Tom and Shann October 24, 1992

My Dad and me on my wedding day in 1992.

Last week, I released my Dad’s ashes into Lake Michigan with great reverence, love, and gratitude. Samhain and the one year anniversary of his death felt like the perfect time to release his remains. To commemorate this day, here is the post I wrote shortly after his passing. I pray he rests in peace.


On Tuesday, November 2nd, 2015 not long after my daughter got home from school, a Leelanau County Sheriff came to my home for a visit. I opened the door thinking, uh-oh, what have I done? The officer introduced himself, asked me if I was Shann Vander Leek, and went on to tell me my dad had passed away. What? My dad died? I was in shock. I have no recollection of the officer’s name or what he looked like.

My dad’s friend Mike hadn’t heard from him in a few days and decided to stop by his house to make sure he was okay. He was not, okay.

My dad is dead, that is so weird, has been running through my mind since the day the officer (with the shitty job of telling people their loved ones are gone) shared the sobering news.

In the last month, my husband and I have traveled to and from my dad’s home several times logging over 1500 miles on the road. We secured his home, packed up his belongings, donated his clothing and fully stocked kitchen, to the Vietnam Veterans Association, and then hosted a celebration of his life at his favorite watering hole. We were in the eye of the storm making things happen.

It is wild how your internal operating system kicks in and begins to prioritize what needs to be done in times like these. I went from receiving sad news, to making bizarre phone calls to doing all I could to honor my dad’s last wishes…Then there is the awkwardness of engaging in conversations with people who shared stories of a totally different version of the man that was my father.

Everywhere I turned, people told me how upbeat, funny and generous my dad was. From the private banker to his dentist, (who waived his final cleaning bill), my dad had a lot of friends and made a positive, long-lasting impression on the people in his circle of influence.

For the last few years since my dad and I reconciled (after a decade-long hiatus of my choosing), he began sending me lots of legal paperwork for my signature. I signed beneficiary papers for safe deposit boxes, IRA accounts, annuities, his last will and testament etc. At one point during our last visit in the fall, I jokingly asked him if he was planning to check out soon? I think we both knew he was ready to leave his body. He simply said he didn’t want anything to be out of order when he did pass away. Taking care of his final affairs is an honor. My dad was a proud Marine and banker for most of his life. He made it a priority to have all of his affairs in order so I could easily navigate through his accounts and follow his final wishes, right down to genre of music he wanted me to play at his ‘After Party.’

My dad lived (and survived) more than 9 lives and his body showed every mile.  Before he passed, he barely resembled the man I once knew and looked well beyond his 72 years. No longer the ass-kicking, HOORAH Marine, he had trouble walking more than 50 feet. His still had a sharp mind and wicked sense of humor; but after years of heavy smoking, drinking, and heart disease, his body was spent. 

Family I hadn’t seen in more than a decade came to celebrate his life. All of whom were kind, helpful, and supportive. Their understanding of my difficult choice to walk away from the relationship blew my heart wide open. People really can surprise you. For years…a lifetime really, I was sure my dad’s side of our family were all judging me harshly. Growing up my aunt, uncle, and cousins seemed to have a perfect life. To my young eyes, they were whole and stable. They were kind to each other. My aunt made sure they had Jesus in their lives in a BIG way. I often visited them on the weekends and holidays when my dad had me for the weekend;  I was a catechism drop out from a broken home with a new stepmother every few years (five, including my mom), and a dad who’s personality could change in an instant. I never knew whether Jekyl or Hyde was going to make an appearance. I realize now that I was often embarrassed, afraid, and ashamed.

I lovingly referred to my dad’s celebration of life as ‘The Baptists and the Bar Flies.’ He was loved by all walks of life. The best statement I heard about my dad was from a man who said he hadn’t known my dad for very long, but man, he sure made an impression! Ha Ha! He was right on the money. There was never a person in the same room with my father that didn’t know exactly what he was thinking. Every unfiltered, conservative, and shocking racist thought which was always delivered with expletives and hearty laughter.

Nothing can prepare us for the loss of a parent. I was never super close with my dad. For a time, I chose not to have anything to do with him while I came to peace with our difficult past. I am grateful that we reconciled and started fostering a new relationship before he passed away. I can’t imagine experiencing his passing without the support of my sisterhood and all of the deep healing and cord cutting over the last decade.

No matter what has happened in the past, we all deserve to forgive ourselves and our parents for poor choices, cruel words, and devastating mistakes.

My dad is dead. That is so weird…

We honored the life of Tommie Dellow Booth on November 23, 2015. The day began with the Marine honor guard at the Great Lakes National Cemetery and was followed by friends, family and golf buddies gathering to tell stories about his larger-than-life personality, the way he told it like it is, his infectious laugh, generous heart, and how much he loved his granddaughter.

I miss you dad.

How Do We Forgive Our Fathers?
by Dick Lourie

How do we forgive our Fathers?

Maybe in a dream

Do we forgive our Fathers for leaving us too often or forever

when we were little?

Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage

or making us nervous

because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?

For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?

Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning

for shutting doors

for speaking through walls

or never speaking

or never being silent?

Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs

or their deaths

saying it to them or not saying it?

If we forgive our Fathers what is left?

* This poem is read during the last scene in Smoke Signals. It was 
originally published in a longer version titled “Forgiving Our Fathers” in a book of poems titled Ghost Radio published by Hanging Loose Press in 1998.

About Shann Vander Leek

Shann Vander Leek

Shann is a Transformational Leader, Award-Winning Podcaster, Best-Selling Author, Voice Over Talent, Podcast Coach, and Producer. She lives in the village of Suttons Bay, Michigan with her beloved husband and mouthy old cat. This Goddess Shines!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lisa Hutchison Dec 9, 2015, 9:06 am

    A powerful post and very true. Nothing prepares you for the loss of your parent. By the age of 38, I had lost my mother, step father and father. My relationship with my step father was the most conflictual of all of them. It is amazing how we do what needs to be done in the early days. I can relate to much of your story and send you big hugs, Shann.XX I appreciate the poem at the end of your blog also.

    • Shann Dec 11, 2015, 4:56 pm

      Thank you for your kindness Lisa. Big Love! Shann

  • Melissa Dec 9, 2015, 9:34 am

    Thank you for sharing such an intimate story, Shann. When I saw the title of your post I thought about passing it by. As you know my dad passed in July and every trigger has the potential to yet fill me with grief. Our dads seem to have some similarities. My dad fought in WWII (falsified papers — he was but 16-years old) and the Korean War, we were estranged for some time, and then reconciled after doing some heavy duty work that allowed me to hold my space in the relationship. I am grateful, Shann, for your post, and so happy to read it. Blessings and love. xoxo

    • Shann Dec 11, 2015, 4:59 pm

      I’m so glad you decided to read my story. I read your story in The Wisdom of Midlife Women and was moved to tears. Big LOVE, Shann

  • Andrea Dec 9, 2015, 9:37 am

    A powerful post from a beautiful woman. Your openness is inspiring. Sending love.

    • Shann Dec 11, 2015, 5:00 pm


      Thank you love! XO

  • Tae Dec 9, 2015, 9:41 am

    What a beautiful tribute to your Dad. It sounds like, although you had your difficulties with him, deep down you loved him. Isn’t it funny that friends and acquaintances often see a different person than we knew? My Dad is still alive at 86 & doing fairly well. Our relationship is not close, but we know we care about each other. I can’t imagine what it will be like when he’s gone (my mom died 11 years ago). Thanks for sharing your personal story with us.

    • Shann Dec 11, 2015, 5:01 pm

      Thank you for your kindness. Give your Dad a big hug from both of us! 🙂

  • Laurie Seymour Dec 9, 2015, 11:23 am

    A tribute filled with love and truth. Clear and inspiring, Shann. Thank you!!

    My father died just before I was 7, so I only have the memories of a young child. But somehow I resonated with your words about the “weirdness” of your father being dead.

    • Shann Dec 11, 2015, 5:03 pm


      Thank you so much. Writing this post was a challenge but I’m so glad I got the words on the page. Big LOVE, XO

  • Joni Dec 9, 2015, 12:11 pm

    I so appreciate your candor Shann about your father, your grief and the complexity of loving human parents.

    My father is still alive but withdrawing into his aging mind and physical fragility. Every once in awhile he emerges and we have a moment of true connection. I don’t know how much longer I have with him. The last time I went to see him he gave me one of his journals from 2011. He kept one for 8 years or so. They are mostly chronicles of his day but every once in awhile his feelings or inner self emerges. Each glimpse feels like such a treasure.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with your father’s death. I pray you are held in Grace as you move through this time of grief.

    • Shann Dec 11, 2015, 5:04 pm

      Thank you for your prayers. Life is so precious. Sending you lots of love! XO

  • Pamela Dec 9, 2015, 12:54 pm

    Beautiful tribute to your Dad Shann. Losing a parent is a profound experience and challenges us to embrace our relationship with them in a new and unfamiliar way…through our memories and through the eyes of others. It’s a radical shift to let go of their physical presence and be with their essence. So perfectly said…”My dad is dead. That is so weird…” Thank you for sharing your journey with your dad. xo

    • Shann Dec 11, 2015, 5:09 pm


      Thank you for your kindness. In some ways being with my Dad’s essence has a sweetness to it that didn’t exist on the physical plane. I’m thankful for all of the support and good wishes from friends like you.

  • Sue Kearney (@MagnoliasWest) Dec 9, 2015, 6:11 pm

    Wow, Shann, this is beautiful, so tender. Thanks for sharing this.


    • Shann Dec 11, 2015, 5:10 pm

      Thanks, Sue. I took my time and let it fly. XO

  • Zeenat Merchant Syal Dec 10, 2015, 1:04 pm

    Darling Shann,
    You are brave and courageous to share the way you did here.
    Sending you love and light dear one.
    Much love,

    • Shann Dec 11, 2015, 5:11 pm

      Thank you for sending me love and light. I receive every drop with deep gratitude. XO

  • Peggy Dec 11, 2015, 4:27 pm

    I’m practically bawling Shann. Beautifully written. Sending you ginormous hugs. <3

    • Shann Dec 11, 2015, 5:11 pm

      Thanks for your kindness and big hugs. I appreciate you so much! XO

  • Donna Dec 11, 2015, 8:16 pm

    So sorry for your loss but so happy you were able to connect with your dad before he passed. Hearing about him from friends will help you as well find peace with his passing as he now is at peace too. Xoxo

    • Shann Dec 12, 2015, 12:28 pm

      Hi Donna,
      Thanks so much. Reconciliation before he passed away, was a sacred gift for both of our spirits. Such an interesting time. XO

  • Tamara Kulish Dec 17, 2015, 10:45 am

    Shann, I was so sorry to hear of your loss. Your journey was very difficult, and the fact that you reconciled with your dad no doubt has given you a sense of peace and closure to the difficult times.

    My dad passed away many years ago and last year I was invited to write his life story and have it included in “Write to Remember” by Philip McQuillan. I later published it as a mini book “That’s The Way The Cookie Bounces” so people could read about his musical legacy.

    I always had a good relationship with my dad… it was with my mother who I had experienced the difficult relationship with, and she and I reconciled a few year ago… thankfully.

    This kind of healing is very special and I know many people don’t always have the opportunity to see it in their lifetimes… some have been so wounded that the emotional pain creates barriers to any reconciliation happening.

    Healers have a special task of helping other people through their pain and helping to remove those barriers so the heart can mend… this can’t happen without the Healer having experiences deep pains and having worked through them so they in turn can gently lead people on their own healing path.

    You are an incredible and gentle Healer! My heart is sad for your loss, but joyful in knowing you have reached reconciliation and peace!

    May you continue to inspire and help people on their journeys!

    Tamara Kulish

    • Shann Feb 22, 2016, 11:22 am


      Thank you for your kindness. I appreciate every single word. XOX – Shann

  • Debra Oakland Dec 21, 2015, 8:22 pm

    Shann I send my condolences for your and your family’s loss. I am happy to hear you reconciled before he passed on. Thank you for courageously sharing your story. It is never easy to lose a parent no matter the relationship. I was fortunate to have an awesome dad who married my mom and adopted me. When he passed a few years ago it seemed surreal. It’s still hard to imagine such a strong vital force of life – gone from this earth plane. I never met by birth father (long story) who passed around the same time as the father who raised me. Blessings to you Sweet Soul. xox

    • Shann Feb 22, 2016, 11:24 am


      Thank you. How wonderful to be raised by a father who stepped up to love and care for you and your mother. May he rest in peace. XOX

  • Lisa Feb 21, 2016, 3:41 pm

    This is a beautiful tribute to your dad, the love and relationship you shared, as well as the lessons and path you’ve lead. Your insights and understanding are compassionate and real, grounded in truth that is whole and embraces all the light and dark.

    You continue to inspire and amaze me, lovely Goddess.

    • Shann Feb 22, 2016, 11:26 am

      Thank you for your kindness. It’s been just over 100 days since I learned of my dad’s passing. I feel closer to him now than I did before he passed. Feeling grateful for the otherly connection. XOX

  • Mónica Nov 7, 2016, 8:24 am

    Dear Shannon: Thank you for sharing your loving written words for your dad. I am sure he is smiling up there as he watches you continuously growing and expanding. I also lost my dad ten years ago and still miss him so much. What a blessing to have counted on him, just exactly as he was! Warm regards, Mónica

  • Debbie S. Nov 7, 2016, 7:06 pm

    Dear Shann, This was a beautiful honest tribute to your dad. Such a hard thing yet you did it beautifully as it needed to be.