I headed straight from dropping children off at school to the grocery store in my full winter ensemble: long coat, hat, fingerless gloves, and a red scarf for Valentine’s Day. I sat in my warm car for a few minutes to compose a grocery list. I was attempting to remember all the things written on the list that I had forgotten on the kitchen counter at home. Piles of snow canvased the parking lot and several men were rushing out of the store with bouquets of flowers or helium-filled balloons.
One older gentleman stood out. He was tall and had a full head of gray hair. He looked distinguished in his long camel-colored coat and he walked with a slight limp. His cane, however, was hooked on his forearm as he careful carried a bouquet of red and white roses in his arms. I wanted to make sure he didn’t slip on the slushy snow but didn’t know how to navigate this without possibly upsetting his integrity. I walked closer to him and smiled instead.
“Well, someone is a lucky lady,” I remarked, looking at the roses.
It wasn’t until I looked up that I saw the sadness in his eye. He gave a half-hearted smile.
Clearing his throat, “No” he said, “No, I was always the lucky one.”
He looked up as if in thought. I stood still, not knowing if he was planning to say more. He hesitated as if weighing whether he should continue. He began slowly, “We were married for forty-three years. I didn’t want this one to go by without… without remembering. I’ll leave them for her, on her grave.”
I was in shock. I muttered, “I am so sorry, sir,” and just stood there rather stunned as I watched him drive away. I didn’t realize in the bitter cold that tears were streaming down my face. I hurried back in my car, back to my little safe world. I wish I had thought to ask him his wife’s name. I wish I had just linked his arm and helped him to his car. Most of all, I wondered if I should have said anything at all.
Then I remembered what a grieving friend shared with me more than a decade ago. We were all young mothers then and we felt invincible, with our little ones bundled in our arms. My friend, Jill was pregnant with her second child when her mother suddenly passed away. I remember asking how she was doing. Jill said she wished people would just stop trying to hide her from her pain. “Friends and family don’t want me to be reminded of my loss. They don’t ask about my mother in case they might upset me, but you know what? I think of her every damn hour, every damn day! I want to remember and I want to talk about her and every good memory we ever made.”
Pain stays with someone who is grieving forever. The degree of devastation and loss may change, but the pain, even if just a sliver, may still live in our heart. It can make it feel unbearable, though, when others don’t include your loved ones who have passed on in conversations or stories. Remembering their lives and their contributions to this world and to us celebrates who we are because they lived and loved us. There will always be a “before and after” but somehow talking about those precious memories helps to blur the lines between sadness and loss and joy and love.
So on this Valentines Day in 2017, I pledged to continue to blur the lines, to remember to LOVE with my whole HEART and to continue to LOVE like there is no tomorrow. This way, I can be a “lucky one” too. xoxo