Dark Anniversaries

The sound of the ringing phone dragged me out of a deep sleep. Before I knew what I was doing, I was on my feet and stumbling in the dark mobile home hallway toward the living room to answer the phone. I felt heavy with a strange nagging dread. Arnie, my young husband was two steps behind me.

Two months earlier, I had given birth to a baby girl named Christy, who had a rare birth defect. We brought her home twice but were forced to return her to the hospital within days. Having no childcare experience and feeling terrified by her special needs, I felt like a failure as a mother. Yesterday evening Arnie and I had visited our little girl at the hospital. Reaching through the bars of her crib, I gently patted her back. I didn’t know what else to do.

The voice on the other end of the line was Christy’s pediatrician. He said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your daughter has just passed away.” Handing the phone to Arnie, I sank onto the sofa and cried. Christy’s death was our first experience with losing someone dear to us. My husband and I had celebrated out 20th birthdays a few months earlier.

The call from Christy’s doctor at 2 a.m. on April 2nd, 1971, introduced me to days that I have come to call dark anniversaries. Unlike a birthday where you celebrate the person’s birth, the death date is a day you remember them and miss what might have been. Dark anniversaries are seared into your memory forever.

During the first 24 hours following Christy’s death, I felt damaged. I didn’t think I would ever be able to sleep again. Food held no allure. As time passed, I realized that although wounded, sleep came when I was tired enough, and hunger demanded I eat. The world insisted life goes on.

As years passed, the number of dark anniversaries on my calendar have increased. Some were expected to come sooner or later, like the death of my parents. Some dark anniversaries came unexpectedly, like the early death of my husband, Arnie, and the shockingly tragic death of my young son-in-law, Mike. All of these dates are on my calendar and each year I am challenged by how to best handle them.

Everyone grieves differently. Some people spend their dark anniversaries showing people pictures of their loved one and talking about their loss. Other grieving souls clutch their memories close to their hearts and pray for the day to quickly pass.

Talking about the death of someone you loved makes most people uncomfortable. Faced with a grieving acquaintance, people often don’t know what to say or do. Some people nervously offer profuse condolences. We mention our loved ones not to gather sympathy, but to acknowledge the time our loved ones spent on this earth; to validate their life and what they meant.

The month of April is a hard one for me to get through each year. Arnie and I were married April 18, 1970. Christy died on April 2, 1971. Arnie died unexpectedly on April 2, 2007 while he was loading supplies onto his trailer. Eight years later, on April 17, 2015, my son-in-law Mike died in a freak accident while taking my daughter, Niki, to the hospital to have their eighth child.

I find it hard to believe so many years have passed since all of these things took place. In some ways these lifechanging events feel like they took place in a different world and lifetime. But the longing in my heart makes the losses feel like they just have happened.

One comforting thought I’ve had all these years is that although death took my loved ones out of my day-to-day life, death cannot change or take away the love. It remains. Grief is the price a person pays for the gift of love..

One thought on “Dark Anniversaries

  1. Our sympathies for you has you grieve the month of April, but be assured your loved ones are with the Lord. That doesn’t mean you miss them any less, but we’ve been told to speak of them often and keep the good memories with you every day. They would want you to go on and keep them & their memories alive. God’s loving kindness & consolation to you all.

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