"'Anniversary Effect', sometimes called Anniversary Reaction,is defined as a unique set of unsettling feelings, thoughts or memories that occur on the anniversary of a significant experience. Sometimes you can trace the reason why you're feeling sad, irritable or anxious. One look at the calendar and you connect the dots from your current emotional state to the traumatic event. For example, the birthday of someone who's no longer alive...When you live with a mood disorder, you need to realize that you live with two calendars. One that keeps track of time, while the other stores emotional experiences. Anniversary Reactions signal that you are still working on moving through the trauma of your experience - and it is a normal part of the grieving process." --from Two Takes on Depression: Treating the Very Condition You Live With--A Clinician's Dual Perspective by Deborah Serani, Psy.D.
Today would be my brother Pat's birthday. He died on January 14, 2011 at the age of 49 of alcoholic liver failure. He was born on July 16, 1961. I miss him, but I expected to, so it's not so bad.
This year I knew his birthday was coming up and I prepared for the emotions I'd likely feel upon its arrival. What I didn't know is that another anniversary date I'd been previously unaware of would accompany my sad feelings toward my brother's death.
I found out yesterday that my Aunt Joyce died on my birthday twenty years ago.
I mean, I knew she's been dead all this time, even though I wasn't alerted of my aunt's passing until her funeral was over. My dad was living in Texas with his third wife and he didn't even bother coming home for his sister's funeral. I just didn't know the exact date.
My dad was outwardly embarrassed by my Aunt Joyce. I only saw her a handful of times growing up. My dad thought he was a big shot. He got his bookkeeping certificate from a business school after getting out of the Army after World War II. He got a good-paying white collar job as the office controller of a big trucking company where he worked for twenty years until shortly after I was born in 1970. He would not be like their father, the man who used to beat him with a belt, the man who died at the age of 48 after a lifetime of heavy drinking, although the offical cause of death was a heart attack. His wife, my dad and Aunt Joyce's mom, had just left town with another man a couple days before my grandfather died. My dad had just turned 23 when he found his dad dead in the shower that day, May 5, 1950. Aunt Joyce was 15. She got married a few months later on September 9, 1950.
It must have been traumatic for my dad to go through that, finding his dad dead, having to call around and find out where his mom was so she could come home, and taking care of the funeral arrangements and taking care of his younger sisters. I know why he avoided his family. His family dysfunction was painful to think about.
It must have been very difficult to have your mom run off with another man and have your dad drink himself to death when you're a fifteen year old girl. Girls of Aunt Joyce's generation and class had limited opportunities, especially if they didn't have the firm foundation of a supportive family. I'd have probably gotten married if I were Aunt Joyce too. What else would I do?
But Dad didn't see it that way. He thought Aunt Joyce was low-class. She married a dairy farmer. She was going backwards! Dad and Joyce's dad had run away from his parent's farm and lived in the city, working at the slaughter-house. Joyce had a succession of children. She was a stay-at-home mother, not a career person like my dad who sat at his own desk and earned money and bought a new car every-other-year and wore a tie to work and had enough money to travel and forget about his roots.
Maybe that's what paying attention to dates is, a way of remembering my roots.
It freaks me out a little to find out, twenty years later, that my aunt died on my birthday. We weren't close while she was alive, but now that I'm becoming more involved in the Fat Acceptance Movement and I'm more aware of the incredible discrimination that fat people experience in their lives, I've taken up a new-found affinity for my fat aunt. I have no idea how much my aunt weighed while she was on this earth, but she was even fatter than I am now, and I'm fat enough to fit the AMA's classification of diseased, so you can only imagine the scoffs my aunt got for her size.
It's true that, as a person with a mood disorder, I live with two calendars. The one that keeps track of time in my head is skatterbrained. At any given moment, ask me what date it is and I generally have no clue. Ask me what date it is and I have to look it up. I'm a librarian, not a timekeeper.
But the other calendear in my head that stores emotional experiences and makes a big deal over the significance of anniversaries is hyperalert. I make a big deal about dates. I easily remember people's birthdays and deathdays and I notice how the numbers form patterns. I'd be an excellent numerologist if I took that shit seriously.
So today I've been doing a little numerology genealogy, if you will. I found an amazing document detailing the family on my paternal grandmother's side of the family. My paternal grandmother is a fifth generaton American with a record of her earliest relative living here in 1773. On a side note, I scanned the document and found no evidence of my family (this side at least) owning people. So, whew!
Here are some interesting dates I gleened from that document:
Curtis Evert Burton, my paternal grandfather, was born February 20, 1902.
Audrey Alvin Key, my paternal grandmother, was born October 22, 1907. (Will and I got married on October 22nd without an awareness that it's my grandmother's birthday.)
Evert and Audrey married December 22, 1923. He was 21 and she was 16.
Glen Byron Burton, my dad, was born April 1, 1927. Evert was 25 and Audrey was 19.
Joyce Elaine Burton, my paternal aunt, was born October 23, 1934. Evert was 32 and Audrey was 27.
Donna Lynn Burton, my paternal aunt was born September 10, 1936. Evert was 34 and Audrey was 28.
Curtis Evert Burton died May 5, 1950 at the age of 48.
Joyce Elaine Burton married September 9, 1950 when Joyce was 15 1/2.
I was born on November 22, 1970. My dad was 43 and my mom was 32. I'm the product of the second marriage of both of them.
Audrey died on June 8, 1976 at the age of 68.
My husband Will was born January 22, 1981. (My sister Kit on my mom's side of the family shares a birthday with my husband.)
Aunt Joyce died November 22, 1993 when she was 59. I was 23, living in my own apartment, my dad down in Texas. I had no idea she died on my birthday.
Will and I got married on October 22, 2004.
It's weird to think about how when things happen and we're not around we don't know about it so we feel nothing. But when we're informed of something happening we feel such strong emotion about it even though we're not physically present. I'm not there to say goodbye to this aunt of mine I barely knew, and yet I feel so sorry for her now that I know more about her life. I didn't even know I missed her until I was reminded she's gone. And I feel even more connected to her knowing the exact day her soul took its exit I celebrated another trip around the sun.
On a day when I'm missing dead relatives, it's a comfort to find this document about my paternal grandmother's genealogy. Since I'm not close to my living dad I never would have thought I'd care so much about his ancestors. But having specific names and dates makes people more real and it helps me imagine what their lives were like and how much I miss them.
All this reflection reminds me of one thing: Our time on earth is limited. We must live each moment to the fullest.
I'm off to go play with my daughter now.