Toxic April

My father died on April 24th,1950. My mother would take it over as her misery on the anniversary day.  Once she called and asked “do you remember what today is?” And I said, archly, “yes, Mom, it’s the day my father died.”

The terrible tragedy of my father’s death was compounded by the fact that we also found out that she’d known that he was going to die for about 7 years and not told us, not told him. So not only did we lose our father one Monday morning, yanked out of school by some car service that dragged us home, but we also lost any faith we might have had left in a mother whose conflicts about wanting to be a mother were all too evident.

Years later as an adult I developed a sadness syndrome when the weather softened into spring—and this may seem unbelievable—didn’t know why.  I just thought I didn’t like spring, that it frightened me because I’d have no excuse for staying indoors on sunny days.

Some April evening I’d suddenly develop a crying jag, but not my usual “sad dog commercial” tears – these tears would deepen and my heart would just ache. When it finally occurred to me that I might be mourning my dad’s death in April, I took the bull by the horns. At work, I’d call in sick and either stay home and just be with my feelings, or drive up to the cemetery where he’s buried.

Arriving at his tombstone was always a letdown, as lovely as the cemetary is. Tombstones in the end are not people. But acknowledging my sorrow — owning it, we say these days — was good for me. The April sadness receded. Nowadays I may even forget or realize after the 24th is over.

I can’t find the poem I wrote about spring long ago, but the first line was:

“Immortal Spring, you always smell like death to me.”

I’m grateful those days are far behind me. I may still find aspects of spring melancholy, but I don’t lose myself in it.

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