I’ve never been to a National Park.
I, like many New Yorkers, was taught that NYC is all you need. Even after going to college in upstate NY in a tiny town in the middle of the mountains, not once did I explore them.
As I’ve aged, I’ve come to know nature a bit more. Living now in Portland with the natural world more accessible than in NY, I’ve come to appreciate nature and some (not all, HA!) of what that entails.
My lovely wife Maria suggested going to Glacier National Park and even with my new appreciation, my first thought was, “What for? We have everything we need here!”
I set an intention for some deep healing with some expectation of how to access that and what that might look like. We packed some clothes and food. I checked the tires and off we went.
I’d heard about both the beauty of—and the fears of driving on—Going to the Sun Road, the only road that goes through the park and is only open a few months a year. It’s narrow. It’s high. It’s curvy. It can be very windy. And in some spots, you wouldn’t dare drive more than 10 MPH because even though there is a short rock wall there to keep you safe, just beyond that are steep drops of several hundred feet.
In the winter, Glacier Park can get between 500 and 700 inches of snow. In some spots on the main (only) road, you can see wild animals. Four big-horned sheep crossed the road in front of us. We watched a moose for a while. And in some areas, there is an opportunity to park and admire the view, where for me, it was impossible not to hear Karen Carpenter singing, “I’m on top of the world looking down on creation…”
One area called to me. We parked and looked around. Felt the wind at our backs and the very strong sun on our faces.
And then I felt him.
If you’re new to me or my work and aren’t aware, I lost my dad to COVID-19 in December 2020. A healthy octogenarian with a zest for life, for learning, for sharing, and who I always thought was bigger than life, was taken down by something microscopic in size… in two weeks.
Certainly I’ve grieved, and will continue to do so. And being reasonably intuitive, I think I’ve been able to hear him sometimes, but I can’t say I’ve felt him. Not like this.
Looking into the vast space, I felt him in the mountains. I felt his presence in the water and in the clouds. And in the wind. And in the sky and the sun.
And I grieved.
But this time there was another layer of texture. Beyond missing his physical presence, now there was an added message that brought out both an additional layer of grief and also an immense sense of awe and gratitude: “He’s free!”
While dad was rather robust physically, mentally, in addition to his brilliance, he never seemed at ease. But that idea of him was now was replaced with peace. And I was present to a deeper layer of love both for and from him.
This wasn’t the type of healing I expected. I was reminded that when we humans make plans, the Universe sometimes laughs and says, “Yeah, well maybe that, but what about this…?”
We may not return to Glacier for several years, despite pretty much everyone there asking if we’d be there again next year, but the memory of this moment has deepened my appreciation of grieving—a healthy and normal aspect of humanity that we’re taught to be ashamed of. And it is a doorway we must open and walk through to experience profound and unconditional love.
We can say yes to ALL of our emotions. Grieving should be welcomed, even as we think our departed friend, or daddy, is at peace. These are not mutually exclusive. Grieving is how the body heals ANY sense of loss.
I’ve found that grief doesn’t like to be reasoned with. And that it can’t be buried without eventual mental and physical negative side effects. It must be honored and appreciated as much as love and laughter are. And sometimes it shows up when we least expect it.