“Take the scenic route” was something my father said to me as he took the long way to drop me off at Vermillion Middle School. The curvy road overlooked the side of the bluffs in South Dakota. As he repeated it for emphasis, it made my 13-year-old self roll my eyes. “Okay, Dad,” I replied, and I thought we were only talking about the route to school.
Thirty years later, I am one month away from the first anniversary of my father’s death. I’m reflecting on the past 11 months and wonder, would another 10 years of his life make his death less heartbreaking? If he had lived to be 100, would I miss him less after he’s gone? I asked my mom that very question. If you were married for 60, 70, or even 80 years, would it have made you feel more fulfilled with your life with him?
The answer is a resounding no. I’m sure the most significant source of my grief is time—I wish we had more time. Grief is a version of love. In grief, we suffer because there is more love to give. We ache for what could have been—the missed moments that are no longer an option and the comfort just knowing they are alive provides.
The good news is our bond with someone we love remains long after someone dies. It freezes. Like a beautiful painting, their memory is etched in our existence indefinitely. I can feel my father’s energy if I sit quietly enough and turn inward. I know that even in death, we are connected.
No amount of time can take away a bond with a particular person. It does not matter how you are connected—if you carried them in your womb, raised them to adulthood, laid next to them for 50 years, or even spent 100 years as their child—the love is interwoven into your soul.
Once someone dies, our daily hustle, insecurities, or misguided priorities cannot get in the way of our relationship with them. The connection is frozen. It’s like looking back on your youth and remembering “the good ole days” as you smile and reminisce about the joys you had. I know one thing: this perspective doesn’t make the ache disappear. It doesn’t dry the tears that soak my face unexpectedly, and it surely doesn’t take away the disbelief that still lingers when I think about him being gone forever. FOREVER?
What it does do is helps me smile as I speak to him while on my walk. This perspective allows me to look at pictures, think of memories, listen to songs, and systemically feel the love in my body. I appreciate him so much more in death than I ever could in life.
The scenic route may take longer to reach your destination, but I promise it will provide moments of beauty and additional time with your passenger. So slow down to enjoy life—these moments are impermanent and our time here and with those we love is fleeting.
So, even a hundred years will not be enough with those we love. How will we make our days meaningful? How can you take the proverbial longer scenic route as you navigate your day today? Study the people you love, share your thoughts with them, and let go of what is not serving you. No amount of time will be enough, so love yourself and your people today.