The House That Built Me: An Open Letter to My Father

It’s been an emotional week for me. Five days ago, I said goodbye to my childhood home, the place I was raised and the place where you died. The place that shaped much of who I am.

I always knew that this was inevitable, especially when I knew you were going to pass away. I mean, not many people hold onto their childhood home unless it gets passed down in the family, and that wasn’t going to happen in this case.

I’ve had a flood of emotions: Sad that this would be the last time I would make a trip down that long driveway lined with pine trees. Mad that the cards you were dealt had you passing away at the young age of 67, leaving Mom to have to mow acres and acres and keep up with the pond maintenance. Sure, I’m aware that you had talked about how long you would stay there even with you alive and healthy, but it hurts to know my children won’t get a little more time swimming, running, playing, riding the 4-wheeler, and having bonfires there. But I also felt happiness, that Mom felt so much relief and peace to be moving into a new chapter of her life. It’s all part of the mourning process that I’m clearly still going through.

I took my time, without kids, to walk the property and the home, to say a proper goodbye. That’s the way I work, I’ve learned. When it comes to material and sentimental items, when it comes time to get rid of them, I have to revel in the memory associated with the object. I have to remember what my life was like in that time period, think about the people, the smells, the sounds, the memories. And then, I can let go.

I took my time and I thought about you with every step. 

I walked upon the floors that you walked upon.

I stepped into the pond that you loved and cared for. 

I gazed into the woods that we spent so many hours exploring.

I sat on the deck that you sat on and I kissed those beams with my lips because I know your hands grabbed them so many times.

I walked upon the grass that you mowed (you probably spent more time mowing in my lifetime than anything else you did at home).

I pressed my hand onto the trees that my sister and I climbed.

I saw the birds and squirrels that you fed every day.

I paused in the bedroom that you took your last breath in, and gazed out the window at the view I’d never see again. And then I paused in my childhood bedroom and smiled at the window that led to the backyard. So many times in middle school I crawled out that window to meet a friend or even just to be by myself in the backyard without walking through the front door.

I thought about the countless tears that fell to the ground in this house.

And on my way out of town, I exited central Wisconsin on Hwy 10 for the 1000th time. The only reason I now have to take this highway is to visit your grave. Otherwise, I’ll be visiting a different side of town going forward, and that in and of itself is tough for me to swallow.

You see, as with any pain in life, I had to let it hurt, and then let it go. I know you walked with me, your hand on my shoulder, understanding that this was what I needed. I know you wrapped your arms around Mike and I as we embraced and cried for the last time on that driveway. I know you were there, because I felt you. 

And to my mother, gosh am I proud of you. Your strength and dignity, patience and positivity, unwavering faith and trust, and ability to discern what is right and wrong for this new chapter of life is so inspirational. 

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” - Andre Gide

Here’s to discovering new lands on this voyage through life.