The days and weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day are so exhilarating, aren’t they? You scuttle around buying boxes of chocolates, oversized teddy bears, and bundles of flowers to show your loved ones how very much they are indeed loved. There’s just nothing that could spoil such a dreamy time of year for anyone.
Except maybe, if you’re like me, and this time of year is also the time someone you love died. Or for that matter, if this time of year just reminds you how much you miss someone who has died, no matter when that death happened.
My mom died on February 13th, 2007. Valentine’s Day Eve. I was never the type to expect a dozen red roses anyway, but since Mom died there has been a dark grey cloud over this cotton-candy pink holiday. In recent years, I’ve just let Valentine’s Day slip by me like any other day. My husband knows that a card is more than enough now, and that pretty much covers our celebration of the day. He is keenly aware that any sense of romance I might be feeling is far outweighed by the lingering memory of Moms’ death.
I was planning (or rather not planning) for Valentine’s Day to come and go as usual this year. And then, as it often does, my mom’s memory came knocking softly at my heart. Mom loved holidays, loved the idea of spreading cheer and love and chocolate any time it was remotely reasonable to do so. Much as I wanted to pretend that Valentine’s Day was just another day, and that the majority of the country was just drunk on the fumes of freshly printed Hallmark cards, I felt something different this year. I felt challenged to reclaim this day.
I decided that I wanted to do something that was fun, fairly easy, and likely to bring joy to others. I also decided that I wanted it to be something that still felt somewhat “normal” for me, since the idea of celebrating Valentine’s Day at all was already a pretty big deviation from my routine. It’s all about baby steps with me and my grief.
I remembered sitting at the kitchen table as a kid, carefully folding and tearing the strips of Valentine’s Day cards Mom let me pick out from the store. She would always ask me who I wanted to give one to, even though she knew we bought enough for everyone in my class. Looking back, I realize this was her undercover Mom way of finding out who my BFF of the week was, and which boy I had a crush on. Smooth, Mom, very smooth.
I don’t have a roomful of classmates anymore, but I do love the idea of everyone getting a card, no matter how cool or fun or popular they might feel. I love the idea of people having a random moment in their day when they feel valued, cared for, and loved. I thought of things I loved about Mom, things I had told her, and some I had not. I thought of how happy it would make anyone to hear things that someone loved about them. And just like that, I had my plan.
I bought a box of children’s Valentine’s Day cards that came with tiny little envelopes. I chose ones with little bears wearing funny outfits, because Mom would have loved the silliness of them. I sat at my desk and carefully tore the strips of cards apart. I could almost feel Mom at my shoulder.
I wrote tiny messages to my mom on the cards. They weren’t anything spectacular, just simple little messages of love: Your smile makes my heart sing. I love the way your hair catches the sun. Thank you for being an example of kindness. You are loved. I sealed them into the envelopes, and wrote the same thing on the outside of each: If you found this, it is for you.
I stuffed the cards into my bag, and left the house. With no particular plan, I took a little tour of my city, leaving cards along the way. I tucked a card under the windshield wiper of a beat up car. I slipped one into a sneaker on display in a store. I left one on the counter at a coffee shop, and one stuck between two sodas in a drink cooler. With each one, I thought of Mom, of the many things I loved and missed about her. I thought of the joy she would have felt in knowing that my love for her was bringing a little happiness into the lives of others. I thought of the strength I felt in making a choice to lean into, rather than away from, my feelings of grief that surround this holiday.
My grief was telling me to ignore Valentine’s Day. My mom’s memory was telling me to find a way to celebrate that felt real and right in my heart. I won’t pretend that hiding children’s cards in random spots for strangers to find is going to be the right way for you to celebrate your loved one’s memory. I will say that you sometimes need to try something different when the thing you’ve been doing is just not bringing you any sense of happiness or peace.
I couldn’t have guessed that a two dollar box of cartoon bear cards could help me to feel that Valentine’s Day might be worth celebrating after all. I sent my love for Mom out into the universe, and that simple act helped me to feel filled with love myself. It’s an amazing thing to start with grief and sadness and finish with love and peace. Who knows, I may even ask my husband for a box of chocolates this year.
What ways will you celebrate your loved one this Valentine’s Day?