We all remember dates, times, markers in our journey. Where we were when the space shuttle Columbia went down. Where we were when we heard the President had been shot. In my case, that president was Reagan. The day we watched the Berlin wall come down. The day those planes hit those towers and changed everything.
But the thing that changed me the most wasn't a national event. It was a choice by a teenager that damaged a family. My family. In February of 1985, my then 15 year old sister sat in the car in our family garage and ran it for several hours with the garage door closed. My younger brother woke up with a belly ache, and when my mom went to the kitchen to get him something to help, she heard the car and found my sister on the floor of the garage.
The next weeks were filled with mourners, well wishers, family and friends. There were phone calls, the ever present stream of food that people bring to the bereaved, the retelling of the events, the choosing of the casket and clothes. We wrote an obituary, we made scrapbooks. We packed a suitcase of her favorite things to save, and over the months that followed, we cleaned out her room.
It was shattering to the 13 year old girl that I was to see my parents grieve in such a powerful and personal way.
My parents weren't those sensitive new age parents who sit with you and coax you through your emotions. That was something they'd never learned to do from their own parents. My dad threw himself more fully into his work, which wasn't much of a stretch, and my mom struggled to make sure we knew that she loved us and needed us, and she spent years blaming herself. I'm not sure she's stopped doing that, but she's learned to live with the ache, to celebrate the life that her family has gone on to lead.
We all feel that way with a loss as acute as that one: we never stop loving the person we lost, but some days we simply can't remember what she looked like. Some days we're angry at her leaving. Some days we just feel melancholy for no reason. No one ever forgets, we all just sort of compartmentalize and move on. Death is part of life and all that.
It's like an old clock that sits on a shelf, mostly there for decoration. It doesn't really run anymore, and it collects dust. Sometimes we dust it off and try winding it up
to see if we can get the pendulum to swing again. Sometimes it just rings on its own.
Today was the day when the clock started making noise on its own again. Riding to work, listening to the radio, every story seemed connected to 1985.
For the first time since 1985, the Kansas City Royals have made the playoffs.
Since 1985, the Europeans have won the Ryder cup 10 out of the 14 matches.
Switching from talk and sports radio to the pop station only to hear Bowling For Soup's "1985"
Funny how the reminders come in waves. At the end of my commute, still contemplating all of the reminders and references, one of the first patients on the schedule was one struggling with his own loss. His own grief. After 29 years, for me it can feel as distant as a black and white photo or as close as a punch in the arm. For him, while it's not brand new, he doesn't have the same distance. Our shared losses allowed me to help guide him, to tell him it's okay, to remind him that it does eventually get better, more distant. It gets less sore.
And maybe that was the reason for the reminders: to help me remember that loss, that acute feeling in the context of the distance time has given me. It's like having an old back injury. Some days it's as if it never happened, some days it keeps me from being able to function effectively. With the right rehabilitation, it doesn't stop me, but it never quite goes away. A missed step, a wrong motion and there it is, reminding me. And it's what reminds me to be thankful for the days when it doesn't hurt, doesn't ache, doesn't stop me. Just like remembering my sister helps me appreciate my parents, my brother, my husband, my family and friends so much more. The gap is always there, it just gets a little smaller all of the time.