November was a nothing month for most of my life. I mean, there was Thanksgiving, but honestly, I hated that holiday. We spent it at my grandmother’s, just as we spent Christmas, and the meal was nearly identical. Instead of the silver accoutrements there were gold, and instead of Christmas tree-shaped cutouts of cranberry jelly, it was just plain circles. But it was similar enough to remind me of the big difference: there were no presents to be opened at the end of this meal. While Christmas Eve dinner was eaten in the glow of the Christmas tree’s lights and carols played in the background, Thanksgiving dinner was eaten in the normal, dull light of the dining room overhead, and maybe there’d be music but probably not and could you just finish eating already so we can clean up and take a nap?
So yeah. November. Meh.
In 2001, I met Fred, whose birthday is in November. That livened things up a bit. Also: here was a person who liked Thanksgiving! As I grew older and stopped having two holiday meals a year at my grandmother’s house, I began to appreciate it, too. Also, I learned to make an awesome turkey.
On November 1, 2005, Emma was born. November was now bookended by the birthdays of the two most important people in my life. November was a month of promise, of celebration.
And then on November 18, 2011, my father passed away.
It’s been three years. THREE YEARS! I can’t even believe that. It sounds terrible to say, “Gosh, but it seems like just yesterday that you died!” but there it is.
I dream about my dad almost every night. And it’s never one of those “OMG you’re alive!” dreams. Rather, he’s just…there. Like he was in my life. Constant. Sturdy. Present. In my dreams, my mom is usually with him because, you know, they’re kind of a package deal in my brain. But the really great thing about these dreams? Whenever my memories of my dad start getting a little squishy, a little too rose colored, I’ll have a dream where my dad just. pisses. me. off. I wake up ENRAGED. Furious and frustrated. And then I laugh, because that’s how I know it’s him, making sure I remember that he was human. “Ah ah ah,” he’s saying. “Let’s not raise my pedestal too high, then.”
Grief is strange. I don’t cry as much as I used to. I can listen to the Rolling Stones without getting maudlin. I can talk to Emma about him without feeling like Fred is waiting for my collapse. But there are moments when it washes over me, and for a second, I can’t breathe.
You don’t realize that once someone you love dies, they keep dying. Every time someone’s father dies, my father dies again. Every time someone’s ANYTHING dies, my father dies again. And each time it’s less than the time before, but it’s always surprising when it happens. It’s that little gut punch, that reminder, reliving the worst parts.
November is changed now. Tempered. There are still those beautiful bookends at the beginning and the end of the month. I still make an amazing turkey, and I’ve grown to appreciate Thanksgiving for what it is and can be. But now the month belongs to my dad. I honestly don’t mind. In some ways, it’s still a celebration — of him, his life and his complete ability to drive me up a fucking wall.
But the worst part about it being his month now? I never knew how he felt about November. Ah, well. Sorry, Papa. You’re stuck with it now.