My family and I make a point of getting together, or supporting each other, on my father’s deathday. Somehow we decided organically to acknowledge the day he died, instead of his birthday. We didn’t plan it this way, it just kind of happened. Similarly, my friend and I have a long standing tradition of going out for steaks on her brother’s deathday. Her brother was one of my greatest friends when I lived in Vancouver. (Read more here.) Interestingly enough, both my father and my friend died within a couple weeks of their respective birthdays.
Initially, it seemed strange to me to be experiencing anything remotely joyful on the deathday. But then again, it also felt weird to acknowledge the birthday. He wasn’t around anymore, what was I celebrating? The birthday was a painful reminder of what I was missing.
In the first few years following my father’s death, the deathday served as a new calendar for me to mark the passing of days and events. Life before…and after. Each occasion in those first couple of years served as some kind of milestone, or a reminder that I could get through another day, another event, another anything. One month without my father, my first day of school without my father, my first holiday without my father, even my first birthday. I was definitely in a fog the first year. Even on today’s date, June 19, I still sometimes experience a haunting flashback of the last time I ever heard my father speak, over a decade ago.
Grieving is a process. As time moves on, I’m often surprised at the intensity with which I can still experience the grief, the sadness, and the heartbreak, all in an instant. Fortunately those instants have become less frequent with each passing year. And in between I often recall lots of pleasant memories.
Birth and death. Two things we must all experience. I now take comfort in commemorating the deathday of my loved ones. It’s given me a way to honor and value the life they lived. It feels fitting to celebrate the day my loved ones left, rather than the day they were born.
Pictures below are from one of our “deathday” trips to Alaska in 2007, a place my father loved.