The Problem With Anniversaries

Both my parents had the nerve to die on the day before a holiday.

Mom died on December 31, 2010.

Dad died on March 30, 2013.

That year, March 30 fell on a Saturday, the day before Easter.


So Dad pretty much messed up Easter, no matter where it lands, AND the 30th of March.


Not only that, but the way he went was pretty horrific.

After I struggled for an entire summer trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with him, getting him to various doctors and specialists, and neck surgery and a new pacemaker and then an oxygen tank and visits with cardiologists and pulmonologists and VA doctors and, and, and… Every week, usually two or three times a week, we were visiting a doctor. And, well gee, they just couldn’t figure out why his back hurt.

Eventually I had him admitted in Petoskey. He was mad about it, but I basically told the staff there not to send him home until they got to the bottom of why he couldn’t breathe.

Then, it showed up: a tumor, hiding behind his pacemaker. The x rays didn’t show it but the ultrasound did.

So, he had lung cancer, with a prognosis of two years, or maybe longer, with treatment.

Okay. At least now we knew what we were dealing with.

Finally the siblings started pitching in. I finally had some real help. Yay. Dad actually moved in with my brother, who lived close to an oncology center where he could have treatment.

Then, when his chemo ended, my older sister whisked him home to her remote spot in the Upper Peninsula. She took him there without any advance warning.

While there, he developed pneumonia.

Despite my begging, she allowed it to progress for weeks, even months. She didn’t have him admitted.

He was 86 years old, with a pacemaker. He needed support.

She ignored my pleas — actually, she spurned them. Dad languished in her house until he started coughing up blood. She FINALLY took him to the hospital.

He died, days later.

Not that losing a parent is ever a good thing, or easy, but I like to think that most people have the support of family members to help them through it.

I had Amanda, and she had me. But, as I chronicled in our story, The North Side of Down, that was a whole new can of worms. After the older sister had, in my opinion, killed my dad through negligence, or at least let him die, or actually we all had, but she decided to swoop in again and claim Amanda for her own.

She filed a petition with the court for guardianship, despite what plans Dad had laid out, and despite Amanda’s wishes.

Amanda has Down syndrome and that puts her in a unique position of vulnerability. She also, at times represents some strange type of power symbol for certain people. She’s become a sort of scepter. That is a story for another post.

Although Amanda can clearly express what she wants, her own wishes always seem to be secondary to the agenda of whomever is controlling her. In this case, following my Dad’s death, it required legal action to get her out of the clutches of this ………. (fill in the blank)…………..

This is all extending in to a big long story. It could fill a book. Well, actually it did.

But here’s my point: Anniversaries can suck.

I have some kind of psychological timekeeper that knows when all this stuff went down. Maybe it’s the length of days. Maybe it’s the angle of the sun. Maybe it’s the early call of birds or the clumps of hair whisking away from my horses’ steaming sides.

But it’s here. That same time of year. And as much as I blame anyone, I blame myself that Dad is not still here. He should be.

Each year pulls me farther away from him. I want the clock to stop. Maybe if there is a pause, just a hiccup, I can erase the pain.

I knew that my older sister does not think of others in the same way that I do. She is missing a chip, I think. Something is not right. Instead of arguing with that woman and trying to get her to do the right thing, why didn’t I just go get Dad?

I could have driven the five or so hours up to get him and take him to the hospital.

Why didn’t my brother, who was in a lot better economic and geographic position to do so, go get him?

I fully expected Dad to live into the summer, and beyond. Four more years, he had said. He should be here.

That I miss him isn’t even the issue. I am too filled with rage, even now, to begin to miss him. Unless I am on the island, I don’t feel his humor or his crooked smile. There is only rage.

These days are so hard. Easter is miserable, and the end of March bongs like a knell. Bong.. Bong…  There is mud on the ground. It squelches and it’s knee deep. And I hate it.

And I have to walk through it to go get Clifford. Because for some reason, I have been asked to take Clifford to visit a preschool on D day.

Dad’s Death Day.

March 30.

I look like hell. My hair is long and wild. My skin is pasty. I have been fighting walking pneumonia for a month. There is a virus going around, and even though I have the exact same symptoms as everyone else, I know what this is, really. I cough and I cough. I bend over with the effort, hacking deep within myself, hoping to get rid of…


Clifford stands there and he is wearing the blanket I put on him to keep him clean. It has been raining, and I had to give him a bath yesterday.

But he is completely covered in brown. His hair is spiking up and he is all cute and perky like a chocolate Easter bunny.

I bend over and scream at him.


He just stands there looking at me. I have a new halter, purple with his name on it. I do not want to put it on him. But I do.

He knows I am angry. His eyes are soft and submissive. He lowers his head and follows me through the cold mire. Sqump, sqump, sqump, sqump.


He will be 25 in April. I feel him and he feels me but I keep screaming at him. “Why did you do that!  I don’t have time to give you another bath! We have to go!”

He never rolls that much, and I think part of that is because his legs are kind of creaky and wrecked and getting up is a chore. But he did a bangup job today.

I get the hose out. I take the blanket off, for which he is glad. He is smooth and clean underneath, shedding clumps of fine orange hair. I start spraying his legs and neck. The water runs off him, blackened. He picks up each foot and lets me hose the bottom of it. He is perfectly cooperative and doesn’t make any jokes.

“GREAT! Now we are going to go into the school with you smelling like a wet horse!”

He chews and licks softly. Trying not to make any trouble. I know that he knows this is not about him, and yet he just takes it.

I wipe him with a sponge. He nods gratefully, leaning into me. I drape him with his soft purple cooler and he clatters obligingly up into the trailer.

I climb into the truck and now I have to drive, and I have to be careful because the trailer Wheelzebub is old and junky, and Clifford’s legs are not good. I calm down and focus on the drive. It’s a long one. It takes us two hours to get to the school.

And just like so many times before, Clifford unloads carefully on his rickety legs and looks eagerly at the doors. I walk him into a roomful of children, all preschool-aged, sitting on the floor behind a piece of masking tape, exactly as I have asked.


Clifford goes to each child, nosing them, saying hello. He pauses and walks away from me for a minute, so I just let him go. He goes to the other side of the room and looks out the window. He sniffs around. He just wants to check things out and get a feel for the space.


The kids are laughing and screaming. Clifford turns back to them. This is so easy, because they are young, and they like anything he does.

I show them that he eats peppermints, and licorice. They cannot believe he’s crunching down candy.

Clifford picks out his favorites in the group. He loves little girls, and kids with curly hair. I used to throw the cone for him to fetch, but now I let the kids do it. There are about 30 children in the room, and they take turns. They are a polite bunch, holding up their hands, waiting in line.


Clifford retrieves that cone as if he has never wanted to do anything else with his life. He never seems to tire of it. But they applaud when he picks it up, and I see he likes that.

I could say that this is cliche’, but how can it be a cliche’ when you have a full-sized horse in a preschool? How can you not be touched by that? How can you not learn the lesson of letting the moment take you and keep you? How can you not seize that innocence and try to make it your own?

For an hour, or just a little longer yesterday, time stood still.



About Nancy J. Bailey

Artist, author, bad karaoke singer. Woodsy ragamuffin. Mom of a horse named Clifford who plays fetch and paints with watercolors. He visits libraries and schools with me, to promote literacy and making the world a better place. Yes, he is house trained, no, he doesn't live in my house! I have written three books about Clifford. But my newest book, THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN, is co-written by my awesome sister Amanda, who has Down syndrome. Her unexpected one-liner wisecracks can always make me laugh. If you make me laugh, you've made my day!
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2 Responses to The Problem With Anniversaries

  1. Pingback: The Problem With Anniversaries | Diary of a Misplaced Yooper: Cliffy's Mom's Blog

  2. Reblogged this on Diary of a Misplaced Yooper: Cliffy's Mom's Blog and commented:

    Yesterday I had started to cough, and I had completely forgotten why. I knew the day was coming up, but I hadn’t made the connection. Now I know. Thanks in part to Clifford, I will make it through this next anniversary tomorrow. I am so glad to have this reminder of how to do that.


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