Three weeks ago I was filled with excitement for a family trip to Germany. We packed up, grabbed our passports and hitched a ride to the airport. After 10 exhausting hours on a direct flight from Denver to Munich, we met up with my beautiful German family. We were only half delirious as we navigated the Bavarian country side to our vacation rental. We laughed as we passed several McDonald’s, joking that our travel companion (who has a very American palate) would not starve if the local cuisine didn’t suit him.
I wanted to focus this post on fun aspects of our trip, tips for traveling with young kids, the importance of keeping family connections alive even over great distances. However, on our 8th day in Germany, I received the tragic news that my father passed away. Just a few hours later we were speaking with Lufthansa seeking the first flight home. I was blessed to be surrounded by family when I got the news, but in my heart I knew I had to be with my sister. I hurried home to be with her.
It is now two weeks since I got the news. In those two weeks we traveled from Germany back to Denver, then from Denver to Montana, and once in Billings my immediate family and I worked non-stop to quickly and thoroughly organize my Dad’s estate.
I am heartbroken and guilt-ridden. I should have called more. I should have moved back home. I should have sent more pictures. I should have hugged him tighter and longer and more often.
Before we left Germany, my Oma hugged me and told me that the women in our family have resilience. We are strong. She is 86 and she says she doesn’t know much, but she knows that. I have kids to distract me and a good man to lean on. I have my sister and we’ve been through this before. She is right, and I try to rationalize the loss. I try to comprehend it.
Here’s the thing about grief though. It’s not rational. It’s a matter of emotion and emotion is like the ocean. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes it crashes over you. When the tide is out, I feel a sense of peace. I wonder how I can be so calm when my world is so totally changed. How is it that I can eat a donut and think it tastes good, when the man I’ve looked up to my whole life will never taste a donut again?
Then the tide comes in. It thoroughly drenches me and it turns out that what I thought was peace was really just a void that gets filled with a crushing ache. My mind is flooded with memories. I remember walking through a Bavarian forest when I was nine – we stopped to look at a hedgehog. Then there was the time he taught me to drive a stick shift – parking on a hill and trading places with me so that I wouldn’t be afraid of the gas. I remember my wedding and how much he enjoyed it, even though I never thought he’d be into such a thing.
I wanted to write about Germany, but instead I need to write about him. I want to honor him. I want to be a person who would make him proud. He lived with integrity, loyalty and a strong work ethic. He cared about others and was compassionate. He loved history. He served our country. He put his family first, even when we were selfish. He is a man worth honoring.
Often my posts pour out of me and write themselves. I reflect on my life and look to my intuition for guidance on what lessons can be pulled from my experiences. In that regard, this post is like the others, and if I had to pull any lesson from the last two weeks, it would be simple – honor the people you love. Tell them how much you care, speak well of them and to them, pray for their wellbeing and express gratitude for the value they add to your life. If needed, forgive them or seek their forgiveness. Don’t lose an opportunity to make them feel good about themselves. This is how we honor the people we love, and ourselves.