Anniversaries are interesting things. They help us keep track of the important events in our lives. They remind us of good times, good people, good memories…usually.
I have one anniversary that I have been dreading for four years. It is not a reminder of good times, good memories…it is, however, a memory of one good person, one loving family. On February 29, 2008, on an otherwise glorious, Texas winter day…my father ended his 9-year battle with pulmonary fibrosis.
I can’t really say he “lost” the battle, because he more than beat the odds of a disease which should have taken him many years sooner. He enjoyed a very full life, right up until the final few days…and while the growing difficulty to find his breath might have stopped a lesser man, he kept gardening, building, planning, tooling around in his garage, and doing his own bookkeeping right until the last. He continued to give directives, keeping his patriarchal thumb on the heartbeat of our family, even when his voice had completely failed him and he was struggling to write them down for us. There was no “lost battle” involved…he merely made a tactical decision to regroup–and move to heaven.
Because he died on February 29–leap day–there is only one physical anniversary every four years. Which in many ways is a blessing. You are only going to look at a calendar once every four years and remember what that date signifies. There will only be one “anniversary” every fourth year. No yearly reminders of a day I’d just as soon forget. A day I wish had NEVER happened. And even while I understand that parents don’t live forever on this earth, it is never something you want to live through…much less remember.
The down side of having an anniversary of such magnitude fall on leap day, is this…the first one (and who knows…maybe, all of them) hits REALLY hard. You’ve had four years…1,461 days…to subconsciously wait for this day; instead of the normal 365. It’s a long time in coming and a lot of built-up grief waiting to burst over the dams.
As the day approaches, you try not to focus on it. You try NOT to remember what day it is…what day it will be in 5 days, 4 days, 3 days…. And as we approach the first-ever–yet fourth–anniversary of a day that made a forever difference in my family’s journey…my father-in-law ended up in the hospital. An early morning phone call (on the same day I received another dreaded phone call), a rushed trip to the hospital, all-night vigils, long days of questions, tests, taking turns spending time with him…all these things brought the memories of four years ago flooding back upon me until I felt like I would suffocate.
As I was leaving his bedside the first night, when I reached out to take my father-in-law’s bruised and wrinkled hand (he takes coumadin, as my father did, giving his hand an uncanny resemblance to Daddy’s) the similarities of the day swept over me in a rush of pent-up tears I frantically choked down. It took all the strength I had to get out of the hospital and into the car before I allowed the dam to burst.
My father-in-law is thankfully not on death’s door. It was a frightening few days, but he is safe and should continue to get better. And I am praising God for this blessing of his continued life. But the similarities…the ironies of life…were inescapable–even to my sons. They noticed the date. They felt the similarities. They observed the irony of life. As a mom and a daughter, I was torn between feeling my own grief and protecting my sons from the pain of their own. I did not want to fall apart in front of them…did not want them to think that they could be losing another grandfather. I did not want them to misunderstand my grief. Thankfully, they are very perceptive and knew exactly where my tears were coming from.
Anniversaries…good ones and bad…are inescapable. You can choose to ignore them, but they are still there. The good ones are necessary to keep us in tune with the treasures that are our memories and loved ones.
But I believe the bad anniversaries can do the same thing. They remind us of the transient nature of life. Remind us to hold on to every precious moment…every precious person…in our lives. To not take for granted those we treasure, because the reality is–we truly do not know how long we will have them physically in our lives.
I have spent many hours these past few days, rubbing my father-in-law’s feet. It was something my father enjoyed–both as I was growing up and in his final hours–and sharing this with my father-in-law brought me joy…and a new memory to treasure.
On this first-fourth anniversary of one of the most painful days of my life, I will shed tears of sadness and much grief. I will cry to wash my heart and soul of the pain I have felt for four long years…the pain I am certain I will continue to feel for a very long time.
But I will also treasure my memories of a man who taught me many things…who loved me even when I was unloveable, who held me when I needed it most, who felt my pain, who wiped my tears, who spanked my bottom, who walked me down the aisle and gave me away to “the man of my dreams.” I will remember these things…I will love him all over again…miss him unendurably…and then focus on making more wonderful memories with the other people who loved him. There can be joy in the midst of sorrow, and I will choose to find it…after I have a really long cry.
Daddy…I miss you.