When Everything Becomes a Reminder
On anniversaries, birthdays, loss, and grief
Today is Dad’s birthday, who would have turned 77 years old. This is his 8th birthday without him, and it feels like the first one without Dad.
May 14th is Mother’s Day, and it will be the first Mother’s Day without Mom. That’s probably why today feels so hard, because I would normally call my mother so that we could celebrate Dad together. I will never place that phone call to her ever again.
June 18th is Father’s Day, and my Dad died on Father’s Day 2008, which was June 15th in 2008. That’s a double reminder.
July 15th is the day that my Mom died in 2016; I’m coming up quick on the one year anniversary of when my sister called me to say that our mother’s retirement home had contacted her, that she needed to head over immediately, but that they couldn’t say why, and the paramedics were over there. I was cleaning dishes from breakfast. Mom had died suddenly of a heart attack. In that one phone call, I was orphaned at 30 years old.
Everything has become a reminder of the grief I carry and the wounds that still bleed. The margaritas that I will make tonight were my dad’s recipe, the very same margarita that Cousin Jack waxed sentimental upon at my Dad’s funeral. “And Jim made the best damn margaritas,” and everyone in the Ft. Sam Houston Post Chapel nodded and hummed in agreement.
Hallmark reminds me that Mother’s Day is coming. Flower boutiques remind me that Mother’s Day is coming. Commercials remind me that Mother’s Day is coming. My own damn Fitbit reminded me that Mother’s Day is coming. “Don’t forget the most important improver in your life. MOM!” And if by improver, do you mean the perfectionist who was never satisfied with anything? Sure! How could I forget?
My friends and students are graduating from school. I last spoke with my mother nearly 2 months prior to her death, and it was a horrible conversation. “Your father would have been so ashamed of you that didn’t get your doctorate.” No, mother, my father never said anything like that, but that might have been your truth. Why do I feel so sad for a woman who said such a hurtful thing?
My friends are having babies, so their parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles are all coming to visit. I’ve been burying my family; it’s lonely to have no generation above me.
My younger friends are sealing their love for one another at the wedding altar, and I’m reminded that should I find my partner, I will have no parents or grandparents as witnesses to that bond.
How do I navigate the world when everything in life remindes me of the family that I lost in my childhood? Putting on a smile to go through my day is inexcusable to me; I won’t live my life as a lie.
I wrote a long e-mail to my friends earlier this week saying that I’m in for a rough summer, especially as my first year without my mother draws to a close. I told them that I cannot describe the feeling of loneliness and isolation I feel, and I shared that it’s hard for me to get out of bed just to make the morning coffee.
And I told them that it’s hard for me to pinpoint what I need, other than I need people. And that sometimes, I need to be alone. And that the fine line between solitude and isolation is a blurry one in this season of grief. I drove around town yesterday in complete silence, without any music on the radio and saying not a word. My body commanded the silence yesterday.
And I told them that I need them to see my loss and acknowledge it, not for the sake of a maudlin sideshow, but just so I know that I’m not alone in my journey.
And I told them that I need to play, because it’s too hard to be in a constant state of sorrow for days on end.
Since I sent them that e-mail, their response has been overwhelming. My friends have called and texted and wrote and FaceTimed me. They have taken me out for meals and bike rides. They have listened with no pretense, and they have proffered no cheap wisdom for profound loss.
Today, I will take each reminder, each anniversary, each moment for what they are, one at a time.
Today, I will not apologize for harboring sadness, anger, and joy in one body. I am the sum total of my parts, and my parts are legion.
Today, I will acknowledge that my family of origin is tiny — quite literally my sister, my uncle, and my two nieces — but that my family of choice is large and expansive.
Today, I will celebrate my father with my friends, with good food and strong drinks.
Today, I will acknowledge that I still harbor deep resentment towards my mother, and I will ask for the courage and grace to forgive her a little more.
Today, I will honor my limits: I am not Superman, and my house is not a Fortress of Solitude.
Today, I will be grateful for the people I have, the things I enjoy, and the feelings that point me to my truth.
Today, I will honor myself as a survivor of great loss, who has walked a journey that men even twice my age have yet to begin.
This essay is part of an ongoing series on my experiences with grief and resilience. Read the rest here: