I sat on the bow, the wind on my face, water splashing up onto my legs. Out on the lake on our boat—named the ARK after the three children—Alison, Kippy, Rebecca, we took turns at the tiller learning how to steer.
“Watch the edges of the sail, you want to keep them tight. If they begin to flutter it means you need to move the boat closer to the wind,” my father coached us along.
He was a patient teacher, placing his warm calloused hands on top of mine as the rudder dug in. I nudged the tiller left and right, watching the boat move and the sails respond.
“Is this right?” I looked up at him, wanting his approval, only ever wanting him to tell me that I was doing a good job.
“Yes, very good, Rebecca! Now be ready to veer away from the wind if it picks up too much. That’s called falling off, when you move the boat away from the wind,” he told me.
The boat caught a gust and heeled over a few inches. I felt a surge move through the boat and into my body. That was the first time I remember feeling adrenaline—a jolt of electricity racing—as the boat began to speed up. In the years to come, I’ll spend my teenage years and early adulthood chasing that feeling.
Jumping out of Cessna’s and twin otters with a parachute strapped to my back, wreck diving aircraft carriers in the South Pacific, climbing to the tops of masts without a harness in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean in forty-foot swells, or clinging to the back of a man on a fast motorcycle.
My heart began to beat faster as our speed increased. The boat’s keel dug into the water, catching the flow of the water. My father moved his weight closer to the rail as the boat heeled and I did the same.
“We’re really going now, aren’t we?” I said with a giggle, my eyes wide with anticipation over what might happen next.
“Daddy, should she be doing that?” My sister said nervously. She held onto the side of the boat.
The more we heeled over, the farther I wanted to go, edging the boat closer to the wind, testing my own limits and watching to see just how far Daddy would let me go. He smiled and guided my hand to back off of the tiller, moving us away from the wind, loosening the main sheet, spilling some of the wind from the sail, to slow our speed and even the boat back out.
He patted my knee, “Okay Rebecca, that’s far enough.”
We found a quiet spot on the lake to drop our anchor. We collapsed the sails and they gathered like messy beds sheets on top of the boom. One by one we jumped off the side of the boat, splashing into the dark water.
In the water, I looked all around me, suspended for a moment, searching downwards for the bottom, looking eye level for my siblings and then upwards towards my air bubbles travelling towards the surface. I could see the outline of the boat, our dark blue hull and the glow of the sun, muted through the blurriness of the water.
But between the sun and the water, my eyes could always find my father.
He sat perched on the boat, leaning over the side, watching for us, never taking his eyes off of us while we swam.
The shadow of his face, his dark brown eyes that seemed to smile when he looked at you. In the water, still holding my breath, I could imagine kicking towards the surface, and our eyes meeting the moment I surface.
My hands would reach for him and he’d pull me out, and then I’d jump back in, and do it all over again.
👆🏼 An excerpt from my book
Today marks 31 years that he passed away.
For decades, I kept my grief locked away. Keeping it so close—fearing if I spoke about it, it too would disappear.
You took my Daddy. You can’t take my grief. It’s all I have left.
Of course, I know now, I have memories, I have his DNA, I have the foundation that he laid, his love. Speaking about my grief, if anything, has helped heal it, and perhaps brought me even closer to the man I loved the most.
When we keep grief locked away, it has nowhere to go. It gets stuck, festering below the surface. Grief wants to be released, to be shared.
It might be messy. It might be full of rage. It might be a deep wallowing sadness, the howl of a coyote on the edge of a forest.
But grief is universal. We all know grief, in one form or the other. And yet, so many of us hold it close, withholding it from others, from being released, as if it were something to be feared.
When someone dies, they say that time heals all wounds. I call bullshit. Time helps you become more masterful at numbing or running from your grief.
But the best thing you can do?
It’s to share it.
Share your grief, your story, your sadness. Verbalize it, move it out of your body. That’s the first step in healing. Being witnessed in our grief is a gift.
And if you are so lucky to be the one on the receiving end?
Just listen. You don’t need to say or do or fix or even hand them a kleenex. That interrupts the flow. The grief knows what to do, the body knows how to process and metabolize it.
Just being there is enough.
With so much love,