The other day, I received an email from Amazon.com. I was sitting in a car dealership, waiting for a shuttle to take me to work while my car was being inspected/repaired. I get so much junk email from the various stores that feed my second greatest addiction: shopping. (The first is Diet Pepsi .) So when I first saw the email, my instinct was to delete it, and that’s just what I was about to do when I focused on the subject line, referencing something about a birthday gift card. It was not my birthday, so I became curious. Did I have an old gift card that was about to expire? So I went ahead and opened it, and that’s when I was really taken aback.
The gift card being referenced was one I sent to my dad for his sixty-second birthday, and as much as I would very much like to send him another, I can’t. Dad isn’t having a birthday this year.
On the evening of June 4th, we were getting ready for a trip to Orlando. Jude’s birthday is on June 7th, and we were going to celebrate his third with Mickey Mouse. My dad moved to Orlando when I was about eight, so we were planning to work in a little visit with him, too. He was going to spend the day with us at the Animal Kingdom on Sunday the 8th, though I knew I’d most likely see him before that for dinner. The last time I saw my dad was the June of last year when he met Jude and I for lunch one afternoon. Growing up, we saw my dad once a year, so the gap in time wasn’t unusual for us.
I had so much to do for the impending trip, and I was feeling the stress. At about seven o’clock that night, I was planning on planting some flowers my mom bought me so they didn’t wilt while I was gone. In fact, I was wearing my grungy clothes, frantically throwing last minute items into my bag and crossing items off my list when I got the news that my dad died earlier that day. He didn’t show up for a social engagement, so a friend went to check on him and found him lying still in the garage. He hadn’t been in the best health in the last couple of years, but this was a shock, the kind that felt like someone carried a brick wall into my bedroom and dropped it on top of me.
All I could do was could myself into a ball, shove a pillow into my face, and scream. I screamed and screamed and screamed until I couldn’t make any more sounds. I felt so mad, and I needed to get it out, so I called my poor mom and yelled at her for an hour. About nothing. About everything. Even though she and my dad had been divorced for decades, she was hurting, but she let me go anyway.
After a while, I went outside to plant those flower even though I was distraught. I couldn’t just let them whither. I didn’t even bother putting on gloves, or worrying about where I was placing them. My nails and palms turned brown as I jabbed through the mulch and dirt to make way for the New Guinea Impatiens and Begonias.
My dad did not want a viewing or a funeral. His final wishes were to have a party at the bar he frequented, where the patrons and staff were like family to him. The party was held a few weeks after my trip, and because I had just been there, I was not able to return. So my closure was helping to sort through the things in his house one last time before a cleaning crew came through and emptied what was left.
I told myself this was okay. I told myself that I was just a fast processor of things like this, and I went back home and continued to trick myself into believing it.
But the problem is that I am too often flooded with thoughts or moments that threaten to poke holes in my carefully constructed barriers, and that’s just what this email from Amazon made me feel. It was a reminder I didn’t need. Like death, grieving is inconvenient. It never fits neatly into plans or seems to care what else is happening in a person’s life, good or troubling.
This morning when I turned on my computer, I got an alert from my calendar. Dad’s Bday Tomorrow, it reminded me.
October 23rd is going to be here every year, and it will never stop reminding me. Though the emotions might lessen over time, it will always be difficult to not send a gift or to call and wish him a happy day. It will always be hard to know that we left things unfinished, he and I, and that this is the way it will always remain.
When the loss stops being so ever-present, maybe the reminders won’t be so profound. Maybe his birthday will come around, and I will welcome the memories. Maybe it’s better for those around us to have things like birthdays and holidays anniversaries so that they can hold onto a piece of what is no longer there.
For now, though, it kind of sucks. And so does Amazon.