How Do You Celebrate Valentine’s Day When Your Lover is Dead?

Feb 14, 2021

You figure out slowly, how to balance living here, with being forever connected to there.

I’ve always thought of Valentine’s Day as a silly Hallmark holiday. I was never the type who wanted chocolates or flowers. In fact, the rebel within me secretly scoffed at those who did.

And then, I met Brian. A tall man who nobody would ever call “conventional”. He cared not for labels or opinions. He lived his life with integrity rather than by other people’s rules.

But for some strange reason, he always did something for me for Valentine’s Day. I never understood this about him. It seemed at odds with the way he despised capitalism and appeared to almost automatically disapprove of anything anyone else told him he should do.

But he was a man full of paradoxes. And that was one of the things I loved about him most.

It’s been almost two years now that he’s been gone and there are still days when the heaviness on my shoulders almost swallows me whole.

The conversations we never had. The questions there was no time to ask. The regular relationship stuff that you always think there will be time to work through. We were young. We never expected this.

My Brian died of cancer. Those words are still hard for me to say, to type, to think. And I’ve spent two years saying them, typing them, thinking them. Still, it is a shock for me to see them, written here.

A few days ago, I woke up crying, my body shaking, my muscles sore. It was only hours later when glancing at the calendar in the kitchen that I noticed.

It was the exact day of his diagnosis, two years before.

It happened in early February. And after a week of waiting and meeting with oncologists, we celebrated Valentine’s Day with a plan. We had a tentative cancer plan.

I remember curling up in bed together and staying there all day. He was already in so much pain. We were both in shock and disbelief. He would live less than seven weeks more but at the time, we knew nothing. We thought the plan might work.

Our bed was an island in the middle of a roaring sea. When he was there, with me, we were safe. We were together. We were a team. We were always such a good team.

I remember so little from that day. Jagged pieces of living, frozen in time.

There was his pain and its growing presence between us. There was me, skirting around him in our bed, carefully avoiding his body, which I so desperately wanted to touch. A pillbox I had meticulously filled, sitting beside us on the desk. The unfinished food. A movie that neither one of us could watch.

His eyes, opening suddenly and meeting mine.

“I wish I could get you a rose today, honey.”

Time sped up and then disappeared altogether. The cancer plan didn’t work. It was happening so fast.

And then, he was gone.

But, also, not.

Widowhood is strange. You have a partner who isn’t here, but whose memory and presence very much are. You find yourself in love with someone who no longer has a body, which is foreign and feels messy.

You crave earthly things that they can no longer give you. A warm hand in yours. Vocal cords and a laugh that you can hear out loud. A mouth that eats dinner. Sex.

But you don’t want to let your lover “go”. It feels unfair that you should have to. And it’s confusing because the grief feels like the strongest love you’ve ever felt.

And so, you figure out slowly, how to balance living here, with being forever connected to there.

Surviving widowhood changes you. It is a crisis of identity, a rite of passage, sometimes a pathway towards a new beginning.

Slap on a worldwide pandemic and a generally grief illiterate society and you’ve got a recipe for complete chaos.

Somehow, unbelievably, time continues ticking on. Despite your heartache. Despite the fact that your life feels like it has ended. That calendar hanging in your kitchen harshly reminds you that it has not.

And, before you know it, it’s Valentine’s Day once again. Another year. Another marker of the time that they’ve been gone. You wonder, would they even recognize you if they came back now?

For me, it often feels like my personal grief has been buried beneath mountains of collective grief for the losses we’ve all sustained in this pandemic.

But grief triggers grief. And reminds me of the life that I have lost, the one that will not be returning, even when the pandemic ends.

I still don’t care much for Valentine’s Day. I still think of it as a silly Hallmark holiday. But it’s a part of our story now and our story is what I really miss.

It’s a story that was left unfinished. One that I must finish here on my own. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned these past two years, it’s that grief is love transmuted.

And that love just is. And cannot be destroyed.

This year, I’ll celebrate the day of love with the daughter Brian and I created together. We’ll make paper Valentine’s for all our loves, including him. And I’ll tell her about her Dad and his mysterious sanction for this day.

Because in the end, I think he saw it as just another excuse to celebrate our love.

I’ve learned that there are no promises in life. We have so much less control than we like to think we do. The waves can pick us up and crash us onto shore over and over again. And this can feel terrifying.

But, as we blink into the distance, observing the wreckage lying around us, we will see that the love remains. It’s the only thing that is untouchable.

So, why not celebrate it?

Happy Lovers Day.

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