Paper and clocks


The traditional gift for a first anniversary is paper. That's for married couples, of course; not for deaths of loved ones. And yet it seems fitting. Paper bore so many words of comfort to my family and me. Paper was the medium on which his death certificate was printed. And someday, I hope to publish this blog in a book made of paper.

It hardly bears mentioning that I have learned a lot this year, both about grief and about myself (and I'll admit that those two things are at times one and the same). Much of it is what you've likely heard already: that grief comes in waves, with very little warning. That there is no single right way to mourn a loved one. That death's heartless ubiquity is the very thing that brings out almost unimaginable kindness in people.

The modern first anniversary gift is time pieces, which are also very appropriate given that I've learned a lot about time this year, too. I've learned an entire evening can fly by while I look at pictures of Dad or listen to the audio recordings I made of our interviews. And I puzzled as to why I was so dreading this day--the first anniversary of Dad's death. It is, after all, just another day, right?

But in talking with my friend Darrel last week (who is approaching a first anniversary himself: that of his wife's death), I think I figured it out. I tend to think about time in one-year increments. Birthdays. Holidays. Anniversaries. Even Facebook's "On This Day" feature contributes by showing me what I was posting about one, three, five years ago exactly.

The crux is this: A year ago yesterday, my father was alive. A year ago today, he wasn't. And that latter part will remain true for the rest of my life. Every day, from now on, the end of the sentence "a year ago today..." as it relates to my father will be "he was dead." And sometimes the permanence of that fact, its sheer unrelenting constancy, is almost more than I can bear.

Of course, I don't have any other option but to bear it--and that's almost a mercy. I have no choice but to continue plodding along in this life without that beloved man. I will delight in the world around me and the incredible people I am lucky enough to share it with. And I will be sad. Those two things can exist at the same time.

Yes, that is the biggest thing I have learned this year: That mourning and moving on are not mutually exclusive. I will wind this first anniversary timepiece. I will smooth this first anniversary paper, blank and fresh with possibilities. And I will smile through my tears.

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