On July 10th I celebrated my twenty fifth wedding anniversary with my husband Cliff. I’m sure that anyone that observed us that day had no idea how much we’ve had to navigate or adapt to in that time frame. With the passing of time, most of the transformative events we’ve experienced have become water under the bridge. One of the few remnants is the death of my father.
Around 1989, I’d begun a flurry of personal growth to reclaim myself and my life. I’d had issues with alcohol and was often severely depressed to the point of immobility. A lot of days I felt so bad that I wanted to die. I came to a crux where I had to decide to end it or commit to finding the help I needed to navigate the world. I began attending Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings and felt like I’d found people who finally understood what I was experiencing, and I could see a path to sanity. From there, I found a retreat that was offered by Cliff’s brother through his bookstore. It was at the retreat that I met Cliff and it was there where I was able to receive permission to be myself and receive acceptance. I learned to feel those painful feelings that were threatening to destroy me, in a safe environment, which turned out to be the fastest track to self-reclamation.
We began our journey of a commitment to fearless truth, love and acceptance.
By 1990, I had processed enough that I felt like I was in charge of my life and had let go of the enmeshment that defined my relationship with my father. He was a bi-polar, recovered alcoholic who had terrorized me with his rage and had taken me as his confidant. From the age of 5 until I left home at 17, I rarely felt safe. We shared a birth date but this year he was in Thailand and I was exploring the desserts of the US, so we wouldn’t see each other until a few weeks later. On his return to Canada, I began trying to call him with no response. My mother couldn’t reach him either (they had separated the year prior). I began to be concerned that something was amiss. He was living on the same street as Cliff and we could see his vehicle parked outside, so we went to check on him. He didn’t answer the intercom, but the manager let us in and took us to his apartment.
We discovered him, dead. The autopsy later ruled it a suicide. He’d been there seven days before we found him. I felt the shock, even though I’d always felt that this may happen one day, and I felt that on some level, this would alter me forever. I felt disbelief. Deep grief. And I felt compassion and empathy. I’d seen his struggles, up close and personal, my whole life. I had already let him go, through my process, and so I did not feel guilty. I understood that each of us is responsible for our own wellbeing in the end. I couldn’t have lived his pain nor his life for him, just as no one could have for me.
The grieving process was difficult and confusing nonetheless – I had a love/hate relationship with him to navigate. I was deeply imbedded in my father’s psyche and understood his motivation to end his life, but even with that understanding, I found suicide a complex death to grieve.
My saving grace was that I’d learned to process my feelings. So, I was able to freely cry, express anger, and even laugh in my grief. I let it all hang out and I continued to heal. I had Cliff, who shared every moment of it with me as he re-lived his experience of finding my father, whom he’d only met briefly twice before. It was something that we bonded even more deeply over, and we trusted that we could navigate anything that life threw at us.
In 1993, we decided to marry. We chose a Saturday in July and we’d get married at our cabin (where we intended to live).
I realized about a week after we set the date that it was the anniversary date of my father’s death.
I wasn’t sure that I wanted two polar opposite memories to be a part of my future or if I could trust that latent grief wouldn’t over-rule all of our wedding anniversaries. I knew that I’d be highly motivated to choose to celebrate our happy memory. We’d been focusing on changing the negative energy of my memories from the days that my father owned the cabin, so it was agreed that this would be a way to reclaim the day as a positive experience.
It was a powerful move that took some courage.
All choices require some degree of courage.
Some years, I forget that it’s a dual anniversary date. Some years I remember every detail of that day. Some years I feel the compassion all over again and try to comprehend the degree of hopelessness my father must have felt.
No matter what, I can still celebrate my marriage every year because that is what I choose. I choose joy.