They say the “firsts” after a significant family member dies are always difficult.

The first birthday, first Thanksgiving, first Christmas and so on.

As I write this, it is Nov. 9, which would have been my parents’ 69th wedding anniversary — the first with both of them gone.

I wondered why, in the last couple of days, I had felt a bit blue and then realized it was that their anniversary was nearly here.

It’s interesting how we may not always consciously identify why we feel sad, but our subconscious is fast at work processing as the “first” approaches. Come Dec. 3, my father will have been gone five years. Mom passed Jan. 1 this year.

For the first four years after his death, we spent all those “firsts” with her, honoring him and trying to be cheerful for her sake.

Doing so somehow helped ease the pain of loss for her and for us.

My first birthday without Mom has come and gone, as has the date of my mother’s birth. We made it through with a bit of sadness, but also vowed to honor her birthday by trying to be upbeat.

My parents’ anniversary, however, is a bit different. It’s a “first” that involves both parents.

One might say they are together now, and that is a good thing. And perhaps this “first” is less painful to contemplate because my mother is not having to experience their wedding anniversary without my father.

Anyone fortunate enough to have had their parents as long as I did goes through these ruminations, I am fairly sure — especially if their parents were as terrific as mine were. It is the sacrifice we make, in the end, for the good, long years we had with them.

I have friends whose parents died when they were young, and I wonder, is it easier for them because they have had so many years to adapt to the loss? Do they regret not having had their parents in their older years?

Many years ago after a close friend died, a wise man told me that it is not how long one lives, but the quality of life he had that is important.

I tend to believe that is true. We are all going to die — it’s just a matter of when.

No one gets out of this life alive, as they say, and if we do not seize the day, what is the alternative?

Having had my parents for so many years, though, makes their absence seem surreal sometimes.

As I write this, my dining room table is serving as a sorting ground for hundreds of photos from my parents’ house that I have been organizing, categorizing and mailing off to relatives and friends who would most want them.

As I pore through the pictures of birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases and other significant occasions, I relive those events, remembering with great clarity the looks of surprise and joy on my parents’ faces as they entered the kitchen door and realized we had organized a surprise anniversary party for them, the cold November mornings we awoke to smell turkey roasting in the oven on Thanksgiving, the grandchildren tearing open gifts by the tree on Christmas Eve.

As the holidays approach, I try to look at the happy instead of the sad.

Yes, my folks are not here, and yes, our annual traditions will never be the same.

But my parents loved the holidays and instilled in us a love for all of the traditions that accompany them. There is a joy that comes with finding a perfect Christmas tree, for instance, decorating the house, baking holiday foods, listening to good music and anticipating spending time with friends.

As I ponder the absence of both parents this holiday season, I try to think about what they would want us to do — which is to enjoy, enjoy.

They instilled in us a love for life and all that comes with it, including the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. There’s no better way to honor that legacy than to carry on where they left off.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 27 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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