Journeys in Life and Death

About two months ago I entered a travel writing scholarship competition- my first ever. It was hosted by World Nomads, a travel insurance company. I didn’t win, but out of 8,000 applicants, I was selected as one of only 20 finalists. It was, and still is, a tremendous honor to be featured on the shortlist. You can read my piece, as well as all others on the short list and the three winners, on the World Nomad’s website.

Additionally, Tim Neville, the scholarship’s mentor, reflected on the process of judging the competition and shared some of his thoughts on his own blog, sharing that he spent days thinking about my piece. Frankly, I was floored that my writing could move someone so deeply.

My piece is about a moment during a trip to Shenandoah National Park with my mom and brother Travis. On the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death, we drove out to the Blue Ridge Parkway and spread some of his ashes.

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My mom took this photo of me that day where I left some of my dad’s ashes on a perfect step overlooking the Shenandoah valley and Blue Ridge Mountains. He has the best view in the park.

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My brother looks out over the Shenandoah valley

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And this is why it is called the Blue Ridge Mountains

And here is what I wrote.

Journeys in Life and Death – World Nomads Scholarship

The ashes caught in the wind, blowing back towards my mom and the road behind her. A small laugh escaped through her choked-back tears as a small burst of my dad’s ashes scattered across the pavement. He was movin’ on down the highway, like in the Jim Croce song we played at his funeral.

It was a year ago today in an unseasonably warm and sunny February that my dad passed away. We had been in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, gathered together in the intensive care unit— me, my mom, and brother, Travis, sitting next to him on the hospital bed. Now, on another bright day one year later, the three of us traveled to a view point on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Shenandoah National Park to leave a little bit of my dad at a place he loved.

This park in the Appalachian Mountains had seen my parents’ first dates, countless family camping trips and weekend road trips. These peaks had heard our laughter and feuds so common on family trips.

On one of our camping trips at the Piney River many years ago, we found a campsite with a private mountain spring-fed swimming hole. We spent our days jumping off rocks into cold water and our nights cooking burgers and corn cobs over an open fire. Travis and I chased hundreds of butterflies, fresh from their cocoons that week.

Once on a visit to Luray Caverns, Travis and I went off on our own and took too long, lost in a corn maze. My dad threatened to leave us there. Twenty years later, we joked, we were leaving him up here – let’s see how he likes it!

And the truth is, he would love it.

Now, not too far away, at this spot on the Parkway overlooking the valley and the surrounding mountains in their hazy shades of blue, we knew this was a place he would want to stay.

We noticed a rocky, short trail. With my jar in my hands, Travis and I followed the path to a cliff jutting over the expansive valley.

We waved back up at Mom, who stayed close to the car parked above. We laughed. We took pictures. We talked about how dad would have loved this spot. While poor health and physical weakness limited his mobility his last few years, his adventurous spirit never wavered. We had no doubt he wouldn’t have just followed us to the edge— he would have led the way.

Perched on a rock, with nothing man-made in view and no one else around, my brother and I were immersed in the backdrop that bore witness to the memories that define us as a family. And finding solace in this place my father loved to escape to, I let him go.

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My mom and dad on one of their early dates to the Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall of 1982

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