Today is my mother’s 77th birthday. It would be her birthday if she had lived past her 26th year. October is a month of remembrances for me. It is the month my mom was born, as well as the month she and my father died.
For several years now I find I go through a depression around this time of year. I always assumed it had to do with how much I love autumn. I miss New York during this time of year. I miss the nip in the air, the leaves changing colors, apple cider and pumpkin patches. Although I’m sure that has something to do with my mood, I’ve come to believe that decades of being reminded about what I really lost has resulted in an unconscious effect on my psyche.
Last year on October 17th, the fiftieth anniversary of my mom’s death, I sat outside on my back porch and talked to the sky. I said to the spirit of both my mom and dad, “I’m okay. I’m over it now. It’s done.”
What I meant by that is that I believe 50 years is long enough to grieve. I have done a great deal of work to that end; my writing, public speaking and research into my parents’ lives and deaths has allowed me to tap into a grief I’d never experienced.
I was a year old when they both died. I have no recollection of them. I don’t know the sound of their voice, the feel of their touch. I have no memories to which I can turn to ease my heartache.
For years the fact that both my parents are dead and the ugly way in which they died was just a story I could easily speak about with a complete lack of emotion. As a child I just said they died in a car accident; as an adult I could say, “My father shot and killed my mother; he then killed himself nine days later.” The only emotion I felt was embarrassment at that proclamation.
That isn’t the case anymore.
For a while still I could still share the details of how my parents died, but I developed over time a catch in my throat. If I went on to share more of the story I would even find tears pooling in my eyes. Recently, however, I believe I cleared a hurdle.
Someone with whom I’d just met asked about my parents. I simply said they were dead, that I’d lost them at a very early age. When my companion asked, “Did they die in a car accident or something?” , rather than give my standard shock-inducing answer I just said, “No, but I’d rather not explain.” I think I’ve made some progress.
Another October has arrived. It’s National Domestic Violence Month. So no matter how much I desire to let the month slip by unnoticed, both my personal story and that of countless other victims of violence so close to home and heart will serve to remind me.
Another October has arrived. It’s the month that my father, for reasons known only to him and my mother, used a gun to end the life of his wife. Lost, remorseful, and possibly afraid of the Sing Sing electric chair, he used an Ace bandage to secure a knot around his neck and hang himself.
They left behind four children, as well as family and friends who have never gotten over the tragedy. For me, I will await another anniversary date. I will silently pay tribute to my parents by acknowledging their death dates. I think my proclamation that my grieving is over was a little premature. Frankly, I don't think it will ever be.
Happy Birthday, Mom
High school yearbook photo, 1949, Corfu, New York