Today marks eight years since my Dad left this world. For the past few days, I have found myself thinking of the bittersweet wisdom of Winnie the Pooh, who said, “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I can relate to this. Unfortunately, February is a month filled with reminders of the many goodbyes I have had to say. The month is marked by my dad’s birthday, Ben’s birthday, and the anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. A few years ago, on my cat Disney’s last day, I told the vet it might as well be in February, since nothing good happened in this month.
After yesterday’s 60 degree weather, today there was snow. On the day that my dad died there was such a severe snowstorm that the trains, buses and cars had all stopped and I could only speak to him on the phone. I can’t stop those bad memories, but at least, for the most part, I try to focus on the good ones, on his sense of humor and laughter, and how much love we shared. He had unwavering faith in me that I wish I had in myself. This always plunges me into the profound sorrow of loss and aloneness. I miss my Daddy.
In a February of heartbreaking events, Valentine’s Day was the one occasion in which I could find joy, even after I lost Ben. I have hand-made cards for my family since I was young and I have continued that tradition. It did not matter if there was a romance in my life, I was enamored with the idea of sharing love. As my family disappeared, I learned that my great-aunts and great-uncles saved the cards I had sent them, and many even made their way back to me. It touched my heart that the cards (and I) were loved. I began a tradition of making cards for my friends. It is my special (and maybe corny) way of showing my friends how much I value them. It has also been a positive distraction from focusing on grief.
Last year, my aunt Eleanor died on Valentine’s Day. I remember feeling frustrated that due to COVID, I would not be able to visit her and bring her a card. Even when she was almost completely nonverbal, Ellie always smiled at her card, and she seemed to love to look at the featured pictures of my cats. Although her quality of life had significantly declined due to Alzheimer’s disease, and she was in a nursing home, I was crushed to lose her. Sandwiched between the day my dad died and his birthday, Valentine’s Day was already kind of surreal, but Ellie’s passing made it a three-day streak of awful anniversaries.
I tend to waver about doing things or maintaining traditions that fall on milestone dates. Interestingly, there was never a question in my mind that I would continue to make my Valentines. Maybe I have become even more intent on making the cards because they allow me to delve into my creative self-expression and to feel joy and life as I think about my friends and the love that surrounds me. It is a form of self-care that hopefully brings smiles to my friends, even though Tinker Bell would be just as happy without her starring role.
In the Disney Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin, Christopher Robin tells Winnie the Pooh, “If ever there’s a tomorrow when we’re not together, there’s something you must remember…You are braver than you believe and stronger than you seem and smarter than you think…. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you. I have written so often about how I see my dad in many things that I do and in who I am as a person. I am proud to be his daughter and always hope that I am making him proud and doing justice to his memory. I hear his giggle in my head. I share stories about him with my students. They know, and quietly respect, that every day, I stand for and recite the Pledge of Allegiance because he was a proud Marine, and I believe that they learn compassion and respect by observing me. My dad would appreciate that. The thing is that February’s bevvy of milestone dates is an ongoing reminder that it is not always enough to have the memories. At least Valentine’s Day gives me an opportunity to acknowledge the important people who are present in my life now. Particularly as I have been facing my own health issues, surgery, and treatments, my close friends have been the support that gets me through the aloneness. This would make my dad happy and relieved since he always worried about me and my future when he and Ben were both ill.
I cannot deny that this is a difficult time, but the silly little bear is right that although the goodbye still hurts, I am so fortunate to have loved and to have had the love of my dad. That love will always be my Valentine.