Seven years ago today I was on a plane back from Wheaton, exhausted from a full slate of finals and fantasizing about a month of lazy afternoons I intended to spend curled up in front of the fire with a blanket and a book. As ridiculous as it sounds now, I very distinctly remember that I was looping “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap on my iPod. I was trying to wrap my mind around news I had received just a few weeks earlier from a close friend, that her mother was in the final stages of cancer.
I had no idea my life was about to change forever.
Today is the seventh anniversary of my father’s death. Every year I anticipate this day, wondering what I will feel. With each year that passes, the pain of reliving the memories of that day and the days that followed gives way to a different kind of pain: that of marking the ways in which I have changed and grown that I will never be able to share with my dad. The pain of realizing that life will never stop, that I will continue to grow and to change farther and farther from the girl he knew. I imagine what it would be like to tell him I ran a half marathon this year. I want to tell him about Florida, that I stood on the Boardwalk and looked out at the Yacht Club, where we stayed on our last family vacation, and thanked God for the time we got to have together, even when we made each other as angry and frustrated as we did trying to manage our days in Disney World. With each milestone it gets a little easier and a little harder; there are less firsts to process, but more realization that the life he was a part of recedes further and further into memory.
Most often it’s little things. The Eagles have always been so important to me because of the way they shaped my relationship with my dad, and even though as a fan I accept that Andy Reid is going to be, and should be, fired at the end of this season, I dread the reality because he is the one thing tying this Eagles team to the Eagles my dad knew. It sounds ridiculous, I’m sure, but if there is one thing I have learned it’s that grief can be ridiculous.
Today is a good day. I’m going to see Sufjan Stevens at the Metro. I’m going to spend time with friends I love, and celebrate the incredible blessings the last seven years, and last 26 years, have been.
This is a grief sustained. It is less a pain than a rhythm of life. I now value this ritual, this returning to December 15th, as a time to both grieve and celebrate the ways in which my life continues to move forward. Because I know that it is marching toward a final reality, one in which pain is redeemed and mourning turns to dancing.
Until then I can remember.