The ashes caught in the wind, blowing back towards my mom and the road behind her. A small laugh escaped through her choked-back tears as a small burst of my dad's ashes scattered across the pavement. He was movin' on down the highway, like in the Jim Croce song we played at his funeral.
It was a year ago today on an unseasonably warm and sunny February day that my dad passed away. We had been in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, gathered together that night in the dim room of the intensive care unit – me, my mom, and brother, Travis, sitting next to him on the hospital bed. Now, on another bright day one year later, the three of us traveled to a viewpoint on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Shenandoah National Park to leave a little bit of my dad at a place he loved.
This park in the Appalachian Mountains had seen my parents' first dates, countless family camping trips and weekend road trips. These azure peaks had heard our laughter and family feuds, both so common on family trips.
On one of our camping trips at the Piney River many years ago, we found a campsite with a private, mountain spring-fed swimming hole. We spent our days jumping off rocks into clear, cold water and our nights cooking burgers and corn cobs over a crackling fire. Travis and I chased hundreds of butterflies, fresh from their cocoons, as they fluttered their marigold wings for the first time.
Once on a visit to Luray Caverns, Travis and I went off on our own and took too long, lost in a corn maze. My dad threatened to leave us there. Twenty years later, we joked, we were leaving him up here – let's see how he likes it!
And the truth is, he would love it.
Now, not too far away, at this spot on the Parkway overlooking the valley and the surrounding mountains in their hazy shades of blue, we knew this was a place he would want to stay.
We noticed a rocky, short trail. With the jar in my hands, Travis and I followed the path to a jagged cliff jutting over the expansive valley.
We waved back up at Mom, who stayed close to the car parked above. We laughed. We took pictures. We talked about how dad would have loved this spot. While poor health and physical weakness limited his mobility his last few years, his adventurous spirit never wavered. We had no doubt he wouldn’t have just followed us to the edge – he would have led the way.
Perched on a rock, with nothing man-made in view and no other hikers around, my brother and I were immersed in the backdrop that bore witness to the memories that define us as a family. And finding solace in this place my father loved to escape to, I let him go.
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Sarah Puckett is a passionate traveler and writer. In 2014, she left corporate life to pursue a year-long round-the-world journey, visiting all seven continents.
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Thank you for sharing your very personal story, Sarah. Today is the one year anniversary of my father's passing and I find it cosmically surreal that I came across your story while I was trying to figure out how to tell my own. In 2015, my father came to visit me in Wyoming and we went to Yellowstone Park. There were so many little moments we shared along that journey and I feel like we left a piece of ourselves there. It's a place I know he would enjoy and if I must let him go, I would like to let him go there. I wish you comfort and peace in your adventurous life. Happy travels!