One, two, three, two, one. That’s what my toddler says whenever he sees a number; he recognizes that they’re numbers, but he doesn’t yet know what they are. I hope that recognition someday turns into the love of numbers and math that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. For me, that love of numbers also translated to a fascination with dates (my husband and I picked our wedding date in part because it was all prime numbers). And after my dad died, a slight obsession with dates related to his life and death.
The anniversary of his death hit me hard for years. Indeed, the half-year anniversary of his death was also very difficult for a long time. I would dread the day as it approached and then get sad and moody and not want to deal with the world when the day arrived. I struggled with the day, but I also didn’t really want to talk about it with anyone beyond stating that it was the anniversary of my dad’s death. As a teenager, I felt the weight of the day was enough. It was just hard. I was fine, just with a concentrated dose of sadness that particular day. For me, life was just a little harder on those days – and I wanted to be left alone to be sad. Sometimes, the space to be sad is invaluable. I didn’t want an optimistic spin. I didn’t want to explain my sadness. I didn’t want a big fuss. I just wanted acknowledgement and respite that day from everything else in the world. I wanted to take a shower, so that I could have a good cry about everything I lost on that day years before. The overwhelming emotions on the anniversary of his death has become more muted over the years, but it’s still a melancholy day for me. Now I’m less likely to want to cry on the anniversary, so it’s gotten easier, but isn’t easy, per se. Grief evolves and isn’t always as intense, but it hasn’t gone away from that day for me.
His birthday was oddly not as hard to handle, but still very surreal and important to me. When I first got a checking account, I used his birthdate as my ATM pin number. It was never surrounded by the same difficult sadness that shrouded the date of his death. Now, the arrival of his birthday is more likely to bring a wry smile to my face, remembering that it’s the day he was born – the beginning of his journey and all of the joy that it brought. My parents’ wedding anniversary is similarly a bit gloomy (they also picked a quirky-numbers date, guess it runs in my family). It’s not a sad day, not a day that makes me mournful, just a day that seems a bit off – another day that was the beginning of a happy journey that was tough to see ended.
Everyone handles the arrival of milestone dates differently. I know someone whose father also died when she was in high school. She barely even notes those dates. Her siblings do mark them and will call to touch base on those dates, but for that I don’t think she’d make note of the date. She’s just not as keyed in on dates. That’s fine. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about grief over the years, it’s how different it is for everyone. And how much it changes for me over the years. And that’s fine, too. So, if you ever see me on May 26th and I seem a little off or a little sad, I am. But, I’m also ok.