Grief Talk: Acknowledging the Date(s) (part 1)

On April 5, the first anniversary of my dad’s death, I ate a tin of kippers for breakfast. He loved kippers on saltines.

I’m curious how (or if) you mark the date of death and birthday of a loved one. Are there traditions you’ve established or have considered establishing? How do you think about or work through those days, or the holidays? Leave a comment or send me an email at I will include your answers in the next Grief Talk.

To start off our conversation about acknowledging dates, I asked my friend Pauline Drozeski to write about her son, Tony, and the ways his family and friends remember him. Pauline is a writer from Erie who is working on a book about her experiences in the aftermath of a house fire. Part memoir/part practical guide, Pauline hopes to save others the frustration and confusion she faced in the ensuing minutes, hours, days, and months after her house burned and was declared unlivable. (Listen to Pauline explain it in her own words.)

Remembering My Son

Cancer, CANCER! IN HIS LEG? I could not comprehend what the doctor was trying to tell me. He was  explaining the results of the biopsy he just completed on a large growth on the back of my oldest son’s leg.

All that was going through my mind was that I know about breast cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, stomach cancer and others, but I never heard of a cancer in someone’s leg.

In the days to follow, we learned Tony had a Myxoid/Round Cell Liposarcoma tumor in his calf. It is a rare cancer that grows in the cells that store fat, and usually grows in the arms and legs.

In the two years that followed, Tony underwent surgery, chemo, and radiation. Nothing helped. We lost Tony not long after his 37th birthday.

People grieve in many ways and do different things to remember their loved ones. Once a year, Tony’s buddies gather to remember and celebrate their friend. The gathering has come to be called “Tony’s Party.” Tony’s friends share stories, photos, tears, and laughter as their way to remember and honor their friend.

My youngest son and I drink a toast to Tony each year to mark the day and time we lost Tony. We make sure to be together in person or via Facetime to drink a shot of whiskey at 1:25 a.m. on February 26th.

Cancer took my son and changed the lives of so many people that loved him. But we have turned our grief of losing him into celebrating his life.

11 thoughts on “Grief Talk: Acknowledging the Date(s) (part 1)

  1. My husband died on New Year’s Eve. On his birthday, just 2 weeks later, I took our family out to a nice restaurant (our 2 adult children, their spouses, and 4 grandchildren). Afterwards they each got to choose presents from his many “collections”. This included pocket knives, hats, flashlights, coins, etc. There were many stories shared about what they chose.

    1. ((Jan)) What a bittersweet and beautiful way to remember him. Will you make this a yearly thing on his birthday? Going out, that is.

  2. I miss my Nana Kitty. I don’t have any set rituals that are connected with her birthday or day of death. But when I’m missing her a lot, I like to write about her. I’ve written essays about her, and I’ve written short stories loosely based on her life or stories she has told.

      1. Hi Lynn,
        This are all nonfiction. I wrote a fiction story based on the Cracker Jack essay, but that one was published in a print only journal. I also wrote a flash fiction story based on her second marriage, but that one is currently entered in a writing contest. Thanks for asking!

  3. I don’t have a tradition on the date of my parent’s death, but at Christmas I used to buy Pfefferneuse cookies and wish my father Merry Christmas- that cookie was one of his go to’s at the holidays. I haven’t been able to find the cookie the last couple of years though. Another tradition is that I always make my great-grandmother’s Poor Man’s Cake for the holidays. Of course I have added more things to it but I always think of my parents when I make it.

    1. Janet, try Googling “pfefferneuse.” I found recipes and ready-made cookies online! I might try and make these for Christmas (I’d never heard of them before). Thanks for sharing your memory!

  4. Our family focuses on other dates in the person’s life, not the date if death. When I called my then 96-year-old mother last year on the date of my Dad’s birthday, she said cheerfully, I’m having a drink with your Dad. It was “cocktail hour” —a time when they had always enjoyed a drink before supper, and she had put a picture of him beside her chair for the occasion.

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