The emotions surrounding the anniversary of a loved one’s death are unpredictable. You may be gripped by powerful, barely controllable feelings — especially when the grief is raw. Yet in some years the day may slip past with barely a whisper of awareness. Many have rituals surrounding significant deaths such as gathering with friends or family members to laugh and weep and remember. However long it’s been, we often find solace and joy in reaching out to those whose lives are connected to ours through the person we’ve lost.
While I keep the anniversary of my father’s death on my calendar — as if I could ever forget Feb. 19 — there’s something about keeping a date with grief that feels peculiar. I’m often moved at times I don’t expect and in ways I least suspect. Perhaps I glimpse someone at a ballgame who shares a physical feature with my dad – his smile or the tenor of his voice. Or I encounter an object in the far recesses of my closest that serves as a talisman to a particularly vivid memory. Maybe it’s a smell that evokes time spent together in a way that is forever lost.
I was surprised at the degree to which the anniversary of my father’s death affected me this month. Twenty-two years isn’t a particularly memorable number. Yet I woke up very aware that I’ve now lived more of my life without his physical presence than with it. The day is always tinged with regret as the seminal events in my life -- the ones he missed -- dance through my head. He never met my wife or two sons; he never knew of my calling to ordained ministry or how my life has unfolded as an adult. Yet he continues to have a major impact on me every single day -- in my faith, my parenting, my approach to married life, my vocational passion, my personality, my values.
Of course “keeping a date with grief” is precisely what the church does when we commemorate saints. We remember the men and women who have come before us in the faith on the anniversaries of their deaths rather than their birthdays. Why? Because we celebrate their lives in the context of Jesus’ resurrection and view their deaths as glorious moments of reunion with the risen Christ.
The Good News of the Christian faith is that death is not the end -- it is merely a temporary farewell. That’s the glory of the Easter message and it’s why, while the pain of loss endures, hope always transcends grief.
I encourage you to share these special anniversaries with one another, as there’s no reason we must bear them in isolation. To be human is to know grief and to both share our burdens with others and receive their burdens in return is a high calling. If you’re part of a faith community, why not make an appointment to speak with a member of the clergy on an upcoming anniversary in your own life or call a friend for a coffee date? Shared experience and empathy are two of the great spiritual gifts we can offer our fellow pilgrims on this journey of life and faith.
Page 2 of 2 - The Rev. Tim Schenck is Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Mass. Visit his blog Clergy Family Confidential at frtim.wordpress.com, or follow him on Twitter at @FatherTim.