By Herb Knoll
Author of The Widower’s Journey
Valentine’s Day, 2008, will forever live in my heart as well as in my mind’s eye. The day began when I was awakened by a noise coming from what seemed to be the vicinity of the kitchen. As I approached to retrieve my first cup of coffee of the day, I found my beautiful wife Michelle busy working on her latest project: making pretzels sticks dipped in various flavors of chocolate; each stick beautifully wrapped in heart-themed cellophane, with a red or pink bow. “These are Valentine’s Day gifts for your staff,” she said. “Employees always like getting gifts from their boss.” I didn’t know it at that precise moment, but Michelle’s efforts to spread joy among my team at work would be the last thing she did in our home before being admitted into a hospital for the last time, later that same day. Michelle lost her battle with cancer twenty-one days later on March 7, 2008, a dark and rainy Friday evening in San Antonio, Texas.
Surviving holidays as a widower, especially as a new widower, is always tricky. As an advocate for widowers, I have noticed how most widowers have one or two holidays that are harder than others to deal with, for they are laced with cherished memories that are more valuable than the Crown Jewels of England. For me, Valentine’s Day is one of those days. With perfect regularity, February 14th is always sure to give me pause, as each year I’m reminded of the sixteen years I celebrated it with Michelle.
For many widowers, Valentine’s Day delivers an endless barrage of love symbolism, perhaps never to be experienced again. From chocolates and flowers for their lady to memories of a warm wet kiss or a loving glance from across a room, the expressions of love around Valentine’s Day are inescapable. Valentine’s Day reminds many widowers of the emptiness they may have become accustomed to living with daily, even if for only a brief second when their grief of yesterday assumes its role at center stage in one’s thoughts.
Following Michelle’s passing, I assumed I would be a bachelor for the rest of my days. It was about that time I decided to celebrate Michelle’s life by living mine. Two and one-half years after Michelle’s passing, I met and fell in love with Maria. We were married twelve months later off the coast of Italy during a ceremony onboard the Ruby Princess cruise ship.
Does this mean I never think about Michelle anymore? Hardly. I am proud to say I was married to Michelle as I am to Maria today. Today, Valentine’s Day reminds me that the human heart can mend and is capable of loving more than one person over a lifetime. If a widower is seeking companionship, a life partner, or perhaps more, he should have hope that such joy may well be awaiting its discovery by him. And it is likely to occur when he least expects it to do so.
I understand that some widowers, including those who, like me, may have discovered love again, have lingering difficulty in dealing with the visible triggers of grief Valentine’s Day presents. For them, please permit me to offer a few suggestions.
1. Spend the day with your children or with members of your extended family, preparing your wife’s favorite recipes. Once made, enjoy a family meal with each other while allowing each family member to share stories about your wife.
2. Spend some time working on your family tree, capturing memories about your wife for future generations to enjoy. You may even want to write your wife a letter and insert it into your family tree’s archives.
3. Spend time with your grandchildren, perhaps taking them on a day-trip to show them their grandmother’s favorite park, the home of her youth, or where the two of you met. And be sure to take the little ones to their grandmother’s favorite restaurant and buy their lunch while you’re there.
4. Focus your expressions of love on to others. From volunteering for the Red Cross or your local veteran’s organization to spend some time assisting those served by your wife’s favorite charity.
5. Volunteer to babysit for another couple so they can enjoy their Valentine’s Day as much as you enjoyed yours during years past.
6. Be strengthened by reading scripture (1 Thessalonians 4) that speaks to Our Lord’s promise that we will one day again be reunited with those that we love.
Just because someone dies doesn’t mean the love they shared with others did likewise. This Valentine’s Day, go out and celebrate the time you were blessed to be with your beloved wife. And when you lay your head on your pillow later that evening, be sure to tell your deceased wife you love her. Go ahead. She’s listening.
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