Death. Loss. Grief. Such small words to describe the indescribable, the insurmountable mountain of pain that those words bring. Is death ever truly expected? Are we ever fully prepared? Did I wake up 15 days ago on January 31, 2020 fully prepared and ready for my father to die? For my ‘anyone’ to die? No. Absolutely not. Was any member of my family ready or expecting it? No. But he did, suddenly, unexpectedly, and alone. Gone in an instant. My father collapsed while hiking on his favorite trail, searching for Big Foot, yes, Big Foot. He was a Big Foot Hunter, a paranormal investigator and member of several such groups in the Tri-State area. He was open minded; he was a believer in God and the Devil and completely open to the idea that we are not alone in this universe or the next. He was inquisitive about such things and spent his days in retirement looking for leads, tracks and answers. This was just one of his many hobbies. Tragically, he hiked a bit too far that day, pushed himself maybe a bit further than he should have and he did not make it home. Cold, wet, and laying across his favorite trail, he perished, alone in the woods. My mother found the love of her life almost 3 hours later, cold and unresponsive. She was alone, in the woods, while cold sleet and snow covered them both. I cannot imagine the anguish in her heart; even as an author I guarantee that my most heartfelt attempt to describe her pain would fail. This man had been her life, her love, her utter world since she was 12 years old and here, he now was, dead at her feet. I cannot imagine that level of grief and heartache. It’s a mountain that I could never climb, would never want to climb. My heart breaks for her, so much more than myself. Another pause here, I need a moment and my tissue box is empty. While I collect myself, and my tissues, think on this scene, immerse yourself in the woods. Can you see them? Such a tragic picture to think upon, no one should ever have to experience it, but sadly they do, and she did. Of course, 9-1-1 was called, my mother began CPR and kept it up for 15 minutes until help arrived. Two hours, they worked on my father in the woods before they brought him out on an ATV, drove him to the nearest ER and inevitably pronounced him dead. During this time, I was traveling to get to her, to meet the ambulance but I was already too late. He was already gone, hours before, but that final hope I had been clinging to did not disappear until I saw my mother’s face, saw the pain in her eyes, felt her arms clutch me and hug me, sobs wracked my body as she wept in my arms. My brother standing stoically beside her, tears streaming down his face. Loss. Despair. Anguish. Grief. Any word you chose, we felt them all, still feel them all. Those feelings that puts the lump in your throat that your screams cannot dislodge; that makes your chest feel like it has been ripped in two, spread apart and your very heart is being squeezed in a vice grip. That deep, bone weary pain that makes you ache and ache and ache. The blackness that threatens to spill out and over your soul, dragging you down into the abyss with it. The surreal feeling of fantasy and real-life merging as you struggle to believe what now is real. We are left behind to deal, like so many others that have experienced death and loss of their own. We are not alone in this, although we feel like we are. Our pain is not the only pain, may not be the worst pain, but it’s OUR pain. That makes it unique. How we choose to deal with this loss, this moment, may define the rest of our lives. It’s a choice, live on or not. My father was not one to give up, nor would he allow us to do so. We do not quit. We do not give up. We will all choose to live on, to keep creating our stories, to make memories and to honor him in this way. I’ll tell you why we choose this. The beauty in the tragic death of my father is quite simply that he refused to give up. He absolutely refused to quit being who he was, no matter what. Several months ago, my father was told he had cancer, but the outlook was good. Medication was prescribed. A treatment plan formed and set in motion. He saw his doctors, kept his appointments, everything a good patient does. The problem with the plan however was the medication that he was on. It left him tired, easily fatigued, no longer able to keep up with his active lifestyle. He refused to accept that he could not hike, could not be in the woods that he loved so much. He refused to just sit around at home. The mentality my father carried with him all his life was that being physically fit was the key to health. He jogged 3-5 miles a day, took up cross country biking for about 15 years and loved nothing more than a good hike in the woods. The day he died, he was in the woods, on a good hike on his favorite trail. Doing his part to maintain his health. Stubborn? Of course. Ironic? Perhaps. Beautiful though? If you knew my father, yes. My father saw a crisp cold day, he felt the hard crunch of frozen ground and sticks under his feet. He saw trees twinkling with bits of ice and snow, perhaps a squirrel or two running along a branch. He saw the rocks and cliffs and streams that he knew so well. He smelled the cold, clean air that carried snow heavy on it and the faint tinge of woodsmoke, a pure winter smell. He was at peace, already in his heaven on earth. Is that not beautiful to you? He always told us that when his time came, if he could choose how or when he died, he would go while he was out in the woods, doing his favorite thing in his favorite place. And so he did. Most of us will not be so lucky. We hurt, deeply. We feel the loss in our universe, that void where he should be, but if we believe as he did, then he is still with us. His spirit always will be, always the little voice in the back of our heads telling us to “go on” or for me, “can’t never tried”. I said “I can’t” a lot as a child. Not anymore. We can and we will go on, like he taught us. For now, dear father, we release you into the great beyond, into that vast unknown with the wish and the belief that you go on, that your spirit continues and that your next adventure awaits. For those of us left behind, alone and uncomfortable in the dark, we grieve.