I always struggle on sunny Saturday mornings.
It was a brilliantly blue-skyed September Saturday three and a half years ago, when I bounded down the stairs on the way to the gym and noticed my phone vibrating on the hallway table. The caller ID told me that it was my youngest brother Eric and so I rushed to it, eager to catch up. Had I known what he was going to tell me ten seconds later, I probably wouldn’t have answered it.
That was the moment I found out that my father was gone.
As only those who mourn the loss of someone they love deeply understand, sunny Saturday mornings have never been the same for me. They are now a Grief Anniversary; a perpetual, involuntary holiday where my heart marks its injury over and over and over again without me getting a say in the matter. Since that terrible day there has rarely been a Saturday morning regardless of what I’ve been in the middle of, when I have not found myself reliving it in some way, my mind jarred from its routine to momentarily eulogize my father once again.
I wish it was the only such occasion, as I could probably handle feeling this horrible once a week, but that’s not how this works.
Most people think that grieving is about the big annual events—about Christmases and birthdays and the like, and of course it is. But the brutal truth (one that only those who continue to live after someone dear to them is gone can rightly fathom), is that these other anniversaries are equally devastating and far more frequent.
In the wake of losing a loved one, everything in your life becomes a potential surprise memorial. Out of nowhere you are broadsided by days of the week or times of day or numbers on the calendar, or songs that were playing or cologne you were wearing or the feel of the grass beneath your knees as you fell at the news. These seemingly incessant reminders force you once again to observe the loss anew.
And since these days and times and triggers aren’t obvious to most people in our lives (and since we don’t have the time or the words to describe them all), they are usually unaware of just how much and just how often we mourn. Even those who are closest to us and care for us greatly remain largely oblivious to our recurring sadness. Our grief can feel like a very lonely journey, which in many ways it is because it is specific to us and to the one we’ve lost. It is a customized but hidden wound.
I’ve tried to remember this because it helps me to realize that most people I encounter every day are doing this continual memorializing of someone they love too. They, like me have these constant pinpricks to the heart that they are experiencing at any given moment. They, like me could be internally reeling for what seems to be no apparent reason. This very ordinary day for me could be a day of extraordinary mourning for them.
When someone you love deeply dies, the calendar of your life is altered forever. It gets divided into the time before and after that moment. I’ll probably never have another uninterrupted sunny Saturday morning ever again. My mind will likely always find a way of marking the occasion and reminding me once more that normal is a very relative term now. In this way each moment is another chance to grieve my father, another potential opportunity to measure the depth of my love for him by the level of the loss in his absence.
Today, for a million reasons you might very well find yourself observing the absence of someone you miss dearly, and though it will be a rather uneventful day to the world around you, it will be a National Day of Mourning in the center of your own aching heart.
Please know that you are not alone, dear friend. I acknowledge the pain within you and I observe this day along with you.
Peace, on this Grief Anniversary.
Order John’s book, ‘A Bigger Table’ here.