Daddy’s Little Girl: 25 Years Later

Heather sitting on Dad's lap

“Remembering you is easy; I do it every day. Missing you is the heartache that never goes away.

Losing a father is hard, and unexpectedly losing one is even tougher. I remember everything about the day I found out that my dad was gone at the age of 46. I was away that weekend for a college friend’s wedding and returned home on Father’s Day, to find out that my life would never be the same. My status as Daddy’s Little Girl had irrevocably changed forever.

The Worst Day in My Life

I walked into our home that morning and noticed one of my aunts was sitting at our dining table with my mom. I didn’t think much of it as we had family over our house on Sunday’s all the time growing up. I said hi and then went straight downstairs to my room. I didn’t even make it to my bedroom door before my mom and sister followed me downstairs. My mom hugged me and told me the news that my dad had died.Dad - Dennis Raulerson

I was in shock, stunned because we just saw him the week earlier when we dropped him at the airport. He was traveling to Virginia for his job. I was planning on traveling to Washington D.C. to see him over July 4 for a vacation. I was beyond excited that he was going to show me around the city. Dealing with the loss of my dad was terrible. Plus, to make matters worse was that he wasn’t with us. He was still in Virginia. As he worked for the government on a highly classified job, there was a tremendous amount of red tape to get his body home.

At the time, I was working at my first job out of college. Being a newbie to the working world, I didn’t know what the rules were for time off for bereavement. My company told me that they had a 3-day bereavement policy. I was floored as it was going to take longer than three days to get him back to Michigan. Miraculously, my boss told me that I could take as much time as I needed considering the circumstances we were dealing with. Nothing is easy when dealing with the government.

The next two weeks were a blur, the family stopped in all the time, and there was little time to be alone to process what happened. The funeral was held at St. Paul of Tarsus, and it was packed with every row being filled. My sisters and I were allowed to pick songs for the funeral. My song was from the Escape Club – I’ll Be There, my sister’s was Wind Beneath my Wings. To this day, whenever I hear that song, it takes me right back there. Before we headed to the cemetery, we had the funeral procession drive through our subdivision and past our house. We had put signs in the front yard saying, “Welcome Home, Daddy.”Dad's Grave Stone at St. Peter Cemetery in Mount Clemens

Dealing with the Grief

This event has marked me forever. When someone loses someone they love, they grieve in different ways and remember them also in their unique ways. I didn’t want the last image of my dad to be one where he was lying in that coffin or the ground. For me, I wanted to remember him as the laughing goofball that tickled us mercilessly, and as Mr. Encloypedia as my friends called him. He was the man who loved watching sci-fi movies, the one who taught me all about computers, and the one who taught me how to take care of a car even when I didn’t want to learn. He also had the same cheesy grin as I have (see below pic, my Grandpa is holding me while my dad is smiling). I was Daddy’s Little Girl, and I wanted to remember that forever. Dad, Heather, Aunt Sue, and Grandpa

Date Night with My Dad

Over the years, I have found a way to connect with my dad in unexpected ways. The first is that every year on June 17 and October 3 (his birthday), I go to the movies. My sister laughs at me when I tell her I’m going on a date with my dad. But, for years, I have been doing this twice a year when I make sure the seat next to me is empty, and I choose a movie that I know he would like. For two hours, I know he is right there watching the film with me.

Traveling as Daddy’s Little Girl

Heather at Mount RushmoreThe second place I have the feeling my dad is with me is when I’m traveling. My dad instilled a love of traveling within me at a very young age. He loved taking our family on vacation. When I was young, we were living in Omaha, Nebraska; we traveled to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore and the Badlands. And we went to Wyoming to see Yellowstone National Park. My parents would strap me in the car, and away we went to explore someplace new. The funny story is that my dad loved to tell everyone that my car seat at the time was the potty training seat. Yep, I sat on that on our road trips. Hey, road trips shouldn’t stop the learning process. Mom and Heather at Yosemite National Park in Wyoming

Inspiring Future Travels

When my sisters showed up, our family trips became more regular. Every year, we would take family vacations to Niagara Falls to see my mom’s cousins and to Orlando to see our Great Grandparents and, of course, go to Disney. Even though they weren’t to new places, our family trips were still fantastic. These traditions were what inspired me to take my nieces and nephews on vacation. I wanted them to have the same great experiences of traveling and seeing the world around them. Niagara Falls, CanadaHeather and Kayla at Niagara Falls

One of the places around Mount Clemens, Michigan, that we went to frequently was the Detroit Zoo. The zoo has always had a special place for me. Even though I don’t have many photos of my dad as he was our family photographer, which I have taken over. I remember him being there with us. So much so, that I purchased a memorial marker for him to have it placed at the Detroit Zoo. Now, whenever I go, I can walk along the path and see his name and remember all the good times we spent at the zoo, taking photos of the animals and us being goofy.Mom, Heather, Theresa, Cindy, and Jackie at the Detroit ZooDad's Memorial Marker at the Detroit Zoo

Another thing, my dad took us to yearly was the Air Show at Selfridge Air Base in Mount Clemens (see below pic of me in the stroller). As my dad was in the Air Force, he knew everything about the planes and loved to tell us all about them. Even though he isn’t here anymore, I still love going to the Air Shows. It is another place where the connection to my dad is strong. Dad pushing Heather in stroller toward U.S. Air Force plane at an Air Show

Making Changes

When I turned 46, I had a heart to heart with myself. I was in a highly stressful job, and my health was deteriorating. I didn’t want to have my life cut short as my dad. And I truly believed that it was heading that way. Because of that, I made some significant life changes. I quit my successful 24-year career as an automotive engineer to focus on my passion, which has always been photography and writing. Although it is a struggle to start a new job as a freelancer, I am up to the challenge.

Connecting with My Dad Through Travel 

My family has a hard time understanding how I could do something this crazy. But I know that my dad has been with me on this new journey as a digital nomad. How do I know this? As I am out on my travels, I frequently see fathers walking with their daughters. When I see them, I get my camera out to photograph that moment, and I know that my dad is with me. And surprisingly, traveling all of 2019 has reversed the adverse effects of stress on my body. I have lost weight, and I am finally happy.

It is hard being Daddy’s Little Girl without your dad being around. But, I believe that in the last 25 years, I have made the most of honoring his memory and continuing the traditions he started. Traveling is in my blood, and I will travel as long and as far as I can with him by my side. Happy Father’s Day! I Love You, Dad!Daddy's Little Girl Pinterest Pin

2 Comments

  • Aunt Jackie 20June2020 at 4:01 PM Reply

    I love this Heather. I gave read it 3 times now and still continue to cry. great memories

  • Diane Hollands 18June2020 at 11:29 AM Reply

    Sweet memories, Heather. Thank you for sharing. So glad you are doing well.
    Hugs, Diane

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