Evening walk on the beach trail, Santa Ana winds have cleared the sky, stars shine, and the moon hides. Catalina’s silhouette glows in the distance. I glance at the homes across the highway, wondering if my neighbors are enjoying the beautiful view. Elegant pendant lamps catch my eye, and a man tidies his living room on the second floor. Helium filled heart-shaped balloons, nudged by the gentle ocean breeze, dance across the floor toward him. He is someone’s Valentine. He casually pushes them away. I shake my head, yet another reminder that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I want to be annoyed, and tell it to go away, but I smile instead, knowing that it’s better for my heart and mind.
As a little girl I LOVED Valentine’s Day. Carefully writing and decorating cards, I’d choose the best one for my latest victim of puppy love, even adding an extra, Be mine in my own handwriting. Delivering cards to my friends, placing each Valentine in a lunch bag, or a shoe box, decorated with red and pink hearts is how the school day ends. Hardly able to contain myself on the bus ride home, I peek at my treasures. Once home, sitting at the kitchen counter, I examine every card, every word, every signature. And then I find it, his card. I flip it front to back, and back to front. Humph, no sign of true love, just a poorly printed first name. Dang . . . . so disappointing. I am not deterred, I continue to be a romantic goof every year, wishing and hoping.
My Valentine’s Day experiences as a grown woman are equally successful. I yearn for romantic gestures, but I don’t know how to ask for them, and when I get the courage to ask, the men I choose are unwilling or unable. Eventually, to protect myself from disappointment, I pretend to be a woman who doesn’t care about romance, someone who thinks Valentine’s Day is stupid. My behavior feeds my disappointment and I develop a strong dislike for Valentine’s Day.
One particular Valentine’s Day impacted me greatly. It began in bar, at happy hour with a boyfriend and some of his colleagues. He was separated from his wife and navigating the end of his marriage and I was going through my second divorce. What a pair, right? We made a pact, no celebrating. We bragged to his friends, all single, that we didn’t need Valentine’s Day, it was just another day. I was full of shit. I remember he sent his ex-wife and daughter flowers . . . the whole thing left me feeling sick, but I didn’t have the courage to say something, to ask for what I needed. Feeling down on the drive home, I asked if we could stop by my parents’ home, I wanted to see them.
As I entered the house, familiar laughter and chatter greeted me. My heart was both heavy and happy. I ran up the stairs, skipping steps along the way. My mom in her first week of hospice; sat smiling in bed, surrounded by my sisters, as my dad stood near the dresser. He proudly showed me a teddy bear dressed in a bumble bee costume, a Valentine’s Day gift for my mom. She beamed and said it was the most thoughtful gift my dad had ever given her. An open box of See’s Candies sat near the bear. My mom could no longer eat, my sisters and I took turns mashing bits of chocolate into a creamy paste between our fingers and dabbing it on her lips and tongue. She hummed as she savored its sweetness.
We visited for awhile, and then left her to rest, each one of us kissing her good night. Our dad lay with her. They were two spoons in a drawer; he was so affectionate, always. My sisters and I tidied up the house, washing dishes, organizing the next day’s meds, and folding laundry, while my brother-in-law and my boyfriend watched television. It was getting late, nearly ten o’clock. My dad came downstairs, retrieved a bag and some clothes from his den and began to pack. He was headed to Vegas to rent my parent’s condo, a quick trip, a couple days at most. He preferred driving late at night to avoid the traffic. He hugged me; I held him tightly, kissed him and said I love you. Walking toward the door, head down, he shouted one more good-bye to all of us.
The next morning, feeling sluggish, I dressed for work. I don’t recall if the day was gloomy, but I certainly felt gloomy, dark and sad. Knowing my mom was going to die any day, it was hard to feel any other way. At work my mind drifted and I thought only of my mom. I wanted peace for her, only peace. A colleague sat in my office and we chatted about an upcoming meeting. The phone rang, it was my sister, her voice cracked, she was crying. She said my name, and I interrupted her, telling her I was on my way. She stops me mid-sentence and I am stunned by her words . . . No, no Christine, it’s not mom. It’s dad. Dad died. I immediately cry out in disbelief and she cries with me. Without getting any details, I hang up the phone, quickly gather my things, shout to my assistant that my dad has died, and run out the door, leaving everyone to wonder what the hell just happened. As I race home, I make a few calls, crying and yelling, why is this happening, why is this happening??!! No one can tell me why.
For a long time, I worked hard to hate Valentine’s Day. I counted my dad’s death, and my mom’s eminent passing among the reasons to despise the day. I clung to anger and sadness, and felt justified in my misery. I had earned the right to be miserable.
It bothered me that I was focused on this sad association, but I persisted with my negative attitude. One day walking on the trail with my sister Mary, I complained and whined about Valentine’s Day, mom and dad dying, I don’t have a boyfriend; it’s a stupid day, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Mary listened and then she said . . . it made her happy to think that we were all together when my mom and dad spent their last Valentine’s Day together. She spoke of what a beautiful night it was, and how happy our mom was, how happy all of us were having our little Valentine’s Day party in the guest room.
In that moment, all the sweet memories we created on that evening flooded my mind and my heart. It was the truest Valentine’s Day I had ever celebrated, witnessing the true meaning of love, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. My parents, married nearly fifty years were surrounded by their children, cherishing their last Valentine’s Day together. There were no tears, no whining or complaining, only gratitude and love for a life well spent.
I see Valentine’s Day differently now. I celebrate love, big love, all love. I am grateful to have the unconditional love of my children, my grandson, my siblings, family and friends. I am most grateful for my parents’ love, so strong that I continue to work hard to be a better person. I still want to make them proud.
I think of my dad and my mom every day, but especially on Valentine’s Day. It’s the perfect day to honor them, to celebrate their love, and their lives. I am sure they are celebrating too.
Happy Valentine’s Day!