My dad died on Nov. 4, 2006, meaning that the anniversary of his passing is coming up.
When I think back on it, I don’t remember that day. I do remember my dad though, giving me a Squidward plushie he picked up after a work trip and watching Lord of the Rings with me. I remember hearing this big word, “leukemia,” and knowing it meant my dad was sick, but not really getting what that sickness meant. I remember the hospital, playing Go Fish and Uno with my dad on his hospital bed and the sweet nurses who ordered purple latex gloves specifically for me.
And I remember the funeral. Rain, adults in all black, a stuffy but well-decorated room, bagpipes. I know I stood to speak, even though I was only four. I don’t have any idea what I said, besides a general statement that my dad was the best dad ever. The image that sticks in my head most of all is my mom, kneeling next to his casket, holding and kissing his hand.
Generally, November is a difficult time for me. The anniversaries of his death and funeral are within the first week of the month. Later in the month is Thanksgiving, which in my mind, is a holiday that mostly serves to highlight his absence. The 28th, his birthday, is spent in the cemetery. It’s the closest thing to celebrating his birthday with him that my family can get.
Though I don’t remember the day he died, the anniversary still has a huge effect on me each year. I’m hyper-vigilant when I realize the 4th is coming up, to make sure I have plans or something to distract myself that day. I also have to plan ahead on schoolwork for November, knowing very well that my motivation and ability to get work done will dwindle throughout the month.
It’s hard to explain the way I feel at this time of year. Despite the differences in our grief, November is difficult for my mom and brother as well. They feel his loss everyday, can’t fully relate to what I feel, and I can’t fully relate to what they feel either. My mother lost her husband, her life partner, the father of her children, and the man who she still refers to as her soul mate. My brother was only three months old at the time, so his grief is different from mine, as he doesn’t have any memories to hold on to, while I at least have a few.
The idea that “time heals all wounds” is very untrue. In a lot of ways, my grief only gets stronger every anniversary. And as I grow more and more into adulthood, my father’s death only brings more questions with it. What would my life be like if he were still here? Would he be proud of me? What would he think of the choices I’ve made and the life path I’m on?
There are health questions that arise every year around the anniversary too. I am in my early twenties, my dad was barely in his late thirties when he died. Am I at increased risk of leukemia? How vigilant do I need to be about my health over the next decade or for the rest of my life?
There are so many unanswered things that keep me up at night, or worse, hit me as I sit working on an article, and it only gets worse as the anniversaries come around.
It’s one of the most difficult things to work through while still in school, especially since things really tend to ramp up in November.
I know that everyone experiences loss in some way or another. This is just one of my personal stories, as I have several others as well. More than I care to think about if I’m completely honest. With loss, the pain and grief will always remain, though it becomes more bearable with each day that goes on. And anniversaries renew that pain in a way that’s hard to describe. It reopens the wound for that period of time every year.
The best way to handle it is just to push through. When you realize the anniversary is nearing, be aware of it and do what you need to do to get through that period of time. Take the space and time you need to cope. Plan ahead. Let your friends and family in, so they can be aware of what you need– whether it’s more space or more support. Get what you need to get done ahead of time or ask for extensions or workarounds from professors and bosses if that’s necessary.
Be aware of your mental and emotional needs on difficult anniversaries and take care of yourself.
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