There begins a long list of days, birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, to get past.  They take on a different significance this year with the absence of my parents.  Some day’s they feel like mountains to climb.  Some day’s the memories flow, swift and sure.

The one year anniversary of my Mom’s death.  The shock of having her die when we all thought my Dad would go first.  Well we all thought that but my Dad who earnestly prayed that my Mom would go first so she would never have to be without him.  So much so, that when she did die while he was early on hospice care, he felt like he couldn’t/shouldn’t feel grief because his prayers had been answered.  My thought to him was that relief and grief can exist in the same deeply held emotions.

October 27 would have been their 70th wedding anniversary.  They missed the 69 by three weeks.  They were engaged for four long years, while my Dad served overseas in WWII.I’m blown away by that thought.  Four years of snail mail (and it was really snail mail)only.  No phone calls, FaceTime, texting.  In face they came up with their own code before he left so that with in a couple of letters, using the code, my Mom would know where he was. (Take that army censors)  Because that was the other thing…when he left, he didn’t know where he was going.  He got a bad case of malaria, got sent back the lines out of immediate danger and lost so much weight that when he arrived home his own sister didn’t recognize him.  My Grandma took one look at him and tried to talk my Mom into delaying the wedding because she was afraid my Dad would die and leave her a widow.  Well after four years of daily letters, you can imagine my Mom’s reaction to that.  After they married they were rarely apart overnight.

November 3 is my Mom’s birthday.  I decided a few years ago, as finances got easier, I would send her flowers every birthday and Mother’s Day for as long as she lived.  And I did.  She loved this flowers.  And it feels strange not to be choosing the perfect arrangement for her at this time in November.

Thanksgiving is filled with memories.  My Mom, in her prime was an excellent cook and a fabulous baker.  She put on a Thanksgiving spread for the masses of siblings and nieces and nephews without seeming to break a sweat.  I wish I had gotten that from the gene pool.  The rolling with the punches with hordes of family in the house.  I, however, sweat it.

December 23, my Dad’s birthday.  He would have been 95.  A few years back he mentioned that his oldest surviving sibling died at 93 and he rally wanted to beat that.  Whatever Dad.  And he did and bested it besides,  We were red, his favorite color, on his birthday.  The tradition was that he would take us out to dinner on his birthday.  He would pay…as long as you were wearing red.  I remember trying to find something red to wear for his funeral.  I mumbled and grumbled, wondering why his favorite color couldn’t have been blue.  I have a closet full of blue and I don’t particularly like red.  But I’ll keep wearing it, always in honor of him.

Then comes Christmas.  Another holiday steeped in tradition and good memories.  The Christmas smorgasbord was my Dad’s favorite meal of the whole year.  The Christmas stockings that morphed into boxes because we had too many trinkets to fill just those small stockings.  The tree with ornaments placed just so by my Mother’s direction.  She must have been glad when I left for college; I never realized there was an order in how they were hung on the tree.

In time I expect these memories will sustain, not simply bring tears and the rush to get past them.

A couple of weeks ago, my niece came for a visit with her three kids.  This is the niece who moved her family to Grand Rapids six years ago to help my parents stay in their home.  It was her family who moved in with my Dad, the week before my Mom died, realizing the days of my parents living alone were done.

My great-nephews and great-niece had the experience of inter-generational living.  They saw the day-to-day care that aging requires.  When they were down, we were hanging out and one of them said, “I bet you miss your Dad, don’t you?”  Easy question to answer.  I thanked them again for their help (and they did help) in taking care of “Pada”.  I reminded them of how much my Dad loved them and said, “sometimes it’s hard for me to believe he died.”  The nine-year-old agreed and said, “when I was home I heard the noise that Pada’s walker made on the rug when he got up from his nap.  At first I just forgot and thought, “he’s up but then it kind of freaked me out because I saw his walker wasn’t there and I remembered”.

The seven-year-old said, “I miss Pada but he did really love us.” I commented that he used to tell me stories about them every time I called on the phone.  They wanted to know what stories he had told.  They laughed as I retold some of them.  I also told them that my Dad would say to me, “those kids, they bring the sunshine every day.”  They both smiled at that.

I realized the reminiscing is sweet.  That those we love, live in the memories and the stories we tell.  Which brings me to my saddest thing.  My youngest great-nephew was 18 months old when my Dad died.  He was my Dad’s buddy.  The oldest and the youngest somehow in perfect sync.  He too, helped take care of my Dad. he brought my Dad the raisins for his daily oatmeal, and helped my niece get my Dad ready for bed.  He had sweet little games he played with my Dad.  And he won’t remember my Dad.  We’ll tell him and show him pictures.  I think he needs his own photo book of picture of him with my Dad, his “Pada” book.  But he won’t have his own memories like the other kids.

Sometimes the memories are bittersweet.  Sometimes the memories actually hurt.  But I know memories also help heal and sustain us. I am grateful for the memories…and the sweet shared memories with my family, that remind us how fortunate we were.

Life is Good

"It's ironic that we

forget so often how

wonderful life really is...

C'mon, let's be honest.

We have an embarrassment

of riches. Life is good."

-Anne Quindlen

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