On June 26, 2013, the first anniversary of my Father’s death, I woke up early feeling like a horrific mess.
Waking up in a panic tinged depression had become routine at this point so I got ready for my day as usual. I bought a cup of coffee. I went to a meeting. I sat at my desk and smiled at my coworkers like it wasn’t the worst day of the entire year.
My head was full of flashbacks and I couldn’t concentrate.
To make things worse everyone around me acted frustratingly normal. This “ business as usual” strategy I had to get through the day was a terrible idea.
Earlier in the month I had thought about how to commemorate the anniversary. I talked to some friends but they had no new ideas, which is no surprise because their fathers were not dead. Their fathers were all still alive and well and hadn’t been hit by any cars. I tried consulting the internet. I googled “death anniversary” and read stories about families planting trees in backyards or praying over a grave together.
I considered planting a tree, but what if I planted it wrong?
The thought of it dying freaked me out.
It’s common for people to visit graves but I didn’t have a grave to visit. My dad’s remains still sat in a plastic bag in the back of my brother’s closet waiting to be tossed into the ocean. I didn’t have any of the traditional options available but I did have an idea. At the time I was re-reading Harry Potter, (ok, I am always re-reading Harry Potter) and if you have read the 2nd book you already know where I’m going with this. For those of you who have not read it I’ll explain.
There’s this part where Nearly Headless Nick, who is a ghost, throws a party to commemorate the day he died. Basically it’s the exact opposite of a birthday party.
My mom and I decorated the house with grey and black balloons and printed a “Happy First Death Day, Peter!” banner complete with skulls. A small table was piled with pictures of my Dad and small things that reminded us of him. We invited guests and whether they knew my Dad or not was unimportant.
What mattered was that they knew how important my dad’s death was in our lives.
We drank and danced and ate pizza — all picnic style on the living room floor. I made a cake and everyone stood around it in the dark while we lit the candles but instead of singing happy birthday we just listened to a Bob Dylan song and I cried through the whole thing.
It was sad and silly, joyful and tragic. It was exactly right and exactly what I needed to conquer the overwhelming emotions that came with the first death anniversary.
Recognizing death anniversaries is hard, but avoiding them is even harder.
We honor our grief by experiencing it fully while giving ourselves permission to do whatever it is we need to move forward. Many people I know don’t expect to feel anything on anniversaries, but grief has a way of sneaking up and surprising us. If you have an important anniversary coming up I hope the day passes smoothly. My advice is to plan on feeling something and make time and space for whatever it is you need.
As for me, it’s June 26, 2015 and I’m going to have a death day party.