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Traveling through grief: How my dad's plane crash inspired me to travel

Five years after my father died in a plane crash, I've traveled around the world to manage my grief.
/ Source: TODAY

There are a million reasons we should never leave the house. Between shootings, bombings and terrorist threats, it seems like those doomsday preppers might actually be on to something. And along with those very real threats is another common fear for many: plane crashes.

For me, that fear came true.

On Dec. 22, 2010, I received that middle-of-the-night phone call you never want to get. "Jordi," the strange voice said. "Your father's plane crashed and he's dead."

My father wasn't on a major airline doomed because of faulty equipment, a mentally ill pilot or any other reasons cited in the news lately. He was alone, piloting his own prop plane on his way to work in upstate New York when he encountered some bad weather just a handful of miles from the landing strip.

Traveling through grief: My father's plane crash inspired me to travel
The writer's fatherPhilip Angert

That split-second tragedy was followed by days and months of overwhelming grief, sadness and loneliness. They were also filled with anger. I was angry that not only was my dad ripped away from me, but my love for traveling — with all its beauty and adventure — also seemed to evaporate.

I was lucky growing up; my father took my family all over the world exposing us to new cultures and experiences along the way. The excitement I felt while waiting at the airport to board was something I eagerly welcomed and quickly began to crave as I grew older.

My father and I could spend hours daydreaming about where we wanted to go next and what we wanted to see in our lifetime. But, when his life was cut short, my dreams were shattered. That passion and craving that had been deep inside me were gone. How could traveling ever be fun and inspiring again?

My father's plane crash inspired me to travel
The writer with her father in Belize back in January 2008Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Five months after the accident, an assignment at work came up that would require flying to Fiji. Fear crept in at the thought of traveling halfway around the world by myself so soon after my dad's accident. Everything in my body screamed "No! Don't do it."

But then a glimmer of Jordi B.C. (before crash) popped up. "I wonder what Fiji looks like," I thought to myself. "It's supposed to be stunning." Before my logical brain could quash that itty-bitty spark, I accepted the assignment, and a couple of days later I was on a 17-hour flight.

Stepping on that plane, I was filled with anxiety and uncertainty. What if I freaked out during takeoff? What if I broke down in tears? I relied on my years of traveling experience and went through the motions that I once knew so well. The fear didn't let me sleep much, but once we finally landed and I took my first steps on a white sand beach at sunrise, I was overcome with a sense of peace and calm.

Traveling through grief: My father's plane crash inspired me to travel
The writer in FijiJordi Lippe-McGraw

There's a cliche about how you have to climb the mountain before you can see the view from the top. But for me, that saying turned out to be true.

I faced my fears and went through those uncomfortable feelings that, at the time, I probably would've preferred to avoid. The payoff in the end was seeing a beautiful part of the world I had never been to before. My horizon changed.

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Now, just over five years after my father's accident, I have traveled more than I ever have in my whole life. I've been to Sweden, Norway, Mexico, Nicaragua, Turks and Caicos, Switzerland, France, Japan, Ireland, the Caribbean, Thailand and all over the United States. And just a couple of weeks ago I went on my honeymoon to Tanzania and the Netherlands, and actually flew home Dec. 22, the exact anniversary of my dad's death.

As I sat on the plane looking out at the clouds, I remembered that initial fear I felt when I was asked to go to Fiji, and how far I had come. That hunger for travel I once shared with my dad was not only back, but stronger than ever.

With each new trip, I moved one step closer to coming out of my haze of grief and opening my eyes to the beauty around me, just waiting to be explored.

My father's plane crash inspired me travel
The writer with her husband on their recent honeymoon in Tanzania's Serengeti National ParkJordi Lippe-McGraw

I never felt my father's presence was at his gravesite, but rather in birds on the islands I visited, the breeze at the top of the Matterhorn, the warmth of the sun in the middle of the Serengeti, and, most of all, in me.

I find myself whipping out my Fodor's guide on street corners just like he used to, and wandering down alleys to find those hidden spots not in the guidebook. It might sound silly, but I now feel as if it's my mission to see the world so when we meet again I can tell him everything he couldn't see through his own eyes.

Against all odds, this personal tragedy of mine transformed me into someone who has found utter joy in the very thing that led to my utter despair.

But with all of the horrible things happening in our world today, I don't blame a single person for living in fear. All I can hope for as we head into 2016 is that we don't let horrible moments dictate our lives, and learn that being uncomfortable and feeling pain means a change is coming.

A change for the better.