Lately, I’ve been thinking about what my life may have been like had I never bought a pair of waders and a fly rod and stepped into the South Platte. Before I can truly and deeply examine that however; it is important to recognize the reason I am on this journey today, and reflect on what brought me to this magically beautiful sport in the first place.
Three years ago, my world shook. My father, who I was incredibly close to died. He left me searching for something bigger. I remember while he was laying in his hospice bed, finally feeling a sense of peace, and all I could think about was how he could be so content to leave me here feeling so empty. I carried that feeling with me for a long time, it might even be described as resentment, but then I found something where I could feel him close to him.
Those of us who have experienced the shattering pain that grief brings, will understand the feeling of emptiness and hopelessness. I would have given anything we have in this physical world to feel that person’s presence again. For me, the way I dealt with this pain was to avoid any thought of it. Everytime he would enter my thoughts, I would suppress any emotion. I was terrified of opening Pandora’s box. I felt that if I allowed myself to feel even a hint of sadness, that I would no longer be able to function in this world. I became, and still am, masterful at pushing difficult memories and thoughts far into the abyss that resides in my subconscious. For some reason however; I had a pull that I couldn’t escape. I wanted to explore what made my dad who he was. I wanted to walk the pebble lined trail that wound through the wilderness in Aspen. I wanted to backpack the mountains he loved so much when he was a teenager. I wanted to share a cup of coffee with the people he capsized a canoe at Naylor Lake with. Most importantly, I wanted to completely immerse myself in the passion that had encompassed his life for so many years. Fly Fishing.
When I began, like many of us who have just started, I had no idea of what I was doing. My head was constantly in a book, trying to take in the differences between a dry fly and a nymph, the importance of water temperature, and what a cfs was. I took 101 classes, I joined social media groups and went to meetups where I was not only the only woman, but also was the only person under the age of 60 in the room. I was desperate to learn everything possible about the sport, and when I finally felt ready to take to the water for the first time without my dad, all at once I realized the impact that this would have on my life. Standing in the river with 20 year old waders that leaked at the calf, and men’s size 11 boots on, I finally felt comfort for the first time since he had died. In the water I felt like I was home.
Since I began fishing almost two years ago, I find myself able to process my grief in a way that therapy never could. There are so many things that one can find out about themselves through this beautiful art form, and for me, I have been able to reconnect with my father every time I hold his rod in my hand. Grief is something that people will never fully understand. When someone is experiencing a loss, loved ones like to tell us that time is the only healer. That may be true for some, but for me, time was a crutch. Time allowed me to avoid dealing with the pain and trauma that comes along with death. Rather, I needed to stop time and force myself to dig out the difficult emotions that I had locked into the abyss, and work through them. I can do this when I fish. When I am standing knee deep in 32 degree water, fingers sore from hooking myself too many times, I am able to stop time and I am can take a moment to process through so many of the emotions that I have pushed aside, because when I am fishing, my father is right there with me untangling his own mess of knots.
Foe me, fishing is not simply a hobby, but has become a lens through which I view the world. To try to imagine where I might be had fishing not found me is a difficult thought. I’m sure I would still be searching aimlessly for a deeper meaning. Always searching for answers about what my life’s purpose was. Answers that I would never find without dealing with my own grief first.
Elisabeth Kubler Ross talks about the five stages of grief, acceptance being the final stage. With acceptance comes the idea that life can still be incredible, even though we can no longer share it with our loved one. Acceptance brings us peace in that. I have found my acceptance through fly fishing, but most importantly, I have found my father.
You can follow Hannah on Instagram @redheaded_angler