The firsts without my parents are over—the first birthday, the first anniversary, and the
first holiday—and yet they are not. As long as I live I will have new experiences—firsts for me—that I want
to share with my mother and father. In some ways, grief gets harder. Most people expected me to be sad for a while after my
mother died, but now it is time to get back to business as usual. Or is it?
There is not a birthday (theirs or
mine), anniversary, Mothers’ Day, Father’s Day or holiday that goes by that I do not think of my parents. Even
Halloween brings memories of Mom making me a costume for Beggars’ Night, but some holidays are sadder than others. Dad
died on February 13. We were making his funeral arrangements, the surreal experience of casket shopping, as I call it, on
February 14. Valentine's Day may be a sweet remembrance of flowers and candy for most, but each February 14 brings back that
sad time to me.
I still avoid Mother’s Day card displays in the grocery store. I also
cringe at the SPAM E-mail advertisements that I receive in the month of May advising me on the perfect gift to buy Mom on
her special day. Fall is my favorite season. One of my best childhood memories is picking apples on the farm with my father.
To this day, autumn and the smell of apples remind me of both that happy time and the void in my life now that Dad is gone.
One of the hardest times for me since Dad died in 1994 was in the fall of 2007 because Ken Burns aired his documentary
series about World War II. Dad was a WW II veteran. I wanted so much to talk to him about the series and to ask him what he
thought about its accuracy. What was the war like for him?
I was fortunate, however, because Dad liked to write
and he left a memoir of his Army experiences. I posted it on a PBS affiliate site and it made the documentary event more meaningful for me. (The site is no longer active.) In a strange way,
I never felt more removed from—or closer to—my father than during the weeks that the Ken Burns series appeared
on public television.
All the grief literature tells me to plan ahead for significant and difficult days.
It does help. The year after Mom died, my sister Alice and I met for lunch on the day of Mom's birthday at her favorite restaurant.
We didn’t talk a lot about our mother, we didn’t have to, but we both knew why we were there.
Attending funerals can be especially hard because they will remind you of the funeral of your loved one. If the death was
recent, you may want to skip funerals for a while, sending flowers or notes instead. It is helpful, especially in the beginning,
to go to a funeral with a friend or family member for support and sit in the back. If the service evokes memories that are
too much to endure, you can slip out quietly without drawing attention to yourself. If you decide to attend a funeral,
please don’t go alone and leave if you become overwhelmed. Only you can decide what is right for you in your grief.
Follow inner guidance.
Weddings can also intensify grief feelings. You can offer people guidelines about your
comfort level by saying, “It’s OK to talk about ( ___________ ).” Or, if you are not up to that, you can
say, “Today I just want to be with you and enjoy your company. Tell me what is happening in your life.” Friends
and loved ones will appreciate the direction you give them, especially if they don’t know what to say to you because
you are new to grief.
I have read that the problem with death is absence. No matter what the special occasion
is—birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, summer vacations, or personal milestones—grief will always be there to
cast its shadow. You can plan ahead to do something special or decide to spend the day alone with your own observance. Sometimes,
just knowing you have a plan on how to cope with a difficult day will help ease the pain and stop the dread. However you decide
to mark the occasion, or not, please make a conscious decision ahead of time on how you are going to get through the actual
I have no children so on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day I write thank you notes to my parents
because, as Thornton Wilder reminded us, the greatest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude. This act of
writing to my parents may seem peculiar to some but it comforts me and when it comes to grief, comfort is all that matters.
I miss my mother and father through all the seasons of my life and I always will. No, I don’t fall apart anymore, and
yes, I am healing, but I will never forget. Why would I want to forget the ones I loved so deeply?
Go to next page: The Trap of Comparisons