Anniversaries, Firsts and The Privileged Few

Yesterday was the first anniversary of my dad’s death. I knew Mom had taken the day off, but between appointments and whatnot, I didn’t get an opportunity to call her until the late afternoon after Dee got home from school. She sounded shaky but assured me she was okay.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” she said. “I did okay today. Went out to the cemetery in the morning and had lunch with Auntie before her physio. People have been calling on and off, and I saw neighbors. It wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it would be. Now I have all my firsts done.”

Getting through “the firsts” is a big deal. I actually didn’t know that the assorted holidays and anniversaries of this and that had a designation until Will had been dead for a half a year or more. I am not sure I really needed to know it either. I have learned a lot of terminology that is death or widow specific that probably hasn’t aided me as much as it was intended to, but that is another story. People are always proud of themselves for having crossed the mile marker which is year one. Year two is a whole other matter, but I didn’t mention that. Another thing I don’t think is helpful is telling survivors about the pitfalls to come because, in my opinion, it can lead to self-fulfilling prophecy situations. Best to let others go through their own ebb and flow without planting any seeds.

Rob inquired after Mom as we sat having tea after dinner and dishes were done. Tuesday is late dinner because of Dee’s dance, and we got home to find that Rob had supper waiting. He even did the dishes after – that’s a digression, isn’t it? I related Mom’s pleasure at having jumped the year mark and the fact that no one had forgotten her on this anniversary.*

“No one called me,” he said.

“Me neither,” I replied, “and I even managed to not remind Mom that she not only didn’t call me on the one year but she forgot the date and mentioned it a week or more after the fact.”

“Well,” Rob mused, “I’d kind of alienated all my in-laws at that point by marrying you.”

Before the first year was up. A point of fact that is less relevant as time goes on. Though it doesn’t completely go away, the fact that Rob and I continue on in spite of the hand-wringing makes the objections irrelevant in the face of reality.

“Well, they were all gracious about it none the less and seem okay now except for Indy. But she has issues of her own that are probably more at the root of things.”

One of Shelley’s sisters is a cross between CB and BabySis. She has never been anything but kind to me and Dee but when we have been out of sight and earshot, she has wailed and railed a bit. She is one of those people who no matter how removed she is from the epicenter of tragedy, will try to make it all about her anyway. It’s hard wiring but a hard childhood and substance abuse don’t enhance the trait  – in a desirable manner anyway.

This got us to talking about last days. The whole death-bed scene. And Rob brought up my personal fingernail on blackboard issue – the people who don’t show up because they want to remember the dying person “as they were”.

“Who the fuck do they think they are that they get dibs on the pristine memories?” I asked. It was a rhetorical because Rob just smiled and shrugged. We’ve had this particular conversation before and with no satisfactory conclusions drawn by the end.

At one point the memories drifted past the popular idea that the dying should be treated to a running monologue of non-stop chatter from the bedside babysitters. I understand the rationale. We live people harbor the belief that the dying person is alone, frightened and finds comfort in being connected to the land of the living even if they can’t interact or acknowledge. I wonder about that myself. We are told that people are waiting for guides to come and lead them away, but what if those last hours are filled with important instructions or lessons and all we are doing is making it harder for the person to pay attention? And what if dying is as much work as every other aspect of life?

Rob assigned shifts to Shelley. Her nephew played the guitar for instance. Her mom read to her from a book on proper nutrition for cancer patients.

“I wonder what Shelley must have been thinking then,” Rob said.

I actually just finished writing about this in the last chapter of the memoir I was working on. Will’s brain damage was so extensive that he simply couldn’t receive or make sense of information in any form. I didn’t know this for a fact until the autopsy report months later, but I suspected it, so I just didn’t bother to speak. I carried on long conversations with him in my head. If you’d have walked in on just he and I, you would have wondered at the utter silence and the fact that all I ever did was rub his chest or hold his hand. But my reasoning was that he was just as likely to read my mind as he was to hear and understand what I was saying.

Dee brings home a reading book every night that she must read and discuss with one of us. Her current discussion obsession is making what the teacher told them was “self-connections”.

“It’s important to make self-connections,  Mom,” she reminded me tonight when I tried to ask her about something else in the story.

But she’s right. Self-connections are where we learn and grow.

*Not sadiversary or deathversary or any other of the Hallmarkish terms.

8 thoughts on “Anniversaries, Firsts and The Privileged Few

  1. “Who the fuck do they think they are that they get dibs on the pristine memories?”

    Bingo! Nick’s brother refused to go into the ICU to see him, and he refused to walk up to the casket. It’s always pissed me off, and now I know why.

    1. Yep, still just ignites my indignation that the people who meant the most to Will had to do the emotional heavy lifting in the end days and after while those who abandoned him (and by extension Dee and I) make off with memories that don’t include disease, decline and death.

      I think though that this is one of those things that separates wheat from chaff, you know?

  2. My dad died suddenly almost 13 years ago. My mother remarried 6 years ago and hasn’t lived in “the” house since, but she will not sell it despite break-ins and calamitous damage due to storms. I mistakenly thought that at some point she would be able to let go of the past. That hasn’t happened yet, maybe because there was no time to work anything out before he died.

    1. It’s not necessarily about needing to work anything out. There is this myth that the undone or neglected is a sign that we have issues and often it’s just that we procrastinate because it’s a lot of time and work and we have better, or more pressing, things to occupy ourselves with.

      1. I appreciate that in the beginning this was part of it. I’ve been to the house for extended periods of time twice to clear out the trash (literally), clean up the clutter, and get things of value to safety. I’ve offered to take over the responsibility of clearing everything else out, listing the house with a realtor, and overseeing the sale. No go. She lives hours away and goes once or twice a year, each time to find locks broken, evidence that someone(s) has been living there, and that something has happened to the house itself – in the fall of 2008 we found the 60-year-old furnace rusted out beyond repair, and this fall two mature trees fell on the house and caused damage to the roof and chimney. A good friend who knows my family’s history said this week that she thinks my mom is still holding out for the marriage and life she wanted in that house and never got.

  3. “Who the fuck do they think they are that they get dibs on the pristine memories?”

    This is probably one of the most insightful comments I’ve ever heard in relation to how to spend time with the ill and dying.

  4. it seems that we all may want different things as we are dying… one size clearly won’t fit all. if the situation permits, i may have the kids prepare a sign to hang over my deathbed. letting people know i want music, bad jokes and memories (good and bad). and perhaps a shot of single malt in the IV when nurse ratchet is looking the other way…

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