november is a bittersweet month. october and november the foliage in eastern pennsylvania puts on a spectacular show of vibrant reds, golden yellows, rusty browns and oranges set against deep, dark green. the air is crisp and clean, the energy different from the lazy days of summer.
the route i drive to and from work is a series of windy, hilly tree-lined roads that have me rubber necking throughout the entire drive (well, not just because of the fall colors, but because i never know when assorted wildlife like deer, raccoons, opossums, groundhogs and foxes might take a stroll across the road).
and then there’s november 14th. smack in the middle of the month (almost), a day that changes the feeling of the month for at least that day if not longer. november 14th is the day my dad died after a long battle with cancer. this year marked 40 years. i would not have guessed that all these many years later i would still be affected by that date or the memory or the loss. i’m a year older now than he was when he died, but in my head on november 14th, i’m a scared kid in a tiny family who lost a parent.
according to a recent study done at john hopkins, 57% of adults who lost a parent before the age of 20 said that they would give up a year of their lives to have one more day with their deceased parent. i’ll take that deal. (but i’ll take it only if i know that that day i need to find out everything about him so i have decades of memories) i was too young to get to know my dad much and have spent the great majority of my life without a father.
my sister tells me she has hand written letters from dad to her while she was away at college. treasures. i have a couple of old pictures of him, a gold coin that he collected and some scattered memories. that’s it. that used to bother me a lot, now it’s just a fact.
the holy card from dad’s funeral has lived in every wallet i’ve had since the age of 15. it was alone for many years but now it’s joined by a crystal my sister c handed out at my sister e’s funeral and the holy card from mom’s funeral.
dad’s card is frayed around the edges and the back is yellowed, but it’s still in very good shape considering the number of years it’s traveled along with me. every november i take out the card and just look at it for awhile. there’s no picture of him on the front, instead there’s a kind of colorful stained glass painting. (the card was considered kind of modern and controversial at the time. now it looks very tied to the 1970s) it strikes me every year that he was born in 1917 and died in 1971. dates that frame his existence.
when my sister, brother and i are all gone there’ll be no one else left who knew him in person. our kids will my pictures and a tattered holy card of a grandfather they never knew.
they have two other grandparents who were a joyous part of their lives and a grandmother who still is.
forty years is a long time to replace the bitter with the sweet. it’s been done, but every november there’s still a twinge.