January 30th is my father’s birthday. He was born in 1930, so if he was alive this year would have been his 83rd birthday. He died 12 years ago on January 21, 2001.
For a decade after my father’s death January was the worst month for me. It actually started in December around the holidays, which he loved to celebrate. I could always get through Christmas thinking about how happy it made him and how happy he made me in turn. Christmas was never the problem. It was after Christmas and right before New Year’s Eve that I would be struck with a random, painful memory of him and the void left in my spirit when he died. The feeling always started with a joyful thought of a joke he told or a meal he cooked and then suddenly, like being pierced with a sharp object, the pain would come — in full force and it didn’t dull any as days went by either. In fact, it increased by the day, causing me to feel alternatively sick or sad or mean or lethargic. It was anyone’s guess.
I hated January.
My father died nine days before his 71st birthday making it impossible to remember his life without dragging forth the pain of his death; the two remained inextricably linked in my mind. Some years were harder than others. In 2006, a particularly hard year in general, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of his death, I completely shut down. I was able to function enough to feed my daughter and get her to school, but for about a month, I was no good otherwise. None. And strangely enough it didn’t bother me. My grandfather, the only man I loved as much as my father, had passed away eight years before my father and at the time I had no frame of reference for how to proceed with the rest of my life without his love and support. A part of me died when granddaddy died. The other part died with Mr. Wes (that was my nickname for him).
In 2009, on the eighth anniversary of his death, something wonderful happened. By that time I had settled into the idea that January was just a bad time for me and as such, I began to prepare for it. I would tell close friends not to worry and say things like, “I’m going to be a little depressed for a few weeks, but I will snap out of it.” I had a playlist of sad music that reminded me of Mr. Wes. I had pictures that I would sit and sift through everyday. I had a routine. And I thought it was sane. That year the first Sunday in January happened to fall on the day after New Year’s day. I sat in church that day just waiting for the wallowing to begin, but instead I had a complete revelation. My Pastor preached from Philippians 3:13-14
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
This is one of my favorite scriptures in general, but on that night he talked about it in reference to baggage and posed questions that seemed to be directed at me specifically. He asked how long would we wallow in the tragedies of the past and he asked what did we take that was good from those things to use in our testimony as we moved forward. After the service I went and talked to my Pastor and explained the situation. He was so enlightening and explained that I was using my father’s legacy in a way that he would not be pleased. That was a big turning point for me. That night I came home and I created a collage in honor of him on my Facebook page and I played his favorite songs loud in the house, but this time I danced to them instead of wailing in my bed until my eyes were swollen shut. I showed my daughter his famous dance moves to classics like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “Buffalo Soldier” two of his all time favorites. My daughter, who was three when he died, asked me all sorts of questions about him and our life together and I obliged her and divulged all sorts of tales from my childhood.
It was magical.
I felt free for the first time in years. I had managed to figure out (with God’s grace) how to remember him and love him and be happy at the same time and for the last three years I have reveled in the memories of my dear Mr. Wes.
This year I forgot.
I didn’t post any pictures of him on Facebook, I didn’t call my mother to have a conversation about “back-in-the-day” when we were all together and happy. I didn’t play his music. I simply forgot.
I remembered a few days back though. A friend told me that she had recently had a birthday and I said out loud “oh snap” (I didn’t really say snap but whatever) “my father’s birthday is coming up!” That had to be Saturday. Now, four short days later. I forgot.
Today was a normal day. I went to work and I was very busy. I had a few meetings and phone calls this morning. I had an afternoon appointment as well and then I was back to the office before going home to prepare for my evening attending the opening night of Alvin Ailey here in Philadelphia. I came home after the show and talked to my daughter for about 40 minutes and then went back to work finishing something that is on a deadline for tomorrow. I did all of this today and I didn’t remember him.
The strange thing is I don’t know how to feel. I don’t know if I should feel bad because — he’s my father. If he were alive I’d feel bad so why shouldn’t I feel bad in his death? Especially when it occurred to me that if I had forgotten his birthday then I most certainly forgot the day of his death. *deep sigh*
I dont’ know what it means. I will never, every forget him as a person. I will never, ever, not miss him being here with me. And I will never, ever know another human being like him. But, I am not in mourning anymore; and I am happy about that. Some part of me thinks he would want me to forget and live my life only from the memories of the care and attention and generosity that he showed me. I believe with all of my being that he would want that and that’s easy to do because I carry it in my heart every, single day along with all of the love I had for him and he had for me. And that is easy to remember.
Continue to rest peacefully.
I love you Mr. Wes.