“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.” ~quote from French writer, Colette, shared with me by a friend who has also lost a significant other
I’d originally intended to mark the occasion, my first Valentine’s Day without David, by attending a free Widow’s luncheon offered nearly an hour away.
Then two things happened; I ended up with post-viral bronchitis over the weekend and knew I couldn’t handle the drive, and my dear sister Angela, upon hearing my original plan, decided that a Valentine’s Day widow luncheon was more than she could bear for her sister, so she made reservations at a local tea room.
Perhaps it was simply that I was in survival mode with this illness, but the approaching holiday did not bother me in the least. Maybe it was because I’d known the very kind of love that the holiday epitomized, and could be grateful for having had that. On Facebook I shared this sentiment and photo the day before Valentine’s Day:
I took a photo of these flowers a year ago on Valentine’s Day because it was so unusual for David to give me flowers. He also gave me candy and a bottle of wine. We went out for breakfast, and it was that time alone with him I treasure most of all. Ladies, it isn’t the flowers, the candy, the wine or even the diamonds…It is the time spent holding his hand. Hold your man close tomorrow, and thank the good Lord that you have him next to you~
I was amazed when I didn’t cry once on Valentine’s Day. I enjoyed dressing up for the first time in days for lunch with two sisters and my friend Tim, who’d been sideswiped that morning by sadness over his own loss.
“How are you doing today?” several people asked me with great concern, and I was surprised I could so easily and honestly answer “Fine.” Better than fine, really. I was touched by the concern of others, honored that my 16-year-old daughter would use her tip money from that day’s work to buy me red roses and that my niece Morgan would stop by in the evening with a lovely bouquet in her hand.
My first Valentine’s Day without my beloved, and not a tear was shed. Amazing!
And then I spent the better part of today huddled on the couch with my laptop, tired out and coughing more from the little bit of activity I’d partaken in yesterday. Maybe the doctor’s admonition for “rest and fluids” meant really “REST?”
I’d fallen asleep when I heard a knock. “I’ll get it! Go back to sleep!” Abby ran to the front door and brought a big box to me from the porch. I gasped.
“What is it Mom?” Abby asked in concern, because tears filled my eyes and were streaming down my cheeks.
“Surely no one ordered Shari’s Berries,” I managed to say before my throat filled and I couldn’t speak.
Only two people knew the story behind Shari’s Berries; my son Dan and my daughter Elizabeth.
I am free to tell his secret now; David liked infomercials. I would come downstairs some mornings to find him on the couch engrossed in one. Sometimes he’d even have jotted down a phone number in his eagerness to get the “free” bottle of supplements or the amazing kitchen gadget he was sure would make my life easier. After he died, I found one of those pieces of paper folded carefully and stashed in his billfold. Yet, he’d never actually ordered anything he’d seen on television. When I caught him viewing an infomercial and gently chide him, he’d smile sheepishly and claim there hadn’t been anything else on the television. A couple of times the infomercials were so lengthy, he’d thought he’d been watching an actual television program and we both laughed when he realized his error. One morning, I sat down on the couch next to him and a Shari’s Berries commercial came on. “Those look delicious,” I casually mentioned, and thought nothing more of it.
David did, however. My son Daniel informed me shortly after his father’s death that David had expressed an interest in purchasing some Shari’s Berries for me and having them delivered on Valentine’s Day. What would be our last Valentine’s Day together. Dan rightly talked him out of it, citing the high cost and insisting I wouldn’t want him to spend that much money, so my husband had settled on giving me flowers. And a bottle of wine. And candy. All that, along with my favorite kind of date; breakfast out alone together.
It was my son Dan who once pointed out that after his bout with cancer, his father would have done anything to make me happy. Sometime in recent years, I realized the truth of that statement. I am chagrined by the knowledge that David would have given me anything I wanted that was within his power to give. I am glad, then, that I never craved furs, expensive purses or jewelry. David’s only desire seemed to be my love and devotion, and I believe he died knowing he had both. I hold close the memory of David lying in that hospital bed and solemnly saying “Thank you” when I kissed his arm over and over, telling him I loved him. I couldn’t reach his face to kiss, but I wanted him to know how much he meant to me. To me, that “Thank you” meant he did know, and was grateful.
David had taken my casual comment about chocolate covered strawberries to heart and intended to fulfill yet another desire of the woman he loved, when actually it had been nothing more than a comment. My real desire, like his, had always been to be truly loved.
And yes, David had loved me in a way I can’t imagine ever experiencing again. Despite our limited budget, I really never lacked for anything, though I know he sometimes wished he could give me more.
It isn’t always the specific date on the calendar, the remembered song, a place, or a photo that prompts our tears.
It can be Shari’s Berries, ordered by your oldest daughter and delivered a year after your husband was talked out of them by your practical son.
Grief is not easy, nor tidy. It does not always come when we expect it, nor can it necessarily be anticipated and planned for. I did not expect grief when chest pain sent me to a hospital this past weekend and the man who conducted the treadmill test told me to turn around so he could help me close my gown. No one could have prepared me for the tears that filled my eyes when his fingers fumbled with the strings, reminding me of David when he did the same thing after each of my surgeries.
Nor could I have prepared myself for the question from the doctor, “Can you remember another time when your chest felt like this?” With my hand splayed across my chest, I carefully consider her question, then nodded when I remembered. Tears streamed down my cheeks unchecked as I whispered hoarsely,”Yes, I do remember. After my husband died, it hurt. My chest hurt for days and felt full and heavy like this, and I thought; Oh, this is what it feels like to have your heart break.”