A year and a half ago, on May 23, 2013, my life changed. It was my dad’s birthday.
I’d just landed in Boston, fresh from a great sophomore year at college in Florida. I was on top of the world: I’d made dean’s list every semester, was at the head of my class, and was crazy in love with Mac. Above all, I was ridiculously excited to see my parents and two siblings.
I exited the airport and buckled myself into the back seat of my family’s Prius. My dad’s face was grave in the front seat. In the time it took me to inhale and exhale, my life had completely changed. He told me he had cancer. Happy Birthday, Dad.
So this year, instead of watching school and Mac and the ocean, I watched Death. I watched the ruthless decay of cancer slowly eat away at my father’s spirit, mind and body. I watched the drugs make him angry and their side effects control him. Like clockwork, each day I watched sweat bead and drip from his brow as he waited the 20 minutes for his next dose of painkillers. I was there when he could no longer sit up by himself and fell, smashing his face against the tile and bleeding on the floor.
I watched Death this year. I saw my father take his last breath and felt his body flush cold. The clock triumphantly declared his time of death: 6:32 pm. And then, in what was the biggest shock of the year to me, that moment passed. Somehow the clock kept ticking, and minutes turned into hours.
It’s now five months later. I am fatherless and grasping to find closure. Returning to what I used to be seems impossible after growing up at rocket speed and caring for my family.
I have no idea who I am right now or how to move forward with my life. But I do know my name is Nadia Redel, the proud the daughter of Gunther and Cassandra Redel. I know my dad was an adventure seeker who moved from Germany to live the American Dream. I know just months before his death he romanticized about a grand family trip to Europe.
After spending a year helping to fulfill my dad’s last wishes of family adventures, money was tight for everyone. On top of the already crushing monetary burden, the college I’d taken leave from stripped away my scholarships and financial aid. I started working 14-hour days at a local coffee shop, jumping on every available shift and removing myself from social situations in order to save money and grieve in private.
Last August, late one night at work, I became overwhelmed and hopeless, suddenly convinced I simply couldn’t survive a life without my father. I called Mac, whom I hadn’t seen six months, but who was still patiently waiting for me in California. “Will you travel the world with me?”
The next day we booked a one-way ticket to Iceland. Suddenly I went from barely wanting to live to being happily consumed by planning a tribute trip. I’d be the one to fulfill my dad’s wish of a European adventure and experience something that allowed me to feel connected to him again.
My planning was infectious. My mother, sister and brother, all of whom had been feeling as lifeless as I had been, started making their own travel plans to meet me along the way.
Mac and I flew out of the country November 4. I brought my dad’s ashes with me. I’ll spread him peacefully in a place neither of us had ever seen before. In that place, I hope to find a sort of closure and understanding, so that one day, when I’m ready, I can return and build a life he’d be proud of.
Because even though I watched Death this year, I also heard beautiful things I’ll never forget: The secrets my father whispered into my ear with a childish grin, and the many times he said he loved us all.
Nadia Redel grew up in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. Her upcoming working opportunities around the world include helping women develop a garden in London, and teaching English in Casablanca. Follow her adventures at Endlesstravel.blog.com and on Instagram: @endlesstravelblog. Donate to her adventures at gofundme.com/Endless-travel.