I have a treasure box of odd things saved over the years. Contents include a broken crystal, a once brilliant but now faded blue feather, a simple penned drawing inserted into the margin of an old newspaper. Each has a wonderful story that propels me into a special place of soothing reflection. A place where distant memories have a magical quality of intertwining themselves with my present moment, filling me with calm and a warm feeling that all is well and I am loved.
In that box is a simple valentine, a very simple valentine from my father. He traced and cut it out from a brown paper bag. Using a red crayon and neat concise print he wished me a “Happy Valentine’s Day, love Dad and 8 kisses. Sweet, simple, and straight to the point, just like him.
I remember receiving it in the mail about 20 years ago. At the time I thought it was sweet and I put it in my box of letters, and photos and promptly forgot about it. Life continued. The years unfolded. I remember sitting with my siblings marveling at the fact that the 5 of us had made it into adulthood, everyone was healthy, and no broken bones, no major traumas. Life would not continue to be so kind to us.
In 2006, the day before Valentine’s Day our lives changed forever. My younger sister Cathy died from a fast growing brain tumor.
Losing a child was especially difficult for my parents. They were both at the bedside as she took her final breath. That death changed us all. My father became ill and was hospitalized on the day of her funeral. Attending the funeral of his child was beyond what his loving heart could endure. My father died 8 months later. My mother carries an emptiness behind her eyes that rarely disappears and I have lost my sister who was the shadow of my soul.
Valentine’s Day is nearing; love is in the air as they say. There is a rapid exchange of ideas for cozy moments and a plethora of loving thoughts with suggestions for a perfect celebration.
For me, Valentine’s Day is a day of remembering not what I have lost but of how I have been loved. I don’t wonder so much about where I am going or what is next, rather I reflect on where I have been and realize there is so much of that experience that defines where I am in this very moment. Loss has taught me compassion and given my vulnerability permission to expose itself. I can more easily see into the hearts of others.
I am grateful that I kept that simple brown paper valentine. On close examination the paper has become stiff and the crayon is fading. There is tape residue probably from hanging on the wall during my college years. It’s time to seal it in plastic so it does not crumble into a handful of scraps.
I imagine my dad sitting at his kitchen table tracing and cutting and of course feeling proud of himself for being expressive. I am overcome with sadness as I reflect on lost moments when I did not appreciate all that he was and how deeply he loved us. As I allow that sadness to flow over me I am at the same time warmed by the love that I continue to experience. It’s as though I had to grow into a place of wisdom where the simple and laser focus of my father’s heart could be understood, appreciated and finally accepted.
If you are grieving the death of someone you have loved I hope you will find a place where you can reflect on being loved, and that you will bask in its warmth. Remember special times, remember laughing, remember …..
People die. People we love die,
but love…. love lasts forever.