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.