In fifth grade, I was sitting in class happily enjoying our St. Patrick’s Day party. I was wearing an obnoxiously bright green shirt. Our teacher was handing out little pieces of chocolate wrapped in gold tin foil. March 17th was just another holiday that involved a class party and a little candy.
Then, my mother’s best friend came to get me out of class. I immediately knew that something was wrong because her normally cheery face was lined with worry. She took me downstairs to the room that my mother taught in. They told me that we were driving to Michigan immediately and that my grandfather was sick.
I spent the rest of St. Patrick’s Day frantically praying that my grandpa would be okay. I drew “Get well” cards that leprechauns, rainbows and pots of gold on them. We drove three hours and then waited in the hospital waiting room. While I only knew that he was sick, the truth was that my grandfather had a massive heart attack while chopping wood. My grandmother had found him in the fields of their farm. He died that evening, before I ever got to see him or even say good-bye.
My grandfather’s passing had a tremendous impact on me at that young age, and it began a streak of horrible St. Patrick’s Day luck. The following year on March 14th, my uncle passed away from cancer. His death was quick and very unexpected. He left behind a wife and a son who was only a few months younger than me. His funeral was on March 17th.
One year later, it was my great-grandmother who passed away on what was now my least favorite day of the year. Although she was much older and her health was failing, I blamed her death on that day. For me, St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t fun green candy, it was when I lost people that I loved.
No matter how irrational it seemed, I was terrified of that day. I didn’t want to leave the house. I definitely didn’t want my parents to leave my sight.
As I got older, my St. Patrick’s Day traditions were very different from those of my peers. While my college roommates were having kegs and eggs, I was sitting quietly in church. As a Catholic Feast Day, I could normally find a mass to attend. While my friends were out drinking green beer, I was talking to my grandmother, reminiscing about my grandfather.
To be honest, it wasn’t until I had my own child that I stopped fearing the Irish holiday and attempted to embrace St. Patrick. Even though I refuse to wear the color myself, I dressed my daughter in green. I didn’t want her to deal with the obnoxious pinching I went through in school. I try to keep from hiding out in my house and jumping every time the phone rings.
I will never be the person with shamrock sunglasses and a glass of green beer. You won’t find me dying the river green or attending a parade. I’ll always have a little bit of sadness when I think about March 17th. But I no longer fear losing another family member when spring rolls around. Now I tend to think of it as a day to remember the love ones I’m missing, and rejoice in the family that I still have here with me.