Community responds in time of need

Date Published: 
May 2, 2014

We left Ocean View last August, planning on returning in the fall, as soon as I recovered from knee-replacement surgery. I was still limping around in October when my husband Benjamin’s right arm began to tremble, and that tremor led to an earthquake that transformed the geography of our lives.

We thought he was having a stroke. Instead, we learned the tremors were symptoms of a seizure. Within a day, Benjamin was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

We talked a lot about getting back to the beach while he underwent brain surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. At Christmas, Benjamin received a magnificent quilt created by our friends at Bear Trap Dunes. We wrapped ourselves in its warmth during the bitter days of winter.

We had no illusions about the ultimate effect of his tumor. But we thought we’d have time to enjoy our house and our friends at Bear Trap — a spring and summer at least.

That was not to be. Benjamin died on April 4, less than six months after those initial arm tremors. We laid that beautiful quilt on the lectern at Benjamin’s funeral.

I was not prepared for the sheer volume of condolences, of the number of lives he touched. I was also not prepared for the frequent question, “Are you going to sell the Ocean View house?”

The answer is “no.” I want to spend time this spring and summer with our friends at Bear Trap, going to water aerobics, walking on the Bethany boardwalk, eating lobster rolls at NorthEast Seafood Kitchen, and reading trashy novels on our screened porch.

I want to take my Maryland grandchildren to the fireworks on the Fourth of July and to introduce my California grandchildren to Grotto Pizza.

That is not to say that I am not nervous about coming back to Ocean View on my own. The memories of being here with Benjamin may overwhelm me. I know that many friends and neighbors won’t know what to say to me. My answer — “It really sucks” — is a perfectly appropriate reaction.

Then there is the fact that, like many other “liberated” women who have never lived alone, I have never changed a lightbulb, hung a picture or pumped up a bicycle tire. I have no idea how I will hang my cow flag in front of the house. (If your name is Milk, you have an unnatural affinity for dairy-related objects.)

But I have learned that I will have lots of offers of help. Not just from my Bear Trap posse, either. It surprising the number of offers you get from people who want to keep you company and console you when you have a beach house — even if it isn’t actually on the beach.

Leslie Milk is the Lifestyle editor of The Washingtonian magazine and author of “It’s Her Wedding, But I’ll Cry If I Want To: A Survival Guide for the Mother of the Bride.”