birthday, n. the annual anniversary of the day on which a person was born, typically treated as an occasion for celebration and present-giving.
April 8th is never a good day for me. It’s my late father’s birthday and for some reason, every year, the day is tainted with sadness. No matter how hard I try to make it better, the day is just miserable for one reason or another. One would think that the anniversary of his death would be the worst day…or even the anniversary of his diagnosis…that I would remember how awful those particular days were and dwell on them. But I hardly remember those roughest of days. I think about them randomly from time to time, but they don’t haunt me the way April 8th does. I think this is because the father I remember was not the one that had a brain cancer for 2 years and slowly faded. Don’t get me wrong, there were many wonderful moments during that period despite his illness. But the father that I want to remember forever is the one that didn’t have cancer. The one that participated wholly in life and the world, was imperfect and not always the best but was always the rock I could depend on. I prefer the living version of my father instead of the dying one.
It makes sense to me that the birthday is the thing that hurts the most. It is, after all, a reminder that he is not here. Rather than a day to be celebrated, it is a marker of another year that has passed without him. Another season of holidays, weddings and births that he is absent from and there is nothing that can be done to revise the course of history to bring him back. It makes me think about the fact that my son and husband will never know him outside of my memories. That my mother is alone. That each year the memories of him fade a little and I wonder how much I have already forgotten. The forgetting is what bothers me the most. This April 8th was not the worst day. In fact, it was actually quite fine if I look at the actual day instead of my thoughts. I fear that I am already too deep into the forgetting.
Last night I was baking cookies and listening to On The Air on WNYC. It was a story about Kurt Cobain. April 8th is the anniversary of his suicide and I never realized that until last night. His death definitely had an effect on me when I was a plaid clad teen in high school. I used to spend rainy weekends at my friend’s house listening to Nirvana and writing down the lyrics, reading them like poetry and searching for meaning. My father thought Nirvana was crap and I wonder if I could have ever persuaded him to like their music if I had had more time.
One of my favorite Nirvana covers is “Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam.” It reminds me of my father. He never considered himself extraordinary, special or worthy of any particular praise. He was pretty selfless and tenaciously stubborn. I turn 36 in a month or so and the stigma of April 8th needs to go. I’ll have to remember to listen to this song and celebrate my father’s spirit instead of mourning the memories we didn’t get to make. My father may never have been persuaded that Kurt Cobain’s music was worthy of admiration, but I think he would have agreed that Jesus probably wouldn’t want him for a sunbeam either.