The dates always slips up on me.
They’re not written down on a calendar, but I always remember them: The dates of my parents’ deaths. Aside from a mental note, I don’t mark them in any way or have a ritual to honor them by.
In a few days will be the 30th anniversary of my dad’s death.
For some years after my dad died, I would get depressed as the date approached, unaware of why I was feeling so vacant until I looked at the calendar.
(He did not hide that I was his favorite child. Not that I was so remarkable. It had nothing to do with me. But I was the first of four children, pretty and smart, right after his time in the Korean war, and he projected much onto me. Too much.)
My dad lived many years in Connecticut and is buried there beside my stepmom. (Twenty years his junior, she died two years after him.) An anniversary visit to his grave is not an option. At least not this year.
How do you honor your deceased loved ones?
On our visits back to Long Island every few years, we visit graves. My mother — she died six months before my dad — is buried in the same cemetery as the husband’s parents. The cemetery is well-kept, so there’s not much cleaning up the gravesites to do.
We spend a few moments of silence, remembering them, leaving some flowers.
For some ideas on honoring death anniversaries, I found a website with some suggestions worth considering. Some of the 35 ideas have to do with distracting yourself by staying busy. For some, that may be an option.
There was a time I would not have wanted to honor my dad. He was a wonderful and terrible father. For years after his death, I processed his effect on me, in psychotherapy, in support groups, talks with my siblings, writing in my journal.
“The past is never dead,” writes William Faulkner. “It’s not even past.”
Toward the end of his life, my dad seemed to recognize the errors of his younger ways and intimated at apologizing the best way he knew how.
Among these, I will find a few ways to honor his memory:
• Light a candle.
• Write them a letter or a poem. “Post” it by putting it on a fire, burying it, or sending it out on the river, or a lake, or the sea. (I like this one, as I’m not one for publicly addressing the dead.)
• Do something you liked to do together. (That would be going out for ice cream.)
• Go for a long walk. Take a friend or two and talk out your feelings, or walk alone and have some quiet time to think.
• Play their favorite music or go see one of their favorite bands. (That would be a Frank Sinatra album, which always sets off some tears.)
• Collect all the photos and mementos you have of them and add them to an album or scrapbook. Make a box of keepsakes. (Good to pass on to posterity too.)
• Make something artistic to celebrate the life of your loved one. You could paint, draw, sculpt, sew or write a song or a poem.
• Call up or visit someone who knew your loved one well and have a long chat. They may also be struggling.
• Raise a glass in their honor with friends or family. Give a toast.
This last one is entirely doable, since I’m hosting a Zoom birthday party this week for my sister.
I can also honor him here: In memory of my dad, Robert Millard Brown. May he be resting in peace.