Every November 5, my aunt texts me a heart emoji. One year it was blue. Another year it was the two pink hearts. This year it was the red breaking heart. “Thinking of you today,” she’ll write. And then I have to remember that November 5 is the day my dad would’ve turned 52, 53, or 54. November 5 comes out of nowhere. Each annual emoji freezes my brain and crumples my gut. They’re a reminder: Sorry for the momentary interruption, but your dad is gone. ❤
Every November 5, my dad would make it clear what he wanted, so there’d be no guessing game when it came to gifts. He wanted a new chainsaw blade. A new lunch box. Something that wasn’t too luxurious but made his life a little easier. New snips for vinyl siding. A nice pair of gloves to haul firewood around. We’d oblige. We’d make a nice dinner and a homemade card. And then it was November 6.
March 13 was when I woke up at 3 a.m., my mom calling me from the hospital, calm. Strangely calm. March 14 was the last time I saw him.
November 5 again. No gifts. No cake. There was nothing to be done. No one to give anything to.
But one heart emoji in my inbox. “Thinking of you.” Oh, it’s November 5, I remembered.
For months ahead of the next March 14, I’d planned. I’d drink Labatt Blue in his memory. I’d listen to his favorite Tragically Hip songs. I’d stay outside for 14 hours straight and contemplate the work ethic I’d inherited. I’d light a shrine candle and remember the day he died, as if that would celebrate his life. Each March 14, I want to write an ode to him. I want to grieve publicly. I want to show the world the good man he was.
It’s funny because they say you should commemorate birthdays instead of deathaversaries (how weird that we even have that coined term?). Birthdays celebrate life, another year older, joy, cake, vitality. And while there maybe no more birthdays, they say it’s better to celebrate what once was rather than what now isn’t.
We can’t help but remember deathaversaries more clearly, though. Death has more impact than birthdays ever will. A deathaversary reminds us of the the day our world changed. The day they left us broken and unwhole. The day that put a halt to our ingrained self-absorption. Birthdays go according to plan, death days do not.
This deathaversary, March 14, I don’t grieve my dad, although I may still toast to him with a Labatt Blue. In some fucked-up egotistical move, I grieve me. I grieve my life—the one I had with him. I grieve the old Emilee, the Emilee who had a dad, the Emilee who took him for granted. She’ll never be seen again.
Instead, I’m the girl with memories only—little images and flashbacks that give me small doses of my dad. When I’m watering my tomato plant, I think about the seedlings he’d propagate on the ping pong table in the basement. When someone says “hip,” I remember that “What Is Hip” song he’d always sing all goofy. When I see a Buffalo News, I’m taken back to weekend mornings watching my dad tuck his legs onto the couch and read the headlines to my mom.
Three years after I last saw him, the instant memories sometimes catch me off guard. They’re like emojis in my inbox, reminding me of what was there.