Valentine’s Day for me has always been about my mother. No, I didn’t take her to the prom. It’s not like that, sickies.
I am the youngest of five children, and we lost my father when I was only eight months old. Mom was 35, widowed, with five kids, the oldest of whom was only 10.
As far back as I can remember, we always chipped in to get her a Valentine’s Day card because we knew how much she missed our father, and we wanted to remind her how much we loved and appreciated her. As we grew older, we were able to add a big Fannie May heart-shaped box of candy to the card.
While I was in college, Mom used to send me a Valentine’s Day card with $5 in it, and I bought candy bars and cigarettes. Once I graduated and started working, nearly every year I made sure she got a box of Fannie May, or at least a card or a phone call. And in the last five years, I made a concerted effort to take her out for dinner. Our last Valentine’s Day dinner was in 2010, when I took her to the Schaumburg Golf Course. She was suffering from dementia, but she still loved to go out, and especially to see the pretty green golf course from the restaurant. Mom still knew who I was then.
Last year, Mom had just gotten out of the hospital. She wasn’t eating much, and the caregivers were using some nasty gelatin thickener in all her liquids to make them easier to swallow. Well I couldn’t give her an Old Fashioned, but on Valentine’s Day I did bring her some Fannie May Hostess Mints and some hooch (her favorite ginger ale, sans nasty thickener which went down just fine). Mom may not have known who I was, but she lit up at the mention of ginger ale! I broke up the mints very small and fed them to her. Then we prayed for a bit. And I made sure to tell her that her eldest son was coming home in a few days from California to see her. I showed her the picture of him and when she recognized him she started to cry. I just kept saying, “Friday. He’s coming on Friday.” She said, “Oh that’s nice.” I told her I loved her, hugged her and gave her kisses all over her face which made her laugh. I took my leave, and the next day (Tuesday)I flew to Sedona.
By Friday afternoon, Mom had taken a turn. I did speak with her Friday evening and told her I would see her Saturday, but I could not understand a thing she was trying to say to me, although my brother, who had been holding the phone, told me later that Mom was lucid and knew who I was. I flew home, clutching the rosary and praying the entire flight. My sister had called me as I was going through security to say I should come straight from the airport since Mom’s heart rate was down to 50.
I arrived to find Mom had waited for me so I could say goodbye and tell her it was okay to go, but to please not go too far. She never opened her eyes again, and so my last true visit with her was quite fittingly Valentine’s Day, the details of which will remain etched in my memory.
It has always been a special day to me because of my mother, but I have celebrated this day with lovers and friends, too. In my opinion, Valentine’s Day is about showing your loved ones that you appreciate them and love them. Sure you can add cards, flowers, chocolate, and kisses, but let the day be a reminder to us of the one gift that cannot be bought or negotiated: a unique love each of us can give, from the deepest place in our hearts, strong enough to bridge any measure of time or distance.
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Karen is a recent escapee of corporate america and was raised in the Chicago area. She is quick-witted, non-political and non-comforming, but an astute observer of everyday life. Loves women.