Thursday, December 1, 2011


Do you ever have one of those weeks when you feel kind of .... off, for no particular reason? Maybe you feel a little anxious or eager or sad but you don't know why? They're like ghost feelings; they don't seem to go with what's going on in your life. I've been having a week like that. Not in a big way .... just fleeting wisps of feelings, a dream, fragments of conversations remembered or the memory of a hug. Misplaced nostalgia. An emotional phantom limb.

It's been there since Thanksgiving and getting stronger, although not intrusive. And then the other night I was engaged in one of those late-night, wine-soaked conversations with a good friend, and I found myself talking about .... well, what doesn't matter, but I thought, "Why am I talking about this now? I don't want to whack on this dead horse any more." So I drank another glass of wine and changed the subject. And then it struck me: an anniversary was coming up on December 1, today. Bleh.

I remember the first time I became aware of intrusive anniversary feelings. I was 24, my dad was 46, and he dropped dead of a heart attack one day at work. It was sudden; I didn't know he'd been sick and drinking lots of Alka Seltzer, his cure for everything. Nobody had mentioned he wasn't feeling well.

But I'd had a dream three weeks before. He died in the dream. It was awful, and I didn't know how I was going to bear it. I woke fully believing he was going to die. I wanted to call him and tell him to be careful. LtColEx talked me out of it. He said there was nothing wrong with my dad, and he'd just think I was crazy if I called him about a dream. He was right. So I didn't call, even though the dream still haunted me. My little dreams had come true before, but that didn't mean this one would. There was no reason to think Dad was going to die. It was ridiculous.

In fact, when a good friend of my parents called me at 1:00 pm that day, the conversation went like this.

Me: Hello.
Lila: Reticula, it's Lila.
Me: Hi, Lila. This is a surprise. What's going on?
Lila: I need to give you some bad news. It's your dad. He's had a heart attack.
Me: Oh, no! How is he? Is he at the hospital?
Lila: No, he .... honey, he didn't make it. He's gone.
Me: Oh, I get it. Not a nice joke. Put him on the phone. (My dad liked to play pranks, and it was lunchtime in Iowa. Surely the dream had simply foretold a joke.)
Lila: I can't. He's....he's really gone. It's not a joke.
Me: (getting angry) Tell Dad this isn't funny any more. I want to talk to him now.
Lila: You can't. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. You need to make arrangements to get home as soon as you can, and then you need to call your mom later. She needs you.
Me: Lila, I'm really not laughing. Tell Dad I want to talk to him. Now.
Lila: Is LtColEx there with you? Maybe I should talk to him.
Me: You're serious! Dad's really dead? He's dead?
Lila: Yes, honey. I'm sorry.
Me: OK, I'll call Mom in a little while. Thank you.

He was laying carpet with his best friend from high school when he died, which was just how he would have wanted to go, but not yet. God, not yet. He still had two kids at home. I was the oldest of five. It was the most traumatic event I'd experienced, and still is one of them. I grew up that late winter, a lot and fast. It was February 28.

The next year, my grandma died, the tiny woman in this photo. I was pregnant with Drake, and I flew home for her funeral. She had cancer, but she wouldn't let me come home while she was in the hospital. She said to wait until she got better and was back home. We buried her on February 28. My grandfather had died years before, not long before I was born. He died on February 28.

The next year as February dragged underway, I noticed I was feeling really fucking crazy. That's the only way to describe it. I was anxious, weepy, even scared. I had no reason to be. I couldn't seem to shake it, and it was getting worse as the month progressed. Finally, in the course of talking with my mom, my sister, and my brother, I realized we were all feeling that way. We were all going crazy. And then I understood what was happening: we were waiting for one of us to die.

It seems pretty obvious now, but I was young, and I didn't remember experiencing something like that before. Knowing what it was helped intellectually, but emotionally I was still braced for the call. Every time LtColEx left on a flight, I fretted--and that wasn't normal. I hated to hear the phone ring, and I jumped out of my skin if somebody came to the door; I was sure it would be two Air Force officers in their class A's, coming to give me bad news. Nothing bad happened.

The next year the craziness was there again, but not as intense. And the year after. Eventually February was only miserable because it's a miserable month, not because I was waiting for someone to die.

I've felt the phantom dread before on the anniversary of a bad accident and another time of extreme trauma--those were to be expected. But I've also felt them over much smaller events. I don't feel crazy this week, so I can only assume there are degrees of anniversary feelings. In the "literature," they're linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, but I'm not talking about PTSD now. I'm just talking about feeling a little bit out of balance, about a place or a person from the past popping up unexpectedly in my mind or in a conversation, about feeling nostalgia and regret at the mention of a certain movie or hearing a certain song or .... well, if you've ever experienced it, you understand.

I'm not sure why I've never noticed anniversary feelings about a happy event. Maybe I do, but those feelings aren't disturbing so I just accept them like a happy little gift from the Karma Fairy. Or maybe they're more obvious, like excitement about Christmas or the Crayola-scented feeling of dread and anticipation late in August when school always started starts. Those are so obvious, I'm not sure they count. The anniversary feelings, the phantom emotions, I'm talking about usually creep in over something that was traumatic or left unresolved.

Eh. I'm glad life is busy and I really don't have time to dwell. After today I expect the clock will chime the next hour, and the phantom will fade away quickly, dragging his chains behind him. I wish I weren't so sensitive to these time markers, especially this time. This should not warrant even one anniversary feeling.

I must have a an especially vivid calendar in my subconscious, because I wouldn't have noticed this one if not for how I've been feeling .... and the dream. And talking too much over one-too-many glasses of wine. If things had been different in this particular story, I probably wouldn't even have called it an anniversary. It would have been silly.

Tell me I'm not the only one this happens to. Do you ever notice you're feeling out of whack with your life? Can you trace it to an anniversary--a beginning or an ending, a special event? Does it help to know this is a phantom in your heart, not something that's happening now? Or do you indulge in a little grief for what might have been? Tell me some anniversary stories to take my mind off mine, and I'll tell you a different story tomorrow.


  1. I could write my own entire post of anniversary stories. You're not crazy. Some stories/events seem to get into our bloodstream. Dreams are funny things that give us information and insight into that sort-of half-forgotten knowledge of this time last year, or the year before, or 10 years ago.

    My month is March. I hate March. Nothing good seems to ever come out of March. Ever.

    Easter also tends to be a difficult day for me, although I'm not really entirely sure why. When I was 11, my period started Easter day, and I was so humiliated I didn't tell my mom until the day after. That was a weird Easter. When I was 14, my dog died on Easter, which was a kind of traumatic experience (not traumatic in the PTSD trauma sense). Other than that, I don't really know why Easter always leaves me feeling funky. I just always feel like I am waiting for something to happen.

    In my family, number 9 seems to be the magic number. My grandmother was born Jan. 9th. My grandfather was born Sept. 9th. My great-grandfather died Jan. 9th. My grandmother died July 9th. My grandfather on the other side of the family died September 9th. My great-grandmother was born Dec. 9th and died on a 9, but I can't remember which month (that was before I was born). It's weird.

    It's really funny (not funny-funny...serendipitous sort of funny) that you posted this tonight. I was having a very similar sort of conversation with myself on the way home. Different, but definitely very related.

    Hugs to you. <3

  2. I've always loved October - the leaves, the weather, and my birthday. It's always seemed a magical time of year. 19 years ago, my father died a week after my birthday, and I dreaded October for years. I eventually got back to enjoying it again, but that week in October still makes me a bit down.

    My father-in-law died two weeks before Christmas last year. This Christmas season is difficult for my husband and his whole family. My in-laws' anniversary is the day after Christmas, and they always spent the day together, just the two of them. I don't know if my mother-in-law will want company or not, but, if she does, I know the whole family will descend upon her.

    On the positive side, growing up in Detroit, I never liked February. You couldn't really hope for spring yet, and the snow wasn't exciting anymore. Even after living in NC for 30 years, I'm still amazed when daffodils bloom in late February. It feels like a reprieve. All three of my kids were due in February, but Paul was born in January because I had pre-eclampsia. Having two birthdays (and an anniversary) in February makes the month a lot better. The due dates also mean that the month of May, nine months earlier, is usually a time of great... enthusiasm.


  3. october for me, too. i love october - it's completely my favorite month. but ex and i separated on oct 1 two years ago, and things were finalized this october. so i've been a mess the last few octobers. i expect it'll be a pattern for a while.

    january had the potential to be bad, but i anticipated it and got a tattoo. can't say that'll fix it in your case, but hey, i'm a fan of my tattoo. i think the whole thing was choosing a positive way to mark the anniversary, a way that put me back in control and let me make a statement. pick your own metaphorical tattoo.

  4. I know, oh. I. know. And you know the stories.

    But here's one that's not so traumatic for me. For someone else, but not me. Yet, I get one of those anniversary glooms for them.

    I noticed it one April. My thoughts suddenly and insistently turned to a man named Bud Welch I had met the year before. For days. Then the news reminded me that it was the anniversary of the bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building.

    Bud's daughter Julie was killed that day. He was opposed to capital punishment and did not wish for Timothy McVeigh to be executed (which was going to happen here a few weeks later.)

    I spent a weekend the year before listening to Bud give his talk about this at numerous different venues. I drove him around, had breakfast with him. Obviously made a connection. One that started zinging a year later, with his name in my head and a sad feeling floating around.

  5. AutoD, it is funny about numbers, isn't it? The one number I left out is that my uncle's birthday is Feb 28. Doesn't seem fair that one parent would die and the other be buried on your birthday.

    Always Miss Serendipity is weaving her way through.

  6. MLight, it will be an especially hard Christmas for all of you this year, as I know it was last year. I hope the good memories from the past and your holiday rituals help get you through the hard parts.

  7. Lindsay, I've been thinking about another tattoo for a while. I just can't decide what I want. Probably a good reason to just keep thinking about it.

    You need to reclaim your October! Do something special next year.

  8. 'Zann, yes, I know you understand the anniversary phantoms.

    I'm not surprised you feel them in April too. Bud's daughter is probably just the focal point for the bombing and all that came after it. You had so much of your heart wrapped up in the outcome.

  9. A couple of thoughts/comments.
    Katie's birthday is Feb. 28th. I was sad to hear that was such a bad day for you. (It's Pam's bday too, btw)

    We have some similar synchronicities:
    When Ron's only living Grandpa died, my only living grandma died 3 months later.
    When my dad died, Ron's dad died 3 months later.
    So when Ron's mom died, we kept checking on my mom. She's still here. Pattern broken.
    Oddly, my dad was buried on my son's 1st birthday. Ron's dad was buried on my step-son (ron's 1st son)'s birthday.

    My brother died at 24 from a drug overdose at 6:30 one evening in July. Summer dusks, which I used to love, make me sad.

    There are people that talk about energy from past events lingering in us. That so much energy was connecting us to that event, even when we don't realize it, that's why our subconscious goes there. There are also some specific things to do to call the energy back; I don't know if I believe it happens the way they say, but something DOES happen, and people can get loose from these things. I can tell you more if you're interested, but probably not in a comment box. ;)

    I'm sorry you feel yucky though.
    Sending hugs!

  10. You see patterns like I do, Sue. They're everywhere....probably just in my beautiful mind. ;-)

    Yes, I'd love to hear more. You can tell me in any format you'd like. Want to write a guest blog post here?

  11. A guest blog??? Sounds exciting!
    I hate to be stupid, but does that just mean I write the post and we put it over here? lol
    Regardless, sure! :)

  12. Sure, why not? Instead of putting it in comments, I'll publish it as a post, under your byline, of course.