Remembering Dad

May 20th – a day etched in my brain that won’t be erased like that child’s toy, the Etch- A- Sketch.  May 20th is the day Dad died.  Seven years ago now, but still as if it were yesterday.

May 2nd I wrote a blog entitled ” Anniversary Grief – what’s that?”.  I talked about anticipating the anniversary of Dad dying.  It may be helpful to read that before you finish reading this blog.

Yesterday, my anticipation and grief reaction to the anniversary of Dad’s death was at its worst.  I woke up almost unable to function.  It was an effort to move, to think, to get going with my day.  I cried all through my usual therapy session in the morning.  The world was closing in on me and I felt lost.  I also was having constant flashbacks to the hospital room where Dad lay, his breathing laboured, his face contorted.  It was not pretty, not peaceful like people often say death is.  The flashbacks tormented me and I couldn’t get them to go away.   Along with having flashbacks,  my sensitivity to light, and noise was heightened to almost unbearable levels.  I decided it was one of those days where I would spend most of it curled up in my easy chair covered by a very soft blanket and rock.  I had to cancel my tutoring student which made me feel like I was once again  a failure for not being “normal” and able to handle things.

Mom, too, was having a very difficult day.  I don’t know whether it was her stroke effects that causes her head to hurt, or her congestive heart failure, or heart ache of missing Dad or a combination of all three.  I was really worried about her.  She looked awful.  I began to wonder if I would lose her as well on this anniversary eve.  I stayed home, checking on her every little while.  She did not want to talk, she looked so sad.  I felt helpless.  It was NOT a good day.

I went to bed not knowing if Mom would be alive in the morning.  My brain, working in patterns again, imagined she would follow Dad to Heaven as he had gone 7 years before.  I made sure I kissed her goodnight and said, “I love you”.  I wondered if I was in for a long, difficult, sleepless night.

I knew that on the day Dad died, I would have to run.  I don’t mean going for a jog.  I mean running like the wind to somehow still the anxiety inside me.  So….. I planned on some errands I had to do all over town.  I would roam and wander and get lost in the movement of going, going, going…   My first stop was a garage sale I had seen advertised close to my house.

I awoke to the sun streaming through my window.  It was a beautiful day.  I felt so much better than I had the day before.  Somehow the anticipation is always worse than the actual event for me.  And as I listened with apprehension, I heard sounds coming from Mom’s bedroom.  She was still with me!!  I must admit I did have a bit of mixed feelings about this.  I thought that if Mom had to go sometime, going on the same day as Dad did would somehow appeal to my autistic brain’s need for logic and pattern and practicality.  After all, it would be much less stressful to have one anniversary to commemorate than 2 different ones.  However, that aside, I was very glad to have her still with me.  She, too, was feeling much better.  After attending to all the things I needed to do for Mom I set off for the garage sale.

It was like old times.  Mom and Dad and I used to always spend Saturday morning going to garage sales.  It was our weekly ritual and we all loved it.  Especially Dad and me.  And here we were, I imagined, going to a garage sale together just like old times.  I carried on a conversation with Dad as I walked along.  I told him all about what I was doing in my life, and especially that I was keeping my promise to him and looking after Mom in the best possible way I could.  The garage sale turned out to be amazing and I picked up several treasures.  Dad was truly with me I thought.  On my way to drop off my new things at home,  I saw a sign for ANOTHER garage sale near-by.  Again I talked to Dad as I walked down the streets to this sale.  Again, it was a great sale.  Two great sales??  That was too much to ask for.  I had not been to two great sales in a row in years.  My heart soared.

I headed downtown to do some errands, then took the bus all the way to the other end of town to do some other errands before I finally arrived home in the early afternoon.  The need to roam and wander had ceased and I could finally settle down at home with a cup of tea.

Later in the afternoon, a most curious thing happened.  Actually it was a wondrous thing, a miraculous thing.  Dad loved to garden and especially loved his flowers.  At their old house, he had some beautiful tulips that were red and yellow.  They bloomed about the same time every year and the year Dad died they were in full bloom.  The house had not yet sold so I was able to pick many of them to create bouquets of Dad’s flowers for the funeral.  Those beautiful vibrant red and yellow tulips were somehow a symbol to me of God’s goodness through all the pain.  Well, last fall, I planted a whole mess of bulbs in my little garden at the side of my house – my Dad’s memorial garden I call it.  Many of the flowers were up including some tulips of pink, purple and red.  Today I knew I needed to replace some of the flowers in the bouquets I had been making for Mom from the flowers in the garden.  I went out with my scissors to pick a few and to my amazement there were a number of red and yellow tulips in full bloom!  They were not there yesterday.  I did not even remember buying any red and yellow tulips.  It was like Dad put those tulips there on this very momentous day,  letting me know he was OK and he was watching over me.  It was also an incredible gift from God to know that He too was letting me know I was loved and was not alone in the midst of my pain.  He knew what I needed on this difficult day.  I carefully snipped two of the miracle tulips and brought them in to Mom.  We marveled together of God’s goodness to us.

Well, it’s now 9:45pm, time for bed.  Time to let the grief that has been front and centre to settle back a bit into the inner recesses of my mind.  Do I forget?  NEVER!  Dad is with me every day.  I miss him so much.  But grief is like the ocean.  The tide goes in and out, the waves are big or they are calm.  It’s never the same from day to day but it’s always there, always lapping at my toes.  Dad, thanks for a good day with you.  God, thank you for you faithfulness and your endless love.

Anniversary Grief – what’s that??

Today is May 1st.  May is an anniversary month.  No, not a wedding anniversary – it is the month in which my Dad died.  On May 20 it will have been 7 years since I’ve had the chance to talk to my Dad, give him a hug, tell him I love him and joke with him.  I miss him all the time but when May comes around the missing him that was there in the back recesses of my mind comes to the forefront – right to the centre of my thoughts and my life.  No, it is not as intense as it used to be but it still affects my days.  What I miss most is not being able to tell him all the things that have been going on in my life.  I was never able to tell him of the incredible experience it was for me to be librarian at the brand new school and how I set the library up myself and how it was the best two years of my whole 33 years in the school system.  I couldn’t tell him that I retired after struggling so hard for so long to work and be a “normal” person with a job.  I couldn’t tell him that I now work in the  Public Library system and I look after the library at my church.  He’s never met my new cat, Gus Gus and does not know of all the crazy things he has done.  And most of all, he doesn’t know that Mom has lived with me the last 3 and a half years and that I am keeping the promise I made to him on his death bed – to look after Mom in the best way possible.

What is it about anniversary grief that is like a sore that just keeps opening up and oozing.  Does it ever heal?  I don’t know.  Actually I hope not.  Anniversary grief for me is a way of never forgetting. I have always been very sensitive to anniversaries of all kinds.  Dates and events in my life hold such meaning that they are played over and over each year like a broken record.  Even if my conscious mind forgets the anniversary, my unconscious mind will react and I will realize with surprise why I was crying or feeling down.  I don’t know if this is an autism thing or not.  I just know my brain runs in sort of a groove year round with different things coming to the forefront at the precise time each year.  A sense of order even in my memories, categorized by date, severity, and a number of other slots they fit into.

Anniversary grief also for me has a sense of anticipation to it.  With Dad, I dread May 20th getting closer and closer and I think it will be a horrible day in some way.  In reality, it usually turns out to be a fairly regular day.  The anticipation is far worse than the actual event.  I know this but somehow it doesn’t really help.  And when the day is over there is a relief that I got through that dreaded event.

I need to make a plan.  I need to make a plan to do something positive on May 20th.  I could work in my flower garden, the garden that is a memorial garden to my Dad who loved to garden and plant flowers.  I could write him a little letter telling him of all the things I wish I could say to him.  I could buy a can of peanuts and munch away at them.  I always gave Dad a can of peanuts for Christmas because he loved them.  The trick was to wrap it in such a way that he did not know what it was!  I could phone my Uncle John and tell him I love him ( that’s Dad’s brother) because I do love him bunches and bunches.  Maybe if I think about doing some of these things the knot in the pit of my stomach that gets tighter and tighter as the month goes on may just instead loosen it’s grip and wrap around the oozing sore and send some healing to the grief.  It’s worth a try don’t you think?