A Date with Grief

Scan 18The emotions surrounding the anniversary of a loved one’s death are…unpredictable. We may be gripped by barely controllable feelings — especially when the grief is raw. Yet in some years the day may slip past with barely a whisper of awareness. In both cases, I find solace and joy in reaching out to those whose lives are connected to my own 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 February 19, 1992 — 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 today. 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. This 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 Bryna or sons Ben and Zack. He never knew of my calling to the priesthood or how my life has unfolded as an adult. And 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.

Sure, his musical talent (he was a symphony orchestra conductor) wasn’t as hereditary as I might have hoped, but none of us are exact replicas of our 99923712527_p0_v1_s260x420parents. [Here’s the obituary from the Baltimore Sun if you’re interested — I just reread it for the first time in years and it still breaks my heart].

Of course “keeping a date with grief” is precisely what we do when we commemorate saints in the Church. We remember these 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 we see 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.

If you’re part of a faith community, I encourage you to share these special anniversaries with one another. There’s no reason we must bear them in isolation. To be human is to know grief and we are called to share one another’s burdens. 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.

13 Comments on “A Date with Grief”

  1. Meredith Gould says:

    Extraordinary post on many many levels. Hadn’t known your father was so young when it died and although I knew about the conducting, didn’t realize his connection with Barber’s work. Thank you for sharing this part of your heart and soul.

  2. AE Bishop says:

    Tim, thank you so much for your essay today. I’m not one to nonchalantly say, “I know how you feel.” I don’t say that unless I really do. Today I’m saying that to you because the feelings you describe, especially the unexpected surprise emotions, are exactly where I am nearly a year after my father’s death.

    What a beautiful obituary. You are right to be proud of it and of your father’s legacy. My dad’s obit was impressive in its description of his remarkable churchmanship, but you might be interested to read instead my oldest son’s blog posted a few weeks after the funeral. Here’s the link: http://dadblogkc.blogspot.com/ The dadblog is what Robert started when he found himself traumatized be his daughter’s beginning kindergarten, and it’s mostly about his children. But this post was devoted to being a grandson, not a father.

    I am thinking of you and keeping you in my prayers.

    Ann Elizabeth Bishop

  3. Penny Nash says:

    What a beautiful post. And I love how your dad got Samuel Barber out of the doghouse. Bravo.

  4. Conley, Patricia says:

    Tim —

    EXCELLENT article – re A Date With Grief! Thanks. Yes, I clicked on the obituary of your dad . . . what a wonderful person. Your sons are lucky, too, that you have no doubt become a father much like your own.

    Hi to Brenna . . .

    Pat Conley

    From: The Rev. Patricia A Conley http://www.LobsterChurch.org and http://www.patriciaconley.com 815-355-6840 cell 815-338-0950 church

  5. Lovely, Tim. Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Maria says:

    Thank you for sharing such a tender and honest post. I am moved to tears by the generosity of your words, your relationship with your father, and the truth of grief’s unpredictability.

  7. Thank you for graciously and generously sharing a piece of your family’s history. May memories of your father always be a sweet blessing.

  8. Scott Lenoir says:

    Thank you.

  9. Ren Flagg says:

    So well written, thank you.
    I lost my father on November 14, 1989, to a drunk driver. Dad, at 86, had just finished a day in the office and was on his way to deer camp when he was hit head on. In addition to the grief, I had serious anger issues and was always tempted to do something spiteful to the other driver on the anniversary of my father’s death (opening day of deer season; big deal here in Michigan).
    This past year I read a newspaper article on this man’s son, now a biochemical engineer, and how he’d developed a sub-dermal medication delivery system for patients with the same disease he has and what a boon it was to not have several daily shots to administer the drug. Then I thought of how he must have felt at ten years old to learn that his father was driving drunk and had killed another man. Is it easier for a ten year old to deal with a tragedy that might send his father to prison or for a “mature” man to cope with his father’s untimely death? The anger began to go and the grief began to heal. So much goes on inside that feeds our emotions and creates an infection that will not heal.
    Thank you again.
    -Ren Flagg
    Jackson, MI

  10. Barbara says:

    Your Dad sounds like a wonderful guy – and that’s a great photo. (Looks like your Dad is looking up at the telltales there! I learned to sail not too long ago have loved every minute.)

    Thanks for this beautiful post….

  11. aleathia (dolores)nicholson says:

    Your father does know your wife and children and that (shudder!) ferret about whom (what?) I’ve read nothing lately. I’m sure he also knows that you’re a quirky, yet truly God-sent priest and best of all, the initiator of LentMadness. He is smiling and tapping his baton to prepare his heavenly band to play his latest composition in your honor. You’ll hear it in your heart,

  12. Purr Whalley says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Saturday will mark the 6th anniversary of my husband’s death from a ruthless form of cancer. He was just 54. I think of him everyday and wish that he’d had the chance to meet our three delightful grandchildren. When March 1st comes around every year, I have always felt ashamed of being so emotional, as he isn’t here the other 364 days of the year. Why should the date of his death sting so much? Thank you for helping me to understand and accept that it ok to admit to my grief and to share the day with others.

  13. L Gallagher says:

    Searching Google for “grief” I came across this post. Thank you. Although I do not share your religion -your words as they speak of the ache in losing your father ring true, and spoke right to me. Am grateful that you have so eloquently put into words what is in my heart.

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