentations…. the best legs (i.e. the ones that had been bitten the most….mossies). The thing is Marlys.. you determined to go to Mexico and join friends and you talk about Gary’s persistence amongst other attributes/gifts. With that in mind I would like to urge your readers to take a look at James 1 : 2…. I like to refer to it as ‘Count it all Joy’ scripture. With God anything is possible and if we persevere with determination we can ‘count it all joy’. Thanks so much again for ‘stirring the hornet’s nest’ with wonderful memories and ‘Oh how your blog has purpose’ for us all.

    • Yes, this wisdom from James: “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Good word, Peter!

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