This past weekend marked the one year anniversary of my stepfather’s passing. While his death is not something that I dwell on, the past week has brought an array of emotions and memories. Reliving the last few hours in the hospital, some of the last conversations I had with him, going to the funeral home with my mom to help with decisions I wasn’t prepared to make, the amount of love shown to us by friends and family.
In the days and weeks after my stepdad’s death, most of my memories were short term: the ones in the days and weeks leading up to his death, being at the funeral home, the first days without him. Slowly, those have faded allowing room for memories of happier times and funnier moments. It’s been a somewhat strange year, holding my breath around certain dates and events, not sure what sort of memories or feelings they might trigger. Its odd in a way, to know that an entire calendar year has passed, the first major functions without my stepdad have happened, and things are ok. They are certainly different but things had been different since his stroke.
A year like this past one has a funny way of changing you, certainly puts things into perspective, and makes you into a different person. Same at the core, but older, wiser, a member of a club I wasn’t ready to belong to; there are things that only other people who’ve lost a parent can relate to or understand. This past year has taught me, most importantly, the importance of surrounding yourself with good people and the importance of showing up. I don’t have many incredibly close friends locally, but one friend in particular, I thought would come to the funeral or at the very least call, but she didn’t. Other friends I didn’t expect to show up, did. One friend with her twin daughters and newborn in town, another a long time childhood friend I hadn’t spoken to in years. In the weeks that followed, many long distance friends sent cards, packages, texts, all of which were so much appreciated. Show up. Be there. Send the card or text. Do what you can. It’s become a mantra when someone close suffers a loss, because I know what it’s like when people both do and don’t.
I’ve got less time in my life for people who bring their bull shit to the table, people with whom I was getting together with out of some odd sense of obligation and instead have sought out spending more time with people who matter, make a difference, and enhance my life, not drain it. I’ve reconnected with some people from my past, realizing I have so much more to learn from them, people who challenge me to think and grow. Typing this out makes it sound silly, like it shouldn’t have taken a death to make me realize this, but sometimes its those jarring moments that spur changes. Changes that likely should have happened long before.
I have a hard time reading books about death or dying. I’ve gotten from books from the library thinking that they would be really helpful only to drop them in the book deposit a short time later, not yet prepared to read about the after part of losing a parent or a main character who loses a spouse or parent. I don’t like to read about people having strokes or watch tv shows that deal with death or dying. Maybe someday I’ll return to them, but for now, it’s not something I’m interested in.
I’ve learned about the importance of remembering. It’s a way to honor your loved ones life, to talk about funny stories and to share those memories with others. But also remembering important dates in others lives. Its nice when someone reaches out and says, I remember your loved one and I remember this day. It makes you feel less alone and is just really nice to know other people remember too.
As cliché and cheesy as it sounds, I’ve been reminded life goes on. The seasons keep coming and going, the pages of the calendar keep flipping, the world keeps spinning, new life is created, friends reconcile, new memories are made, fun trips are taken, and the sad memories wane. The past year wasn’t unhappy but it was a big year of growing, changing, and adjusting. I know that will continue for years to come, but for now I’m breathing a little easier. The first year without a loved one is a big one. But my family and I survived it, certainly in our own different ways, but we did it.