Woman with short brown curly hair and glasses stands stoically on a hiking path. She is dressed in a light hoodie jacket.

Donna out for a a nearby hiking trail at Peace Hills Park. She didn’t make it to the conservation area for the anniversary, but she still made it out to enjoy some fall hikes.

October 17, 2012 and October 17, 2022, have a unique commonality.  October 17, 2012 is the date my son David was killed at work.  October 17, 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of David’s death.  While October 17 is always a difficult day for me; October 17, 2022, was especially challenging.  You’d think the anniversaries would get easier with the passage of time.  After all, I’ve had 10 years on my healing journey to learn to cope with David’s passing.

Perhaps the difficulty I was experiencing this year had to do with the denotation and connotation of words.  I remember when I celebrated my 25th birthday.  Twenty-five is a young age.  However, when I turned twenty-five, I was acutely aware that I was now a quarter of a century old.  The denotation, or dictionary meaning, of the phrase “quarter of a century” meant that I was a young 25-year-old adult.  However to me, the connotation – the implication, nuance, inference and association – of the phrase “quarter of a century” meant that I was ancient.  Turning 25 was not my favourite birthday.

As I anticipated the 10th anniversary of David’s death, the word “decade” came into my mind.  The denotation, or meaning, of the word “decade” is “10 years”.  David has been dead for 10 years.  And each year since David’s passing has meant that I am further along in my healing journey and can now focus on the love and joyous times I had with David, and not just on his death.  But at the same time, the connotation – the implication and association – of the word “decade”, has meant that I have now had 10 years to forget the sound of David’s voice and his laughter, to forget how he moved and walked, to forget how it felt to give him a hug, and to forget how wonderful it was to have David and his family in my home on a regular basis.  A decade is a long time to forget so many details about David. 

This year on David’s decade anniversary, I decided to do something special and take advantage of the sunny, warm weather.  When David was a teenager, he was very involved with the Scouting program and one of his favourite activities was to go hiking.  I had located a natural conservation area not too far from where I live, with18 km of hiking trails that include some steep climbs.  I had already done several hikes there during the summer.  I planned to do a long hike on October 17.  I knew David would love it there as much as I did.  There are no bears or cougars in the natural area, so I felt quite safe hiking alone.  However, there are moose and it is exciting to come across a moose near the trail.  My plans for remembering David on October 17, 2022, were set.

But then something happened.  On October 14, I had dental surgery.  It was much more invasive than I had thought.  The inside of my mouth was full of stitches and my face and roof of my mouth were swollen.  My dentist strongly suggested that I not do any strenuous exercise for a week.  That meant it would not be wise to go on a long hike on October 17, the decade anniversary of David’s death.  Was I disappointed?  Oh, yes.  Was I totally crushed?  No.  Because I didn’t want to postpone my dental surgery and I wasn’t totally sure how I would be feeling afterwards, I had prepared a plan B in case my hiking plan A did not occur.

David was my youngest child and the last one to leave home.  After his sisters had flown the nest, one of the things David and I enjoyed doing together was watching really cheesy, low-budget science fiction and horror movies.  We’d laugh hysterically at the campy dialogue, poor acting, amateur special effects and unbelievable plots.  I had previously recorded my plan B movie about gigantic mutant carnivorous rabbits, who attack humans to get revenge on those who culled the overpopulation of regular-size rabbits.  As I watched that movie on October 17, I laughed hysterically at the campy dialogue and cheesy special effects.  My favourite line was when the sheriff told the townspeople to flee to safety because “a herd of killer bunnies is headed this way”.  I wondered how many takes were necessary before the actor saying that line could do so with a straight face.  And as I laughed loudly at the campy dialogue, the cheesy special effects and the unbelievable plot, in my mind I could hear David laughing with me.  On the decade anniversary of David’s death, all of the sudden, I remembered what his laugh sounded like.  How grateful I was for that blessing.  When plan A fell through, plan B brought me more than I could have imagined.  It’s amazing that while the universe did not give me what I wanted, it did give me what I needed.  And after a decade, I needed to hear David’s laughter and remember the sound of his voice.  Life is full of small miracles.  And on the most difficult day of the year, one of them came my way.

Donna Van Bruggen
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