My father always said his favorite color was sky-blue-pink.

It’s the color that appears in those perfect sunrises and sunsets, where the right amount of sky mixes with just the right amount of clouds and turns the fiery orange of the sun into a mix of pink, blue and deep purple. It’s also what a perfectly sarcastic person replies when his 5-year old daughter asks about his favorite color.

I didn’t truly realize how my father had shaped my love of the outdoors until after he was gone. He was always supportive of my endeavours. I was never made to feel anything but capable or that I had to be a certain way because I was female. He encouraged me to be fully and completely myself. Being a girl was secondary to all of the things that actually matter.

Hiking Out and Back: Finding Life After Loss by Sara Wesche for Hike it Baby

Losing a light too soon

In August 2018, my dad was diagnosed with walking pneumonia. By the end of October, his breathing had become so impaired, he was admitted to the hospital. I visited him that day with my son, Roland. We chatted about the mundane day-to-day stuff that you don’t think too much about, both knowing in the back of our minds that what he was facing was serious. After a hug and a goodbye, he gave me the peace sign and a smirk as I walked out the door. I laughed and rolled my eyes at his ability to make me feel OK in the gravest of circumstances. I didn’t know it then, but that was the last time I would ever speak to my dad.

The next day he was medically sedated. A week later, on October 25, 2018, he passed away from pancreatic cancer that had spread through his GI tract and, finally, to his lungs.

From the time my dad was admitted to the hospital, I had a purpose. Days spent at the hospital waiting for a diagnosis turned into days spent planning a funeral. Selecting readings and going through old photos. And memorial services and idle chit-chat with infrequent friends and family.

And then it was done.

The world moved forward, yet I was standing still. And the one person whom I wanted to call to help me through this wasn’t there anymore. I missed his calm, patience and understanding. His wisdom and sharp sense of humor. The way he could command respect without arrogance.

Hiking Out and Back: Finding Life After Loss by Sara Wesche for Hike it Baby

I did what any type-A perfectionist who believes that there must always be a solution for every problem does: I suppressed my feelings and dove into my version of normalcy. I got back to work, started cooking regular meals, actually saw my husband and child, and scheduled a hike.

A hike I will never forget.

Finding healing in the outdoors

In the middle of the most grief I’ve ever experienced, I found myself again that morning. With every step I took in the freshly fallen snow, the trees enclosing me in a familiar blanket and the crisp air filling my lungs, nature healed my soul. I know I wouldn’t have been on that hike if it had not been for Hike it Baby.

I scheduled the hike with Roland in mind, thinking he needed it after weeks of crazy schedules and being stuck inside. It turns out I was the one who needed to hike. I found the calm, patience and understanding that I felt I had lost when I lost my dad. And I realized that it was in nature that I had found those comforting traits of my father all along. The trails that draw me to the woods, to the top of a mountain, to the warm shallows of a lake were rooted in the love and support that I had felt from my father my entire life.

Roland is barely 3, and at times it fills me with sadness that he and my father will miss out on each other. But I’ve discovered that we find my dad everywhere. He’s in the sturdy oaks that grow around us, in the lapping of the lake water against the shore, in the morning chirp of a cardinal, in the breeze that comes just as the sun gets too warm, and in winter’s freshly fallen snow. And most of all, in the sky-blue-pink sunsets that seem to grace us a little more often since he’s been gone.

Did your father or a father figure impact your life in the outdoors? Please share with us in the comments below – we’d love to hear about it.

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Photos courtesy of Sara Wesche.

Sara is a co-ambassador for the Grand Rapids, Michigan Hike it Baby Branch. She is a born and raised Michigander, delights in the cold and snow of winter, much to the annoyance of everyone around her, and celebrates her love of the outdoors on trails, by the lake, or on a ski hill. Sara works outside of the home as a marketing professional and spends free time with family and friends, including her husband and son.

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