When scheduling a fall program for work, I don’t hesitate on the date. I know to choose my parents’ wedding anniversary. I always try to cram as many distractions on this day as possible—a virtual panel with pre-recorded remarks, four panelists, and 100 attendees work their magic to keep me occupied.
When my father died 14 years ago, it made sense that certain holidays and milestones would be painful.
At the time, it didn’t occur to me how heartbreaking my parents’ wedding anniversary would be.
When you lose a parent, more than the person dies. A family unit also vanishes with the loss. You lose your parent and your parent’s spouse at the same time. My parents were partners, a couple who created a loving, stable home for my siblings and me. Their togetherness reinforced the foundation of our family. And overnight a marriage steeped in love and devotion just disappeared.
Losing a parent robs you of that togetherness. The wedding anniversary is a glaring reminder that the marriage once full of so much life and hope is no more. All you can do is fill up the emptiness to distract yourself from feeling and remembering.
I stare at a photograph of my parents on their wedding day. I will myself to take in the whole image.
It shines so brightly, even the frame is beaming. It’s November in Tel Aviv. The year is 1974, more than a year after the Yom Kippur War in which my father fought and just barely 30 years after the Shoah ended and my mother’s parents survived. Over 500 guests are in attendance. There is so much joy and genuine happiness. My grandparents are glowing and bursting with pride. Soul-lifting hope and elation spill out of the photograph—the kind reserved for once in a lifetime milestones, the kind you cannot replicate.
My parents will never grow old together, will never enjoy the fruits of their labor in retirement, will never witness their children transform into parents themselves, and most devastating of all, will never revel in the caretaking of their beloved grandchildren.
Yes, the remaining spouse may experience these life moments on her own, but they will never share the joy and hope of celebrating together.
Where does this hope go when the marriage ends? Does it get passed down to others? Did my father take it with him when he left our world for his? Or maybe he leaves some behind for my mom and my siblings? Maybe he realizes our desperate need for it now that he’s gone?
If grief is love with no place to go, why can’t it be assigned to the places that could really use it? Maybe grief is actually love disguised as hope that needs a little direction of where to land, a new home to fill—just as I cling to hope and love every year on this wedding anniversary day.