Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day (or not) isn’t the same when you’re grieving. Nothing is. The day itself commemorates the death of Ireland’s patron saint — originally it was a religious observation. But in recent years its solemnity appears all but forgotten as popular culture makes it into a day for people to celebrate their Irish heritage (whether real or adapted for the day).
In my family, with Irish ancestors on both my side and my late husband’s side, our St. Patrick’s Days were all about the green. When our kids were little, I’d add green food coloring into milk, pancakes, cookie dough — whatever I could think of — just to infuse the day with a bit more color.
We wore green, of course, because nobody wanted to get pinched.
I made corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes for dinner. A few times I made Irish brown bread from a magazine or cookbook recipe.
And that was it — St. Patrick’s Day at our house.
After my husband died, memory and timekeeping did an agonizing push-pull dance. For more than a year, I knew exactly how many days, weeks, and months had passed since his death. The awareness wasn’t something I tried to keep track of — it just was.
I also knew when holidays loomed ahead of me, but I backpedaled from them, dragging my feet as the calendar funneled me toward them. Maybe I thought if I didn’t acknowledge them, didn’t prepare for them, didn’t commemorate them … Maybe by ignoring those yearly occasions, I could avoid the pain of experiencing them without my husband.
I also felt guilty for the unwilling resentment I felt toward couples I saw enjoying such days together. I wanted to walk up to them and say, “Whatever you do, don’t take each other for granted. You’re together. Not everyone has that.”
I’d felt similar pangs of green-eyed jealousy after my mom died when I’d see grown daughters with their mothers. It was especially difficult at church, watching women I grew up with visiting home and spending that time with their moms. Of course I was happy for them, but it hurt that they had what I no longer did.
More than a few times, when I overheard women (of various ages) griping about their moms or snapping at them with harsh words at the store or a restaurant, I butted in — completely unbidden. “Excuse me,” I’d say. “You don’t know how long you get to have her in your life. When she’s gone you are going to regret acting like this.” Then I’d walk away. (I’ve tried to keep my own words in mind when interacting with my grown daughters. Every day together is precious.)
It hurt to remember my husband and my mother during holidays. It hurt worse when others didn’t acknowledge their absence during those same days.
Although it wasn’t my intention to walk around under a cloud of doom, I couldn’t help resenting well-intended “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” greetings, along with every other “happy this” or “happy that” greeting in the first couple of years after each new loss. Sure, I wanted to be happy, but I was mourning. And grief is not a happy process.
The best support friends gave me during holidays, on anniversaries, and on other tender dates was to acknowledge my loss.
It may seem contradictory, but speaking of the deceased loved one can offer better cheer than saying “Have a happy [whatever] day.” Instead, tell your grieving friend something like, “I’m sure you’re missing [SAY the name!] today. I’m thinking of you.”
This is my sixth widowed St. Patrick’s Day. There’s no corned beef and cabbage on the menu, but I’ve made green milk and cookies again, and I no longer scowl when wished a “happy St. Patrick’s Day.” For now, that’s enough.
I love how you capture the many things I have felt. I too had an automatic clock inside for many years. Every month, on the 9th, on bidden, the thought would come sometime during the day — it’s the 9th, Kelly died on the 9th. I remember the first time, just a few years ago now, that I DIDN’T note that it was the 9th of the month. And, for me, anticipation of the holiday’s has always been worse than the actual holiday in most cases. It’s been 11 years for me now, and for the most part, the grief isn’t a part of every single holiday, but those widow moments, they do strike unawares, still, and it’s like I am drop-kicked in the gut, with pain and longing for Kelly, fully as deeply and intensely as I felt it the days and weeks right after he died. I suppose in a way, it’s something to be grateful for, proof that I love and miss him still, because the pain still overwhelms me at times. Thank you for sharing.
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I remember how surprised I was the first time THAT day of the month passed without me noticing it until about three days later. I felt like I’d graduated — from what, I don’t know, but from something.
You’ve touched on one of the reasons it can be unhelpful when people try to rush mourners through their grief. That “drop-kicked” pain truly is a proof that love doesn’t end when life does. Thanks for your insight, KyneWynn.
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Reblogged this on What to Say When Someone Dies and commented:
Balancing bronchitis and work projects took priority over writing a new blog post for this St. Patrick’s Day, so I’m reposting last year’s today. (I’ll have another entry up in a few days.)