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Small stone memorial set on Sanibel Island comes back to family despite Ian's surging surf

Family members gather by a 12-inch-by-12-inch memorial stone placed near the Sanibel Lighthouse after Marcy Tatrai died in 2017.
Submitted photo
Special to WGCU
Family members gather by a 12-inch-by-12-inch memorial stone placed near the Sanibel Lighthouse after Marcy Tatrai died in 2017.

Before Hurricane Ian, Sanibel Island had been considered one of the greatest shelling destinations.

But islanders returning home after the monstrous storm are learning that not all visitors of years’ past left the island with sand pales and bags teaming with seashells.

Some, it turns out, actually bring a memento to the island, intentionally leaving it behind. That’s what Marica Chauvet learned recently.

Chauvet is among thousands here facing a long road to recovery after Hurricane Ian washed ashore obliterating homes and upending lives.

“The horror, it was incomprehensible,” she said.

When she arrived back on the island after evacuating ahead of Hurricane Ian, she was dumbstruck. What she saw haunted her. She had to get away, to find beauty.

Anything but the rubble.

“I went to the beach and I peddled my regular route because I needed grounding. I needed understanding. I needed hope and I found this stone,” she said.

The 12 inch by 12 inch memorial stone found on Sanibel after Hurricane Ian.
Photo provided by Marcia Chauvet.
Special to WGCU
This rock was tucked away near the Sanibel Lighthouse a month after Marcy Tatrai died in 2017. Tatrai’s family, who aren’t from Southwest Florida, picked Sanibel to honor Marcy because Marcy loved to shell on the island. The family would visit the rock, but after Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, they thought they’d never see it again. Two friends who had never met the Tatrais made sure that was not the case.

The stone is actually a 12 inch by 12 inch rock weighing 24 pounds. Images of pastel-painted shells are carved onto it. As are these words:

Marcy Tatrai

Shellmaster Shellmate.

1977 to 2017

“And I felt compelled to find a love one of this stone because basically, I saw it as a tomb stone,” said Chauvet.

So she snapped picture sending it to her friend Kenneth Cieslack, asking him to post it to Sanibel Island-related Facebook groups.

It took all of 10 minutes for family members of Marcy Tatrai to respond to the post.

Chauvet’s voice strained as she reads the comment from Marcy Tatrai’s mother: “’Please let us know what we need to do to get it back. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”

Chauvet’s been fighting back tears for weeks. But the rock is her undoing. “I didn’t even cry going in my house. But this did it. We’ll get it back to her loved ones and they’ll have it forever.”

Chauvet and Cieslack look at a photo of Marcy and her sister Patricia.

“Ah sweet,” Chauvet said. But they long to know more about Marcy Tatrai.

A call is made. There are introductions. Chauvet cries some more and Patricia Tatrai marvels that the memorial stone was not stolen out to sea by the hurricane.

“I had no hope what we’d ever see it again,” Patricia Tatrai said.

It turns out Marcy Tatrai spent the last 10 years of her life directly across the state in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. But Sanibel, her family said, was the place that truly stole her heart.

She would often race across the peninsula at 4 a.m. to capture the best shells at day break.

After Tatrai died unexpectedly in December of 2017 her sister and a friend brought the memorial rock to Sanibel Island. They was tucked away behind a roped-off area was placed near the Sanibel Lighthouse.

Family gathered near the marker on more than one occasion to honor and remember Marcy Tatrai.

But Hurricane Ian freed the memorial marker from it nest and sending it along the island leaving it in plain view for those, like Chauvet looking for signs of hope.

“It’s pretty significant” Chauvet said. “…It really is. I think it is a symbol of just kind of like strength and what you hold on to to get you through things.

“So, I think if you look for symbols like that, they are out there and that’s what keep you going.”

After giving the memorial rock a good cleaning, Cieslack packaged up the rock and sent to Marcy Tatrai’s family in Pennsylvania Wednesday

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