Valentine’s Day Traditions Bring Tears and Healing

The last Valentine I made for Ben, in 2015.

I always loved Valentine’s Day. I have hand-made Valentine cards for as long as I can remember. My great-aunts and great-uncles, and of course my parents, aunt and grandma, saved all of them. As they’ve passed on, their collections of the cards I made for them made their way back to me so I would know that they were kept and treasured. Ben had his own collection, which I now revisit from time to time and on days like this. I see them as testaments to the love we all had for each other. But, I miss all of these people.

Now, Valentine’s Day is bittersweet but I still love the whole idea of Valentine’s Day. As I posted yesterday (click here for that post), my dad passed away the day before Valentine’s Day in 2014. I spent Valentine’s Day that year making his funeral arrangements. My dad’s birthday is the day after Valentine’s Day.

With Ben, our Valentine’s Day celebrations were often sweet and simple. He always knew that after I put him to bed, I would make a card and decorate the apartment, and he looked forward to his Valentine’s Day surprise. It added some whimsy to his homebound life.

I also remember the simple and sweet Valentine’s Days spent with Ben where we danced in the living room. Ben thought that he had to take me to a fancy restaurant, but he learned that I really preferred cozy celebrations at home. Dancing was an important part of our relationship and I miss that, too. I was unexpectedly reminded of those days today during class. I was showing my class the film Under The Same Moon. It’s a Spanish film which touches on vocabulary the students have learned as well as issues of immigration. It’s a beautiful little film and the students always love it. I forgot about a scene where two people dance and start to fall in love. It immediately took me back to my living room, where Ben and I always danced and I tried to learn how to dance a little bit of salsa. I thought about the song One Dance (click here to read about it) and how much it meant when Ben was in the hospital. I felt the tears coming and did not want to cry in class. At least the lights were off! I busied myself at my desk to avoid the scene- I’ve seen the film so many times I know many of the lines! Unfortunately, I was shaken for the rest of the day. I tried to cheer myself up by making my traditional rounds in class and the hallways with chocolate for my current and former students, as well as those I didn’t know and for my colleagues. Valentine’s Day is and should be a happy day of building community in the school and I love that. Still, I was emotional and on shaky ground. It’s those unanticipated jolts of grief that are the most unnerving.

Another Valentine’s Day tradition that I maintain is to visit my aunt Eleanor, who has Alzheimer’s Disease and is in a nursing home. She has declined to the point of being non-responsive and I was nervous about how the visit would go. When I arrived, she stared at me, but almost through me, without recognition or reaction. At a few points, she seemed to understand what I said, but she is nonverbal. She has no real quality of life anymore. It’s devastating to see. I sat quietly beside her for a while, placed the Valentine card with Tinker Bell’s picture and kissed her good bye. It broke my heart. I realize that I have been grieving the loss of our relationship for quite some time.

My aunt Eleanor with the only dog she ever loved, our Standard Schnauzer, Dulcie.

Despite the sadness of today, Valentine’s Day seems an appropriate day to spotlight with love these people whom I miss and treasured so much.

(L-R) Great-uncle Louie, Great-aunt “Tanta” Rosie, Great-Aunt Lillian, Grandma Dora, Great-Uncle Larry. Mid-1980s. I adored them all.

My mom and our Standard Schnauzer, Dulcie. Miss them both!

My dad, in one of his favorite photos, with our Miniature Schnauzer, Windy, at my Cornell graduation. Daddy liked to look serious, but he was quite the joker.

(L-R) Great-Uncle Davis, cousin Garry, who, at age 94, passed away just one month before Ben), and Great-Aunt “Tanta” Rosie.

ALS,Caregiving,Grief,Walt Disney World, Disney

My silly Ben with his buddy, Buzz.

Life has changed without all of these people, and although I lost many people that I loved and who loved me so much, I am fortunate and grateful to have had them in my life. I am also grateful to still be surrounded by much love. Crafts projects give me peace and inspiration, and I realized how important making Valentine cards was to me once I lost those closest to me. It was a way of showing and feeling so much love. For my older relatives, my cards were the only fun mail they received and I was the person of my generation who always reached out to them. I decided to continue to tap my inner child with my card-making tradition, giving them to special people in my life.

The holiday is different now, and, honestly, not as happy, but it does give me joy to show my love and appreciation for special people, in my craftsy way, and to share a special tradition that keeps Ben, my parents, grandma and great-aunts and great-uncles close. And, who knows? Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother said, “Even miracles take a little time,” so maybe a romantic Valentine’s Day will again happen for me.

I wish everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day filled with love and friendship, and a sprinkling of pixie dust!

Tinker Bell’s first Valentine card! Each card is a little different.