April 24th is Dad’s birthday. He would have been 84, if he hadn’t died suddenly 10 years ago. As devastating as the loss was, dragging me into a depression for 12 months, it helped me find deep resilience, and gratitude for my unwaveringly loyal friends and family.
Each year, we all eat Indian for dinner, Dad’s favourite cuisine, wherever we are in the world.
And I have my own personal ritual too, as I try to keep the day clear of work or other commitments: I shut the front door, turn my phone off, allow myself to cry as often and as much as I like, while cleaning and oiling Dad’s antique French furniture.
He wasn’t religious, (despite an interest in the Baha’i faith, mainly because it emphasised the “essential worth of all religions, and the unity and equality of all people” [Wikipedia]), so I can’t go connect with him in church. He has no gravestone or memorial plaque, as we scattered his ashes all over the globe, as befitted a world traveller and citizen such as he- I even put some
illegally secretly up my local mountain.
But I’ve created the perfect ceremony for us both, finding a peaceful rhythm in the washing, oiling, and polishing of his chairs, the old kitchen table, and his ornately carved sideboard.
I reflect on the many dinner parties he held round that table; I turned 18 sitting there, next to Grandma and Grandpa.
I recall his hunt for the chairs to suit it, which I’ve now inherited- they’re not my ideal chairs to be honest, but there’s just no way I could ever get rid of them.
I reminisce about meals served, stories told, laughs shared, and connections made. Every year now I oil his furniture, and have clearly told my son ‘Nearly 19’ that it will be his duty to do the same when I’m gone.
It’s hard work too, as my arm muscles get tired, and brow sweaty. This is better for me than sitting and weeping, although I did a lot of that of course when he first passed. The best advice I ever got from a counsellor or therapist was to try to tuck my grief under my arm like a clipboard or notebook, and only take it out to look at it/feel it when I was in a safe place (like my home), and for an allocated amount of time (e.g.15 minutes/one hour/one day), rather than just drowning in overwhelm 24/7.
So April 24th’s furniture oiling is the perfectly practical, sensitive, ritualised honouring of my darling Dad’s birthday, for which I am truly thankful.
How do you mark a lost loved one’s birthday? I’d love to hear about what works for you…
In gratitude for the sacred in my living room, G xO