Acadia National Park means the world to me because it’s a place where I can really feel my dad. When my mom and I spent a few days there in June of this year, just past the one year anniversary of his passing, we unexpectedly found him everywhere.
It started on our first morning when we bought latte’s and started a gentle walk on the Ocean Path. We had originally planned to spend a short time there and then move onto the parks harder hikes, but we ended up spending hours meandering on the cliffs and finding sunny places to sit and watch the tide rise. My dad was crazy about water. On road trips he would make us stop along Lake Superior– if the waves were rolling in, even when we were quite young, he’d take us into the water and hold our torsos with his strong hands to lift us up right at the moment a huge wave would crash by. On local hikes along the Lake Superior shoreline, especially on day trips to Little Presque Isle, he’d strip down to his shorts and spontaneously dive off of a cliff like it was nothing. I remember him persuading me to join him before I was double digits– he’d jump first and wait for me, and sometimes my brother, to follow. He was as incredibly strong swimmer and I remember always feeling safe.
As we sat on the cliffs that first morning in Acadia, we pointed out a ledge where we knew he would have convinced us it was OKAY to jump off of, and right after my mom made the comment, a sudden splash appeared right underneath it as if some invisible cliff diver had jumped right in. I poured some of his ashes into a salty pool of the Atlantic and thought about what parts of the world they’d drift away to. It was clear that we wouldn’t rush the rest of the day, that it would be important to keep enjoying our time by the water– a place my dad will always be.
My dad was a lover of seafood– I think it was his favorite reason that I moved to the East Coast. On a visit to Boston, he took me to the Union Oyster House, the oldest restaurant in America, where we split a “lobster dinner.” He was so proud to teach me how to eat a real, boiled, un-cracked lobster– and of course, followed up with a coveted dad-joke: “I’ll just eat the tail and the claws— you can have everything else!” My mom and I had a goal to eat lobster for breakfast, lunch and dinner while we were in Acadia, and I don’t beleive a meal went by where we didn’t proclaim “dad should be here!” For our last meal of the trip we ordered “the biggest lobster you have!” from a semi-famous lobster pier. We ended up downgrading to a 3.8lb monster and enjoyed it, soaked in butter, on the pier looking out at the lobster boats that had retired for the day. There was A LOT of claw and tail meat, but I didn’t let any of it go to waste.
We found him at every historical sign, forcing us to pause to read the plaques even when we were itching to keep hiking. It became a joke on most family vacations to take pictures of him reading plaques, because he was so notorious for it. On a road trip to Philly I took after I moved to the East Coast, I made my boyfriend take pictures of me reading many historical signs so I could text them home to “make dad proud.”
At sunrise on Cadillac Mountain, the first place that sees the sunrise in the United States, he was there like he always is to, as my mom always says, remind us that it’s a “brand new day.” Sunrises have become very important to us since his suicide.
He was was in our hotel where we cuddled in matching St. Bernard pjs like he used to with my mom— where I jumped out of bed and started to say “we should call dad and tell him about our day…” and then caught myself and realized it had been months since I had made that slip.
We hadn’t gone on this trip to intentionally grieve, but we ended up doing so in the most cathartic, happy/sad kind of way. Everyone grieves differently, and I have heard from many people who have lost a family member that they hardly talk to their parent/sibling about the loved one they’ve lost. To the contrary, the three of us have normalized talking about him, sometimes as if he’s around, a lot of times about what he’s missing, sometimes about how proud he’d be of one of our accomplishments, and most of the time, what he’d make a joke about. I think I surprise people when I mention him nonchalantly, or tell people without pause when I’m reminded of him. It’s honestly less painful to keep him around this way.
I didn’t share these intimate moments from my trip with my mother when they happened a few months ago, but as I head up to Acadia today, I am compelled to. It feels important to tell anyone struggling with grief that it’s okay to be missing someone and be happy, and it’s okay to be sad too. If you’re missing someone it’s okay to find the place you feel them and bask in it for awhile. For us, it was a place we had never been to with my dad, but we were on the kind of vacation he would have been 100% geeked about. We smiled and cried all over Acadia and wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Don’t hide from thoughts of the person you love, carry them with you always.