I was thinking about anniversaries the other day. My mother never forgot them – birthdays, marriages, house moves. Latterly, as time caught up with her and her circle, the ample budget of not forgetting was spent on the anniversaries of a death; my father, a friend, the spouse of a friend, the child of a friend. That last, especially hard. With all of these, there was a particular edge to remembering.

Even as she faltered in her recall of what happened yesterday, or who it was who’d visited in the afternoon, mention a date and she’d be on it, able to summon up some event of enough significance to cast an imprint on her mind that even the depredations of dementia couldn’t quite wipe away. Sometimes she would prepare to mark an anniversary way too far in advance, having temporarily mislaid her grip on today’s date, or for fear of forgetting the event entirely when the time came. So, a birthday card was urgently readied three or four weeks ahead of time. I was never sure if it was posted early, late or not at all.

The thing that intrigued me about my mother and her friends was the fierce focus on those specific days. The pressing need to mark them, to make sure that the person celebrating or, more likely, mourning on that day knew that she had them in mind. In my adolescence and, though I feel a certain shame in admitting it, early adult years of finding fault with whatever my mother did, I would dismiss this preoccupation with particular dates as a convention, superficial, in some way deficient, an inadequate remembering. I’d feel superior, imagining I’d be the kind of person who would remember important losses and griefs throughout the year, not just make a fuss on the actual day. What little I knew, how unscathed I was by losses of any kind – except a few teeth, a fully functioning left arm and the occasional bit of pride. I was being so unfair. I’m sure my dear, dutiful mother thought much in between times, about her own losses and those of her friends and family, fretted at their hurts and disappointments, lamented the moments that changed their lives.

I’m still not that attached to anniversaries of big life events. It has never seemed to be crucial, in the whole business of attending to the memory of someone significant, to give special consideration to the day they died. But, I realise that maybe I’m being disingenuous here. Almost a year on from my mother’s death, it must have been in the back of my mind and, clearly, in the minds of other thoughtful people who have lately mentioned their own remembering of her and of me. Brought this all to the surface and got me putting pen to paper, fingers to keys.

This anniversary thing is a ritual, I suppose, and there is something valuable and reassuring about rituals. How they create time to reflect on loss and on recovery. Time to riffle through things unacknowledged, to locate the edge of a memory almost forgotten and weave it into the pattern of one’s life. Time to puzzle over things dimly understood from long ago, but now dislodged from a hiding place we never knew we’d made.


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