Yesterday marked the 3-year anniversary of my dad’s death, or deathiversary, as I’ve heard it called. I’m still not sure how I feel about that word. April used to be one of my favorite months, second only to December. Spring time, my husband’s birthday, our anniversary … it was just an all-around amazing month. Ever since my dad died though, April 1st has brought with it a feeling of sadness, dread, loneliness, and guilt. Of course there’s the expected sadness over the fact that my dad is no longer here, but there’s also the sadness that comes along with distinctly remembering him during the final days of his fight with cancer; there’s the dread of imagining how I’m going to feel on that day; there’s the loneliness in feeling that nobody seems to remember your pain; there’s the guilt that comes along with trying to celebrate our wedding anniversary (which happens to be the day before my dad passed away), and then there’s the guilt I feel from never having anything special planned to honor my dad. For three years I’ve felt this way for the entire month of April, but April 17th would come and go with me doing nothing except being sad, and being lonely, and being angry. I would silently mourn, silently grieve, silently stew, trying to hide my feelings for some reason. I hated it. This year I decided to do something about it.
My friend suggested I have an annual dinner honoring my dad – such a simple idea yet so special. Why had I never thought of that? It’s almost like I didn’t want to go there; I didn’t want to acknowledge that I was still hurting and needed something to signify the day of my dad’s death. That same friend also said it’s sad whether you talk about a loved one’s passing or whether you never bring it up again, so why not do the healthy thing and talk about it and bring light to the situation? Her words stuck with me and led me to google ways to honor a deceased loved one. There’s truly a google search for everything.
Among the many ideas I ran across during my googling, someone somewhere said to make a list of things that reminded you of your loved one and try to do some of those things on the anniversary of their death. So I’m thinking to myself – what did dad like to do? Talking came to mind real quick – he was the best at that. But then, gosh, I don’t know. He just enjoyed life. He was up for anything, or most things I should say. He really loved being in the mountains, boating on Lake Chatuge, eating BBQ (especially Colonel Poole’s), checking out Decker’s Flea Market in Murphy, NC, talking politics, listening to music … these were the things I remember him loving to do while surrounded by his family and friends.
I picked a few things and ran. My husband and I stayed in the North Georgia mountains this past weekend to celebrate our 5-year anniversary. We actually stayed at my dad’s cabin in Blue Ridge. I used to hate going there after he died. It just felt wrong. I made sure not to hate it this time. I know he’d be happy to see us using it and celebrating such a momentous occasion. I made sure to keep that in mind all day Saturday and we had a wonderful time. We left Sunday for him. We visited Lake Chatuge where we used to spend countless days boating and where we ended up spreading his ashes. I had a few moments with just me and him, and then we threw flowers in the water. We visited Decker’s Flea Market and although I came home with nothing, my husband found some records. We stopped for lunch at Colonel Poole’s BBQ in Ellijay, GA and even bought our 2 year old a t-shirt. The whole day felt right.
There are a lot of moments in my life where I find myself thinking “man, I wish Dad was here” – finding out I was pregnant, the birth of our son, holidays, whenever I have a question that nobody can seem to answer, and so on and so on. I feel the tears come and the anger set in. But during moments like that I vow to remember that he was here for a lot of good times. I’m thankful that he was around to help raise me. Some kids don’t even get that. I’m thankful that he was around throughout my school days. He always made sure I knew that he was proud. I’m thankful that he was around to teach me how to drive. I’m not sure I could survive Atlanta driving otherwise. I’m thankful that he was around to help me navigate the real world once graduating from college. Who knows where I’d be otherwise. I’m thankful that he was around to walk me down the aisle. I know that’s a true blessing. I’m thankful that he was around to answer each and every question I ever had. And I had a lot.
Is April ever going to come and go without a hint of sadness? No. And it shouldn’t. But what it should do is give me a reason to celebrate my dad’s life. And that’s what I plan to do. Whether we repeat yesterday or experiment with new ways of honoring him is to be determined, but he will be celebrated.
For anyone out there dealing with grief, I by no means claim to have the answer, but I do know that it’s important to grieve. And I do know that I wasn’t grieving in the way I needed to be. I also know it’s important to find a way to honor a passed loved one rather than skipping over that day and providing it no significance. So find something that feels right – start a tradition, give yourself a “you” day, surround yourself with loved ones, do whatever. But make sure you do. Forgetting might seem easier, but remembering, celebrating and honoring feels better.