Remember being in a brand-new relationship and celebrating monthly anniversaries as if every 30 days you have conquered the world together? Those were the days. Every month you’d decorate the day on your calendar with bubbling excitement to make sure you wouldn’t forget the date. Anniversaries meant something completely different before I lost my dad to ALS.
Growing up, March was a fun month. St. Patrick’s Day, the start of spring, a week off school---the whole world seemed to change in March as the weather in the Midwest went from cold to ‘I don’t mind waiting at the bus stop.’
March also came with longer days, the sun shining, a glimpse of green grass, and blue skies ahead. March came with hope.
It was March 2019, however, when everything changed. It no longer came with the same sense of hope as it did for so many years prior. It became a month that stung a little every time I would turn my calendar from a happy February celebrating boy of my son’s birthdays to a heavy, dreaded March.
At the time, my husband and I packed up our four-year-old and our newborn son to stay at my childhood home with my parents, knowing our time with my dad was limited. We drove the hour and a half, something I did each week after my dad was diagnosed. I left the house tearfully with the understanding that I would not be returning until my dad passed away, his ALS fight coming to an end.
Life as we once knew it was disappearing.
We walked into my childhood home, the house that felt so heavy with fear of the unknown.
The family room, which used to feel like the largest in the house, was now filled with machines, poles, and a power wheelchair. Over the years, I spent endless hours hanging out with friends there, but it shifted to a space designated for the most challenging conversations and a constant reminder of the black cloud of ALS.
March 17th is the anniversary of my dad’s passing, it’s no longer St. Patrick’s Day, but the day I try and skip over the memory of watching my dad take his last breath. That day marked the beginning of a year we’d compare everything to; the first month without, the first holiday without, the first year without.
When March 17th gets too heavy on my heart, I think back to the night prior. Soon after his passing, March 16th became one of my favorite anniversaries to celebrate.
Over 15 people came and went that night, family gathering in my parent’s home to tell stories, swap memories, play my dad’s favorite meaningful songs, and laugh.
We laughed in ways we had not done in a long time, and for the first time in quite a while, we were able to talk about him as Tony: amazing man, father, brother, and friend. He may have had ALS, but ALS was never him.
It is exactly how I was to remember him, with those stories, those songs, those laughs. ALS is three letters, three little steps in a person’s life, and while those little steps might be the steps that take a person from our lives, they are not the reason we should hold on to for life.
Anniversaries are going to come and go. Days on the calendar will constantly change, and some days will stand out more than others.