I observed my first Father’s Day without a father last month. In the past, I would have celebrated the day by sending him a funny card, buying a book or necktie, or inviting him for dinner or dessert – perhaps coconut pie, a favorite. Holidays stir memories and are often bittersweet times for people for a host of reasons, of which death is just one. It’s not something the culture is great at acknowledging yet. Still, you can seldom go wrong by saying to someone simply, “I’m thinking of you.”
I caught myself in the days leading up to June 19 feeling I was remiss in not having bought a Father’s Day card, and that I’d better hurry up and do so. I would be out shopping for something else, only to glance over at the racks of cards on display for a fleeting moment before the recognition hit. As I was helping my husband select a card for my father-in-law, I found one that would have been ideal for my father: one of life’s little ironies.
After Father’s Day, the next hurdle is the anniversary of his death next month. The loss of someone close to you does change you. But not as much as you might think it would. What I have been most surprised by is how much things remain the same. It is reassuring to know that life goes on. And true that death is a natural part of the life cycle. And also true that life is for the living.
But the grieving person wants to know that things have changed in some measurable way, apart from the fact that the loved one is no longer here. It’s in order to know that their life and death had meaning, and that there are lessons to be learned from both.
Here’s some of what I have realized:
•The death of a loved one almost inevitably leads you to think about what changes you want to make in your own life.
•It may lead you to reprioritize.
•Even though you have been changed, you are still you, with familiar thoughts, feelings, habits and problems.
•And you will be surprised at how quickly you might lapse into old ways of thinking, forgetting your vow not to sweat the small stuff in view of what you now know and the impact it has had on you.
•You must be vigilant in constantly reminding yourself of your newfound goals and attitudes, and that life is short.
You may have to refresh yourself anew each day as to what really matters, but it is a task worthwhile in the long run.
Hope Yancey is a counselor and freelance writer living in Charlotte, North Carolina