When grief gives way to love

Published 9:49 am Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My parents’ 32nd wedding anniversary is this month, a day my family still celebrates despite my father not being here anymore. It isn’t a sad occasion or one where we intentionally sink ourselves into the muck of grief. We go to dinner and spend the evening laughing with close friends and family members. A few of us might bring up favorite memories of Dad when the moment presents itself, but it’s not something we aim to do to make the day seem more significant. We already had a funeral, after all, and the act of remembrance comes in many forms.

Of course, I don’t ignore those who find it strange or ask whether I think it’s healthy for my mother, or any of us, for that matter, as we continue to navigate grief’s long and winding road. My answer to that is simple: We celebrate their anniversary for the same reason I spent my lunch hour visiting Dad’s gravesite on his birthday last September eating store-bought chocolate cake. Those days don’t lose significance just because he’s gone. And finding happiness in the depths of despair is how our parents taught us to live.

I also can’t deny there’s a selfishness to it, as well. I can’t bear the thought of sending my mother flowers or a card designed for a widow’s wedding anniversary. There are enough days, places and occasions in a given year that will be painful for her. No need in turning happy days into sad ones just because it’s easier to do than finding ways to preserve their happiness.

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I’ve written plenty about grief and healing over the years, often using my dad as the entry point into a larger discussion of how we cope with losing people we care about. But this is not a column about grief. It’s about love.

Grief doesn’t compel you to continue your anniversary tradition of steak and cocktails after your spouse dies and it doesn’t make you eat cake on a family member’s birthday years after they’re gone. Love does. Love for the person. Love for the memories. Love for the days made significant because they lived.

Love, like grief, often arrives with a powerful first act, but rarely offers a visible ending. Even when it fades, or is interrupted by life’s unpredictability, it remains eternally imprinted upon those who experience it. Life goes on. Love does too.

And that alone is worth celebrating.

Alex McDaniel is editor of the Oxford Eagle. Contact her at alex.mcdaniel@oxfordeagle.com.