It happens every year.  It begins at Christmas and picks up speed when the New Year begins.  Off in the distance, I can see it coming…like the sail of a ship that is nearing the shore for the annual visit. Ignoring it doesn’t work.  With each passing day I find myself growing restless, agitated and looking for ways to escape.  I stand in front of the “fridge” looking for something to eat, even though it has been less than two hours since I pushed back from the table.  If ice cream has been left in the freezer, it will soon be gone. My favorite comfort food.

          It was exactly 8:20 on that foggy Wednesday morning when I found him. Our older son, Denny was dead! Totally unexpected, our tri-athlete son had died in his sleep. He was only eighteen. He had just been given meds for “Mono” and we suspect he had an allergic reaction to the narcotic in the pain medicine, “Extra-Strength Tylenol…. with Codeine.” The death certificate simply lists the cause of death, “Complications due to Mononucleosis.”

          Across the years I have heard stories of countless bereaved parents who have shared similar stories of their annual appointment with “calendar” pain. The two big ones are the “death” date and the “birth” date. Holidays are also tough but for me, these two dates tower above the others. Interestingly, my wife has a more difficult time with the birth date while I struggle more with his death date.  It figures…she gave birth to him while I was the one who discovered his dead body. I was the one who tried to resuscitate him while Buelah frantically called 911. I was the one kneeling over his body when we knew for sure that he was gone.

            I have had many conversations with veterans who suffer from PTSD…Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Before the death of our son, I couldn’t understand why the soldiers couldn’t simply pull themselves together and “snap out of it.”  Now, I get it. There are still several things that will cause the hair to rise on the back of my neck. It happens to all of us who have been traumatized by some horrible and shocking event of which we had no control.

          We all deal with it differently but, for me, I need to acknowledge it and let others know THE DATE I dread the most. Likewise, when I learn of someone else who is facing “calendar pain,” I try to stay close and acknowledge it with a phone call, a card or even flowers.  Now, after nearly twenty-eight years, I have learned that I handle this trauma much better when I share it.  So, if you are also struggling with one of these painful dates, I encourage you to let someone know and allow them to walk with you through your annual nightmare and all that happened on that day. For my wife, Buelah, the most painful date is March 1, Denny’s birthday. Finally, for me, the date I fear most, the date our son Denny died, is…. February 6.