Parents’ Day in September
by Jude Joseph Lovell
September 27 has always been important to my family. It’s my mother’s birthday. This year marks her 81st, and I can report happily that she is going strong. Which isn’t terribly surprising if you know Joanne Lovell. She has never let much grass grow beneath her.
But I don’t think of the day as my mother’s birthday only anymore. Six years ago, September 27, 2014, the date took on an entirely new significance. That day happened to be her 75th birthday, but something else occurred that overshadowed it. It was the day my father, Richard Lovell, her husband of nearly 49 years at the time, died.
Although Parents Day is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in July (in the U.S.); I now think of September 27 as Parents’ Day. It’s a day to contemplate both life and death. It’s a day to celebrate both individuals. It was a day that set a final link into that chain that seals their bond for eternity.
I’ll be honest. For years I imagined what it might be like to lose someone to death. I don’t know if everyone does this, or if I for some morbid reason did it more than most. I was fascinated by the idea. I don’t know why, but there was a small part of me that was maybe unusually curious about what it would all feel like. I almost wanted it.
Part of it was simply that, unlike many, I was not touched by death much for the first four decades I was here. Of course, no one escapes it entirely, but very few people that I was close to died when I was younger.
The only exception was 1985. I was fourteen for most of that year. My paternal grandmother, Eva M. Lovell, died in March of a heart attack at 79 years old. Later on, in September, my mother’s father, Joseph A. Walsh, succumbed to cancer at age 71. As a teenager, they seemed old to me; which somehow made their deaths seem okay and not entirely unexpected. After 1985, aside from the occasional family friend or relative whom I was not nearly as close to, I managed to avoid direct encounters with death.
My father, who was 40 when I arrived, endured two brushes with it, suffering heart attacks in the late ’80s and early ’90s. His father, Floyd, a diabetic who did not take good care of himself, died from a massive coronary at 58 years old in 1961. He was here one moment, gone the next. My father was lucky to survive his two cardiac events, but he did.
Around the year 2000 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease—an illness that is, of course, degenerative, neurological, and incurable. He was 70 at the time. He lived with it and managed it well, with a great deal of loving support from Joanne, until 2014, when complications from it finally claimed him.
Incidentally, my father had been a brain scientist – literally. He earned a doctorate in neurochemistry and spent most of his professional career researching the effects of various compounds on the brain in an effort to develop new medicines. So he understood what he was up against. He faced his death with dignity when it came, having lived a full 84 years.
That day was as inevitable as any death, of course. Yet for all my youthful contemplation of what it might be like to experience loss (a hankering I’m now cured of), no one could have predicted its direct convergence with the diamond anniversary of my mother’s birth. And it is that coincidence, that direct collision of life with death inside the bubble of my own family’s existence, that has since become the broader mystery I still plumb with frequency.
When I tell this story, people often express renewed sympathy, imagining how difficult it must have been to experience that weird roller-coaster of a day. But I usually respond that, as crazy as it sounds, in a way it was not so strange. Maybe it was not as hard as they think.
Losing a parent is very tough, no matter how it comes, of course. But there was an odd symmetry, a completeness, to my experience—like the Chinese concept of yin and yang. Part of me sees it as strangely appropriate. It has a symmetry to it.
You actually can see this, with your eye, when you visit my father’s grave in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It’s a joint headstone my parents selected together many years ago in the community they retired to and lived their last twenty years together in. Naturally, the stone includes their lifespans, so where my father’s life ends (September 27), my mother’s begins.
I can only imagine how heartbreaking as it must have been for my mother, after almost half a century, to witness the closing of that door. But on that day of all days, Joanne did what she has always done. She directed her love to where it was needed. And that’s how an annual celebration of an individual life was transformed into a day to marvel at the union of two lives.
My mother, a former college teacher, taught her six children an unforgettable lesson that day. Not through words, but through the actions that always speak louder. In life, it is not so important to receive a gift. It is far more important to be a gift. And she showed us exactly how to do that.
So Happy Parents’ Day, readers. No matter who they are, or wherever they are, may we always find ways to honor them as much as we can.
Photo credit by: Jason Leung (California) @xninjason
Jude Joseph Lovell writes on books and popular culture for Silver Sage and is the author of four novels, three short story collections, and four works of nonfiction. His newest book is Door In The Air: New and Selected Stories, 1999-2020. He lives with his wife and four growing children in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. For more information visit his website at judejosephlovell.com.