The Heart-Shaped Elephant

Dearest Rachel –


It’s Sunday.

And… it’s Valentine’s Day.

I’ve heard about how difficult it is for spouses left behind on the holidays, like our anniversary, or Christmas.  And I suppose those days will be painful, when they get here.

But I don’t recall much about the impact of Valentine’s Day on widowed spouses.  And it’s looming here, the heart-shaped elephant in the room.  Heck, it’s been building up over the past couple of weeks, as most of the stores I go into have some sort of V-Day items for sale.  Apart from holing up in the house (which, granted, is a thing this year), you can’t avoid it.

And Daniel’s already wondered to me: what am I going to do?

Well, what would we have done?  Probably very little out of the ordinary, to be honest.  Sure, on a normal, garden-variety V-Day, we’d have gone out to eat together at a nice place – preferably for seafood, so Daniel wouldn’t think he was missing out on anything – but that would probably be the extent of it.  You were never all that big on the more traditional gifts of flowers (“they just die on the table, and that’s so sad”) or jewelry (“I have so much that I never get around to wearing already”).  You kind of prided yourself on being a ‘cheap date,’ which I’m going to blame on your depression-era parents.

I barely remember what we were doing last Valentine’s Day, because it barely registered that it was Valentine’s Day at all.  Sure, it was a special enough day – any day on vacation is special, and wandering through the San Antonio Riverwalk at night was special indeed – but it wasn’t Valentine’s Day special, it was vacation special.  And sure, the three of us found ourselves a lovely Tex-Mex place to eat, and finished the night out with chocolates from a local confectionary (actually, would a place called the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory count as local in a place like San Antonio?).  But it wasn’t the romantic tête-à-tête one associates with the holiday.

The year before was hardly any better. Dad had just wound up in the hospital from that attack of sepsis he’d suffered. And while it hadn’t ratcheted up to the life-threatening levels he would deal with in the next few weeks and months, it was still a matter of concern – any hospital stay is, after all. So, while we found ourselves a nice table at a local Japanese sushi place, we were, how shall we say… preoccupied.

And these days, that place is as gone as you are.

Back when I was still working, it wasn’t as if there was time or energy on most Valentine’s Days for “romance” as people think of it (y’know: the whole ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more’ deal); I’d have to go to bed in order to get up for work the next day. Real romance required a commitment.

It required a weekend, both to do and to recover from.

So in all honesty, Valentine’s Day was always a bit, well, perfunctory. We might manage the cards to each other (although neither of us were “card people,” as we put it), maybe some chocolate, usually a nice place out, but nothing all that remarkable. We had each other every day. Valentines Day was for those in pursuit of romance. So we let the kids who were busy dating and really still trying to win each other over have this time.

All of which makes it sound like we took each other for granted. Far from it; although we might have gotten out of practice with flowery rhetoric or sparkly trinkets, we were happy to have each other, and I made sure you knew how lucky I considered myself that you chose to walk alongside me on the road of life. It’s possible we took the holiday for granted, though – treating it like just another day among others.

But again, we had each other already – who needed a certain day set aside to celebrate that, when we could celebrate each other any day?

Of course, my dad would argue strenuously about taking the day (and you, by extension) seriously. He was, after all, always reminding his fellow board members at the end of a meeting at that time of year, “Guys, Valentines Day/Sweetest Day/whatever holiday it might be is just around the corner; make sure you do something nice for your wife to honor her.” They might tease him a bit about it, but he and mom have been married over sixty years now, so he’s doing something right.

I wish we’d had sixty years together. Why, at this point, I’d settle for thirty.

So, I’ll probably be gaming with our friends this afternoon, like we’ve made it our habit throughout this awful quarantine year. I mean, we keep in touch with distant friends this way, too, so it’s not all bad. They’re all single, too, so they might have some insight on dealing with the in-your-face nature of Valentines Day marketing.

Of course, their perspective will be lacking at least one major element: our friends are confirmed singles. They’ve not ‘loved and lost’ like this. I mean, I think they might have had boyfriends or girlfriends in the past – I’ve never considered asking before. But it’s never become a long-term relationship like ours.

So they don’t understand – quite – the level of loss, and how today brings that message home, albeit inadvertently. They don’t miss what they never had.

I don’t know whether to feel sorry for them, or envy them, at this point.

You know, I started writing these letters to you to remind myself of all that you were to me, and everyone else. And over the course of these past few weeks, I’ve actually learned things about you that I didn’t know, or was only dimly aware of. I’ve gotten sympathy cards telling me about the quiet, unselfish servant you were; the bubbly, friendly, welcoming face you were; the thoughtful, inquiring intellect you had. I’m hoping to fill the “Tributes” section of this blog with some of those stories – as soon as I figure out how.

And it’s weird, the stories that stick out in people’s minds. The story that Junior told about you always bringing up the rear during our second tour of Israel, and especially the time we thought you might miss the flight out (complete with his surprise that I only reacted with relief as opposed to anger or irritation when you reappeared), I don’t remember. It certainly sounds like us, but it was just another interaction between us, and not all that worthy of remembering, in my mind, apparently.

But there are stories about you only I know, and no one can fill in the blanks for me. And this is type of day when I recall those stories…

…and I can’t tell them. These are tales that people just don’t talk about, and don’t want to listen to, because, well… it’s considered to be ‘too much information.’

But this is something I miss. And I want you to know that. I don’t even mind if the world knows, honestly. I wish it was easier to talk about; I think other couples could save so much aggravation if they discussed this between themselves, and others.

It’s that special treasure we – and every couple, ideally – possessed, and it deserves its place of honor in our memory.

But for now, it’s a missing piece in my life.

And I wish we could share another, ordinary, Valentines Day together.

Because I love you, honey.

Until next time.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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