Missing you, Dad

I have been absent from this blog for a while as I have been going through the hardest time of my life. My family and I lost my father just after the New Year. I haven’t been able to find the words to describe the sadness, so I put off writing about it thinking that maybe it would get easier to write about in time.  It hasn’t. In fact, sometimes my brain has barely processed that he has passed away. Things happen during the day and I think, Oh … I need to tell Dad about that and then I remember he is gone.

I am grateful that—along with my brothers and mom—I was able to spend five weeks with my dad at my parents’ home in Washington before he passed away. As difficult as it was, I cherished that time. There were some good moments when we were able to talk about politics and history and some of my dad’s other favorite subjects. However, most of that time he was not very coherent—or at least it was hard to tell if he comprehended what I was saying to him. That didn’t stop me from telling him how much I loved him, or how thankful I was for his loving support, all that he had provided for our family and what a positive influence he had on me.

I still tell him those things today, hoping that somehow he can hear me.

My family around the year 1985.

My father wanted to be buried in his home state of Wisconsin, so my family traveled back there for the funeral. During our week there, we spent time visiting many places that were significant to us including our childhood homes, places where our relatives had lived and other favorite sites.

One of my earliest memories as a child was walking with my dad and our dog on the wooded paths and railroad trestle at the Fox River Sanctuary in my hometown. It is interesting that out of the countless memories we make throughout our lives, there are some that contain moments that we later realize are incredibly influential to who we become. Those early nature walks in that special place were of that type.

So on one blustery morning during our time in Wisconsin for the funeral, Doug and I went for a run at the sanctuary and crossed the trestle. It had long been abandoned by the railroad, but other than that it looked exactly how I remembered it. I felt happy to be in the same place where I had once stood as a four-year-old. Back then, my dad would have been around the age I am now, and I wondered what he had been thinking about and dreaming of in those days. Moreover, what had been going on in my young mind? No doubt I soaked up the colors of the leaves and the scents of blooms along the river. Maybe I noticed the sounds of birds. Holding my dad’s hand as we strolled along the railroad tracks, the seeds of my future nature-loving existence were being planted. As I jogged over the trestle in January, I whispered a thank you to him for taking me there long ago.

Running along the trestle at the Fox River Sanctuary where I used to walk with my dad.
Running along the trestle at the Fox River Sanctuary where I used to walk with my dad.

Those trestle walks were just the beginning of the adventures my dad would take me and my family on. He loved spending time with us and it was a rare weekend growing up when we weren’t visiting a historic site, taking in a local festival or fair, or going on a camping trip. Later, our family bought a small RV and took multi-week summer vacations to national parks and historic sites (and amusement parks too–he loved roller coasters).  My dad had a passion for sharing our nation’s natural and cultural heritage with us. Those trips left a lasting imprint on me and made me who I am today. They also influenced my career.

My family enjoyed visiting the many lakes found in Wisconsin, including Green Lake.
My family enjoyed visiting the many lakes in Wisconsin, including Green Lake.
My family tent camping in the Wisconsin Northwoods.
My family (minus my younger brother who is taking the photo) tent camping in the Wisconsin Northwoods.
My dad loved trains and loved sharing their history with us. Here he is on a train museum trip with my brother.

Last week I was preparing an education program in the park system where I now work as a full-time interpretive naturalist. The trails were icy so I was scoping out a route that would be safe for participants to travel on. Even though I had been to the park countless times, every visit seemed to hold something new to discover. On this trip, the frozen lake was covered by a layer of meltwater that reflected the cobalt blue sky. As I took in the breathtaking landscape, I whispered a thank you to my dad for those early experiences that led me to a job I love. Just about every day, I get to help others make meaningful connections to nature and history, just like my dad did for me.

Hiking at Devils Lake, Wisconsin, was one of my favorite childhood adventures. Little did my dad know then, I would learn to rock climb there years later.

When I was about five years old, my mom and dad bought land, had a house built, and moved the family out to the country so that we could roam the fields and forests instead of the city sidewalks. There my brothers and I happily played on dirt piles, chased grasshoppers, camped in the backyard and picked vegetables in the garden.

Staking out the new homestead with my dad.
Staking out the new homestead with my dad.
My brothers and I (and cat) camping in the backyard.
My brothers and I (and Kitty Jean) camping in the new backyard.
Exploring the backyard on our new skis that Mom and Dad bought us.
Our backyard felt huge when we explored in on our new skis.

Several years ago, I found a book of nature quotes on my dad’s bookshelf that had been published years before my brothers and I were born. In it, my dad had circled a quote by famed naturalist Richard Jeffries. It summed up so well the gifts that my father had had given me over the years.

“If you wish your children to think deep thoughts, to know the holiest emotions, take them to the woods and hills, and give them the freedom of the meadows, the hills purify those who walk upon them.”

Dad, I miss you dearly. I will always think of you when I am in the mountains, meadows and forests. You will travel with me always.

My dad always sought out new and exciting experiences for weekend family trips–including a wade in Wisconsin’s Hartman Creek.

A Litany of Remembrance

In the rising of the sun and in its going down,
we remember them.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
we remember them.
In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring,
we remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer,
we remember them.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
we remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength,
we remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart,
we remember them.
When we have joys we yearn to share,
we remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us,
as we remember them.

-Poem by Rabbi Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer

My dad enjoying the great outdoors with his dogs as a youngster.

16 thoughts on “Missing you, Dad

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. Losing my father was the hardest thing for me and I didn’t have such great memories. Know that mourning is not something to control. Just go with it and hang on tight!

    1. Hi Delia,

      Thank you for the kind note. I am so sorry to hear that you lost your father too:( It is so incredibly hard.

      Yes- I am trying to just let the grieving process go as it will without trying to control it. It definitely doesn’t make sense sometimes. For instance, it feels like the sadness is sinking in more this month than in the initial month or two after his passing. I just try to let my body feel what it needs to. It actually feels good to have those tears come out sometimes.


  2. Sorry for the lose of your Father never easy to lose a parent. Over the years you learn to cope the tears get less or you learn to hide them better.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, Shawne. You are so right that the grief process is tough. Those tears are always right there under the surface ready to come out at the most unpredictable times– like on my lunch break run the other day. I was cruising along and all of a sudden the music I was listening to and the sun shining through the trees made me think of my dad and the waterworks started.

  3. Wondered what had become of you….now I understand.

    This tribute to your wonderful Dad moved me to tears!

    1. Hi Les,

      Good to hear from you and thank you for your thoughts. Writing the tribute helped bring back so many good memories.

      Yep– I had to take a break from the blogging. I just didn’t have the energy for being on the computer much (and I am still working back into it). I have been getting out on some small outdoor adventures again over the past few weekends which has helped lift my spirits.

      I hope you have some good trips planned for the upcoming summer!


  4. Sending a warm hug and deep sympathy on the loss of your lovely father. My father has been gone for 37 years; the breathless pain you feel now is gradually blended into peaceful grins of memory. Your father provided you with many smiles to come. As a earlier friend wrote, just go with your grief, allow yourself the necessary tears to help wash the pain to a lesser degree. Time truly will be your healing grace!

    I lost my Mom, (the person responsible for our meeting, as I searched for assistance for her after her surgery), in September. Losing a mother brings a different feeling of loss, no less or more painful, only different. I must thank your father, (along with your mother and siblings), for helping to form the incredible person you are that helped me and my Mom, and many countless others during difficult times. You were very blessed to have such a loving and caring influence in your life, his lessons and love will be with you every day!

    My sincere sympathy to you and your family and grateful thanks for your excellent guidance and genuine caring.

    Lyn Holcom

    1. Hi Lyn,

      Thank you so much for your kind note. I wanted to let you know that your words meant a great deal to me even though I didn’t respond quickly. After writing that post, I took a break from my blog (and most computer stuff) for a while. I spent a couple of weekends out camping, nature journaling and skiing and it helped lift my spirits a bit. The tears still come abundantly and at unexpected times but I am just allowing myself to feel the emotions that I need to without trying to judge them. Time will help heal as you say.

      I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. My heart goes out to you and I hope that you too are finding peace and comfort in your memories with her. I am grateful that I was able to help you both after you mom’s surgery.

      Take Care,

  5. Thinking about you Heidi!! Sending strength and hugs your way. Your dad sounds like he was an incredible man – he certainly did an amazing job helping shape you into the person you’ve become!

    1. Hi Karin,

      Thank you for the thoughts and hugs! It has been tough but I am hanging in there. It is good that the weather is getting warmer here in Colorado and I have been able to get outside more for some running, camping and nature sketching. Those quiet moments outdoors are so good for healing from difficult times.

      I hope you are doing well!


  6. Know your family must be so proud of you, helping so many even in your sorrow, the legacy he gave to your family you are continuing to pass on. The poetic quotes you give I am going to try to locate to share with others, What a wonderful family you have, many have not been so blessed, so keep holding fast to what you have now & the sweet memories , & keep on making more. Maranatha Carla

    1. Hi Carla,

      Thank you for this note… your kind words mean a lot to me. Yes- I do feel incredibly grateful to have such a wonderful family and so many cherished memories with them. I am glad you are going to pass on those quotes. The Litany of Remembrance was read at my father’s funeral and it was perfect as I will remember him every time I am out in nature and will continue to think of him when I need strength.


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